A trap game?
For a second straight time?
Last Sunday as they came out of their bye, the Packers laid a 26-0 whipping on the Detroit Lions, the worst team in the NFL last season in going winless, and maybe not much better this season. But, as evidenced by the final score, the Packers took care of business. The statistics tell the same story, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-23 passing, Ryan Grant rushed for 90 yards and the defense held the Lions to just 149 total yards.
In the 1-5 Browns, the 3-2 Packers are going against another team that's really struggling, with the latest example of that being the 27-14 loss in Pittsburgh last Sunday. The Browns already had enough issues to deal with, but they got three more this week in losing their tackles leader, inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, for the season with a shoulder injury suffered against the Steelers, being ravaged by influenza so badly that 10 players missed practice on Wednesday, and having their starting cornerback, Eric Wright involved in as car accident early Friday morning.
Yes, the game is in Cleveland, but the Browns haven't played well at home in this expansion era.
And oh, by the way, the following week, the Packers host the Minnesota Vikings, whose quarterback, future Pro Football Hall of Famer Brett Favre, will, with his mere presence back at Lambeau Field, raise the blood pressure of Green Bay fans to meteoric levels for the shoddy way he left the team between the 2007 and '08 seasons. Other than playoff contests – and maybe even including some playoff contests – this is the biggest game the Packers have played in Green Bay – or Milwaukee -- since some guy named Vince Lombardi roamed the sidelines.
The battle that McCarthy is waging this week, though he would not say it during a conference call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday, is to keep the Packers from looking past the Browns and ahead to the Vikings. A wounded animal -- a team that is desperate for a win -- is the most dangerous one, but it's sometimes hard to convince players of that since all they see are the negative numbers.
"Make no mistake about it, we're not looking ahead to next week," McCarthy said in an emphatic tone. "All our focus is on the Browns. They're an uncommon opponent."
Indeed. The Browns and Packers last played at the beginning of the 2005 season in Green Bay, with Cleveland winning 26-24. Before that, they hadn't met since the end of 2001, with the Packers winning 30-7, also at Lambeau.
There's some real sincerity to what McCarthy said about being wary. He knows exactly of what he speaks. As he pointed out, "In my first season (2006), we started 1-4 and were 4-8 at one point." And of those first four losses, two were complete blowouts, 26-0 to the arch rival Chicago Bears in the opener and then 31-9 to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Later in the year, Green Bay lost 24-10 to a Buffalo Bills team that would finish just 7-9, 35-0 to Bill Belichick's New England Patriots and 38-10 to the New York Jets, whose first-year head coach was someone named Eric Mangini.
After the loss to the Jets, the Packers won their last four to finish 8-8, good enough for second place in the NFC North. The exclamation point to that late run was when the Packers almost completely – to the point – turned the tables on the division champion Bears in the finale, winning 26-7.
There is always the threat that every struggling team will rise up at some point, and no opposing coach wants to be a victim of that and have his team's season potentially ruined. There is nothing that would hurt the Packers more than to limp out of Cleveland with a loss and then have to shake it off pronto and get ready for the return of Favre.
"With a first-year staff, it takes a while to get things going," McCarthy said.
Maybe the biggest difference between the Browns and Packers can be found at quarterback.
The Browns have an extremely muddled situation at the position. Derek Anderson, the current starter, is the lowest-rated passer in the NFL, having connected on just 48-of-108 tries (44.4 percent) for 506 yards, two TDs and six interceptions for a 41.7 rating. Anderson has been a combined 9-of-41 the last two weeks.
The Packers, on the other hand, have a rising star in Rodgers, who has emerged from the shadows of Favre to begin to carve out his own niche. For the year, he has completed 58-of-85 attempts (68.2 percent) for 745 yards, five touchdowns and one interception for a 110.2 rating. He had a nearly perfect 152.1 rating against the St. Rams a month ago, and was at 135.7 against the Lions. Those are all Favre-like numbers.
In 2008 in his first season as the starter, Rodgers was 341-of-536 passing (63.6) for 4,038 yards, 28 TDs and 13 interceptions for a 93.8 rating.
"Any time a quarterback starts all 16 games in a season for the first time, he's a bit of an unknown to the opposition," McCarthy said. "Now the rest of the league definitely knows him.
"If he lets the game come to him, then that improvement will continue."
McCarthy, Rodgers and the rest of the team all hope it continues on Sunday, and if so, then it probably means the Packers will have avoided the trap – for a second straight game.
