Will This Be Hundley's Final Act?Posted:Dec 8th, 2017 1:23 pm
The Packers begin the fourth quarter of the season in Cleveland on Sunday, the first of three road games left on the schedule, with zero wiggle room in their chase for an unlikely ninth straight playoff appearance.
We all know the storyline: if the Pack can dispatch the winless Browns, they will likely get Aaron Rodgers back for next week's clash in Carolina in a showdown for two teams chasing a precious wildcard invitation. As it stands right now, the Packers have a five percent chance to reach the post-season (the Falcons win on Thursday night did them no favors). We'll have to root for the Vikings to take down the Panthers and then hope the Pack can deal them a second straight home loss next week.
But first things first. How dangerous are the winless Browns? They shook up their front office on Thursday, firing GM Sashi Brown, who collected draft picks like they were rookie cards. The success of two QBs he passed on, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, likely sealed his fate. He was instantly replaced by former Packer John Dorsey, who will begin the task of evaluating his current roster beginning with the Packer game on Sunday. Will that galvanize the players, knowing that the new boss will be scrutinizing them very carefully?
The Browns are 0-12 and 1-27 under Hue Jackson, but he's been told he'll be back for a third season. They've actually been competitive in almost every game they've played, especially at home, where they lost by three to the Steelers and Titans. They tend to play well into the second half and then shoot themselves in the foot, and then the other foot.
They seemed electrified by the return of Josh Gordon last week, who's been out of football for three years as he wrestled with personal demons. He caught four balls for 85 yards against the Chargers and they just missed on a couple of big plays. With the Packers hurting big time in the secondary, there will be chances for rookie DeShone Kizer to hook up with his speedy receiver.
With Kevin King on IR and awaiting shoulder surgery and Davon House unlikely to play after missing practice this week, Green Bay will line up with Damarius Randall and Josh Hawkins on the outside and probably Morgan Burnett taking on most of the slot duties. The Pack will have to activate one of two young corners: Donatello Brown or Lenzy Pipkins. The pass rush will need to provide a boost, as it did last week against the Bucs. Besides Gordon, rookie tight end David Njoku has proven to be a dangerous red zone and third down target and second year WR Corey Coleman can be a difficult matchup.
You have to believe the Pack will want to rely on its running game, after Brett Hundley's miserable passing performance last week. He has been better on the road and the Browns don't resemble the Steelers defensively, but they are a top 15 defense, sixth against the run. The run defense has sagged since they lost DE Emmanuel Ogbah and Green Bay will deliver a healthy dose of their new thunder and lightning combination of Jamal Williams and Aaron Jones. Mike McCarthy unwrapped some read option with Hundley in overtime last weekend and its success should mean we'll see a little more on Sunday against an aggressive pass rushing unit led by last spring's #1 pick, Myles Garrett.
Will Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb continue to be faces on a milk carton or will Hundley figure out a way to get them involved? If Nick Perry misses the game, will someone step up so the Browns can't just double Clay Matthews all afternoon?
The Browns are winless, but not hopeless and this figures to be a game that will be decided in the fourth quarter. With so much to play for: the pending return of Rodgers and a slight chance at the playoffs, I have to believe the Packers will do enough things right to keep the Browns winless and their flickering playoff hopes alive.
Packers 20 Browns 16