Packers Defense Must Stop the Run to Beat Browns

Still reeling from a last second loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday night, the Browns will come into Lambeau Field on Christmas Day in desperation mode. At 7-7 they are still very much alive in the AFC North, with one loss separating first place from fourth. They are hopeful to have at least QB Baker Mayfield and HC Kevin Stefanski returning from covid protocols, just 2 of 22 total players/staff members who missed last week’s game. Regardless of having their preferred QB under center, expect Cleveland to rely heavily on Nick Chubb and the ground game. The Packers defense will need to be prepared to stop the run in order to head into 2022 still on top of the NFC.

The Browns come into Saturday’s match-up with one of top rushing attacks in the league – ranking 5th in total rush yards and 3rd in yards per carry. This holds up looking at the advanced metrics as well, with them holding a 5th place rank per DVOA. This comes as the result of an offensive line that excels in the running game, coupled with Nick Chubb ranking as one of the most elusive backs in the NFL. Per PFF, Chubb is one of only a handful of backs with 50+ broken tackles, and has done that despite splitting carries throughout the year.

The unfortunate reality for the Browns is that their offensive line depth has dwindled throughout the year. They lost right tackle Jack Conklin for the season, who ranked #1 in the NFL among tackles in run block win rate. They also may still be without tackles Jedrick Wills and James Hudson on Saturday, both remaining on the Covid list as of Wednesday. But Joel Bitonio was able to successfully slide out to left tackle for the first time in his career, coming away with a 91.5 PFF grade.

The Packers ability to defend against this ground attack will be the key to the game. They have struggled defending against the run, ranking 25th by DVOA, and are worst in the NFL at surrendering 1st downs via the run. This is in part due to Joe Barry’s defensive philosophy of playing light boxes (6 or less defenders) a majority of the time. This strategy has worked well for the Packers by limiting big plays through the air, but it will be interesting to see if this changes for a Browns team that relies so much on the ground and has a struggling quarterback fresh off of the Covid list.

It also remains to be seen if the Packers will have Kenny Clark back this weekend, who himself missed last week due to Covid. His absence was obvious against the Ravens, and may be a big reason for Barry to consider a change in philosophy. The Browns will try to exploit this on Saturday, also trying to give their thin defensive front a chance against a surging Packers offense. If Green Bay is able to hold Chubb in check and force the Browns to put the game in Mayfield’s hands against what has been an opportunistic defense, they will be in good shape to enter the new year at 12-3.

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Jared is a rogue Packers fan from a Steelers family and an overall football junkie, including playing 4 years at Ithaca College. You can follow him on twitter at @JPrugar.

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