Five Key Matchups: Packers vs Browns

Shields

The Green Bay Packers found a way to get a tough, gritty win they have been unable to get in recent years when they went on the road and defeated the Baltimore Ravens a week ago. The win did come at a price, however, as the Packers lost multiple contributors to injuries.  There is no rest for the weary as this week an improved Cleveland Browns team comes into Lambeau Field on throwback weekend. Here are my weekly five key matchups for this game.

1.) Sam Shields vs Josh Gordon: This almost feels like a weekly feature pitting Sam Shields against the opposing teams number one receiver. This week it is once again as Josh Gordon will be coming in to face Sam Shields who has played excellent this season.  Gordon has been impressive since he returned from an early season suspension catching 25 passes, averaging over 17 yards a catch, and two touchdowns. He has given the Browns deep speed in the passing game that they lacked early in the season. Gordon is the Browns main threat with players like Greg Little, and Davone Bess struggling to make an impact on the offense. Shields has emerged as the Packers best cornerback this season, and had another good performance a week ago against the Baltimore Ravens. He was the primary draw for emerging star, Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith was limited to one reception for 12 yards, and was only targeted four times. Shields is putting together a strong resume to get an extension from the Packers, or a big contract from another team, and this week will only be another chance for him to showcase how good he can be.

 

2.) Morgan Burnett vs Jordan Cameron: This really is not a secret around the league. The Packers traditionally struggle with big athletic tight ends. Vernon Davis has played well against the Packers on numerous occasions, Jimmy Graham, among several others. This week the Packers get another challenge with budding star Jordan Cameron. Cameron has been the Browns best offensive player this season, catching 38 passes and five touchdowns. Considering the inconsistent quarterback play in Cleveland, that makes these numbers even more impressive. Since his return to the lineup, Morgan Burnett has been a very good player for the Packers this season. The safety play was a glaring weakness in the first three games before Burnett returned, and now has been shored up. In his first two games back he has made a memorable play in each of them. Against the Lions two weeks ago Burnett broke up a pass in the endzone, a play that is unlikely to be made by either one of MD Jennings or Jeron McMillan. Last week against the Ravens Burnett made two impressive tackles on the Packers goal line stand that kept the Ravens out of the end zone early in the second quarter. Burnett is a budding star in the league, and will have his work cut out for him this week. He is the quarterback of the Packers secondary, and will likely draw plenty of matchups with Cameron throughout the game. If Burnett can take away Cameron, he will be showing the national audience why Ted Thompson found it fit to give him a long term extension this past offseason.

 

3.) Jordy Nelson vs Joe Haden: Perhaps the matchup of most interest to the casual fan. It is no secret now that the Packers only proven wide receiver is Jordy Nelson. It is even less of a secret that Joe Haden is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and will be shadowing Nelson a majority of the time.  Currently Haden is allowing a quarterback rating of 61.3 when being targeted. That could be bad news for a Packers offense that is already struggling to find consistency in the passing game. This will also be the first game the Packers play without Randall Cobb, and potentially James Jones as well. Nelson has to be able to make some plays down the field, to give the Packers offense room to operate underneath to Jermichael Finley or unproven players such as Jarrett Boykin. The good news for this matchup is according to Pro Football Focus, Jordy Nelson has graded out as the third best wide receiver in all of football early in the season. This will be a matchup to watch all day, and one that Nelson must win for the Packers offense to establish any sort of rhythm.

 

4.) Mike Neal vs Joe Thomas: It’s been talked about since Clay Matthews went down, that the “next man up” would have to step up for the Packers to get a pass rush against their opponent. That man was Nick Perry, who was performing well before breaking his foot last week against the Ravens. Now that man is Mike Neal. Neal has sat out practice this week with a shoulder injury, but it sounds like he should be good to go on Sunday. The bad news for Neal is he is facing arguably the best left tackle in all of football. Joe Thomas, the former Wisconsin Badger has been a standout since being drafted third overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. This year is no exception as Thomas has continued to play well despite new quarterbacks and players performing all around him. Neal is a converted outside linebacker, and has done well in spot duty, but now he will have to be the Packers best pass rusher.  If Neal can get some rush, or open up lanes for others, Brandon Weeden has been known to be jumpy in the pocket, and heave balls up, which could lead to the Packers forcing a few turnovers, giving their offense a short field to score from.

 

5.) Packers interior OL vs Phil Taylor: As surprising as it may sound to some, the Packers are actually a very good team at running the football this season. Currently the Packers are averaging 5.2 yards per carry, which is tied for second in the NFL with Washington. A lot of credit for that can go to the interior of the Packers offensive line. Evan Dietrich-Smith has been a significant upgrade to Jeff Saturday, while Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang have played well in transition to their new positions. Phil Taylor has been a solid nose tackle in the league since he was drafted, and is the anchor to the Browns 3-4 defense. With the Packers receiving corps being decimated by injuries it is even more imperative that they be able to run the ball to take pressure off of Aaron Rodgers and move the chains. In order to do that they must block and get movement on Taylor.  Last week the Packers were able to move the ball on the ground against the Ravens who have the same exact rush defense ranking as the Browns going into this game. Look for Eddie Lacy to have another big day for the Packers.

 

The Packers come into this game at 3-2 needing another big victory to set themselves up for the stretch run. Despite all the injuries, the message from Mike McCarthy has been keep calm and carry on. This week that will be of importance, as the Packers must respond to adversity yet again under coach McCarthy. The game is set to kick off at 3:25 Central Time, and if the Packers can win a majority of these matchups, it should be another good day for the Lambeau Field crowd.

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Jacob Westendorf is a writer at PackersTalk.com. You can follow Jacob on twitter at

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