DEFENSIVELY SPEAKING: Browns defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, in his weekly Friday availability, said it has been a tough week with the flu bug that hit the team, the loss of Jackson, the car accident involving Wright and the fact he was the only assistant coach on the staff to get the flu. "It was the worst flu I've ever had, no joke," he said. "I didn't feel like doing anything except crying and going to sleep." Ryan quipped about the week in general, "Maybe I need to go to church more, start living better, wash my hands more and take a shower once in a while." … The fact a good number of defensive players missed practice this week due to the flu, affected the team's preparation. "You want to paint a picture of the opposition, but at this point, I'm not sure some of them have that picture," Ryan said. "Hopefully they will be Sunday." … Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 417 yards against the Browns, and seemed to pick on rookie Kaluka Maiava when he went in for Jackson. "It looked like he was picking on me," Ryan said. "I was taking it personally." … The Browns allowed passing plays of 52, 41, 29 and 25 yards. "We gave up a lot of big plays," he said. "That's not been a characteristic of our defense." … It was clear he didn't think a measurement giving the Steelers a first down at the Cleveland 13 late in the first half was correct, but he stopped short of being overly critical of it, lest he get fined by the NFL. "We've got Christmas coming, and I need every penny I can get," he said. … Obviously, no one on the Browns is happy about the 1-5 start, which, barring a miracle, has already knocked them out of playoff contention. "Being 1-5 is just not good enough," Ryan said. "I thought we'd be in a lot better shape. I thought we were going to play a good game last week. I told you guys (media members) that. If it's a situation where we're not going to do well (as a team), then by god, we better damn well play some pretty good defense."
OFFENSIVELY SPEAKING: In his weekly presser right after that of Ryan, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll also touched on a variety of topics, including the continued high number of dropped passes. He also placed part of the blame on Anderson. "Dropped passes aren't fun," Daboll said, "but the throws need to be a little better, too. We've got to do a better job of throwing it and catching it." … Also on Anderson, Daboll was asked about his 8.5 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter this season. "He's got nowhere to go but up," he said. … You could tell that Daboll was not thrilled with former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar being hired as a consultant, presumably to help with the struggling offense. However, he took the high road. "I've talked to him a few times, and he seems like a great guy," Daboll said. "And he was a pretty good football player back in his day. I know that from having watched him on TV. Whatever we need to do to improve, I'm for it." He said Kosar has not been in any of the offensive meetings yet. … He expressed concern for the ballhawking abilities of the Packers defense. Green Bay is tied for second in the NFL in turnover ratio at plus-8, while the Browns are tied for 28th at minus-5. "They're really good at taking it away, and we're really good at giving it away," Daboll said. … The Browns offense has scored just four touchdowns thus far in 72 possessions, or once every 18 times they've had the ball. "That's not good enough. There are no excuses," he said. "Our job is to do a good job for the fans, the community, everybody, and we're not doing it." … Ryan, a robust man, had praised Anderson for bringing jalapeno Whoppers to the coaches late at night, but Daboll corrected him. "They're for Rob, all four of them," he said. "Jalapeno Whoppers, he swears by them."
LONG TIME: The last time the Packers played the Browns in Cleveland was nearly 14 years ago, way back on Nov. 19, 1995, just 13 days after the announcement of the Browns' move to Baltimore following the year. On the arm of a young quarterback named Brett Favre, Green Bay bolted to a 21-3 halftime lead and won 31-20 in front of a crowd of 55,388, which included a total of 17,547 no-shows. Favre completed 23-of-29 passes for 210 yards, three TDs and an interception. Browns quarterback Vinny Testaverde, who replaced ineffective rookie starter Eric Zeier, had a good day, too, hitting on 16-of-22 attempts for 244 yards, two TDs and a pick. Wide receiver Michael Jackson had four catches for 83 yards and both of the scores, and fellow wideout Keenan McCardell caught four passes for 102 yards. The Browns lost their third straight and sixth in seven games to fall to 4-7 en route to a 5-11 finish. The Packers won their second in a row to improve to 7-4 on the way to going 11-5, winning the NFC Central and making it to the conference championship game.
INJURY REPORT: Defensive lineman Corey Williams was the only Brown to miss Friday's practice because of the flu, but he is listed as questionable, which means there's a 50-percent chance he'll play. Kicker Phil Dawson (right calf) and tight end Steve Heiden (knee) are doubtful (25-percent chance). This would be the fifth straight game that Dawson has missed. Keep an eye on Heiden. He had anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligament surgery in the offseason and, if this continues, could be placed onto the Injured Reserve List.