Packer Plus - - Analysis - PETE DOUGHERTY

With­out two-time MVP, Pack­ers ap­pear Browns-like

In the last 2½ sea­sons, the Cleve­land Browns are 4-36.

That’s right. Four wins and 36 losses, a .100 winning per­cent­age. They’ve won one of their last 28 games and are win­less (0-8) this sea­son.

The Green Bay Pack­ers, on the other hand, have played in the NFC Cham­pi­onship Game twice in the last three years. Just two weeks ago, they were 4-1 and had the sec­ond-best odds (9-to-2) to win the Su­per Bowl, ac­cord­ing to Bo­

In the cur­rent NFL land­scape, these teams couldn’t be fur­ther apart. The Pack­ers are a peren­nial con­tender. The Browns are the most ridiculed team in the league.

But Aaron Rodgers’ bro­ken col­lar­bone, which will side­line him for a min­i­mum of a cou­ple months and could be sea­son end­ing, shows that these teams also de­fine to­day’s NFL. Be­cause the gulf that sep­a­rates them comes down mostly to one po­si­tion, the quar­ter­back.

That is the dif­fer­ence be­tween the haves and have-nots of the NFL. You’ve surely heard it be­fore. But to ap­pre­ci­ate just how true it is, it’s in­struc­tive to com­pare the ros­ters of these two teams, leav­ing out the fu­ture Hall of Famer Rodgers and the col­lec­tion of flops, jour­ney­men and rook­ies – Austin Davis, Cody Kessler, Johnny Manziel, Robert Grif­fin III, Josh McCown and DeShone Kizer – who have led the Browns just since 2015.

To do so, I con­sulted a high­rank­ing ex­ec­u­tive for an NFL team who took time from his busy sched­ule to go through the ros­ters po­si­tion by po­si­tion and dis­cuss the im­pli­ca­tions.

The gist of our con­ver­sa­tion was this: The Pack­ers have bet­ter play­ers, but not by all that much. Yet they’re a peren­nial ti­tle con­tender, whereas the Browns are the NFL’s laugh­ing­stock.

“Tells you the state of the NFL,” the ex­ec­u­tive said. “It’s all about the quar­ter­back po­si­tion.”

Ac­com­pa­ny­ing this col­umn is a syn­op­sis of the scout’s break­down. The con­ver­sa­tion was be­fore Brett Hund­ley’s first start as Pack­ers quar­ter­back, and be­fore Browns tackle Joe Thomas sus­tained a sea­son-end­ing torn tri­ceps.

For brevity, here we’ll in­clude only the scout’s bot­tom line. Each po­si­tion was judged as a big edge, medium edge, small edge or push.

The Pack­ers had two big edges (re­ceiver and safety) to the Browns’ one (run­ning back).

Each team had one medium edge: the Pack­ers’ de­fen­sive front (their out­side lineback­ers in­cluded), the Browns’ lineback­ers.

Each had a small edge: the Pack­ers’ of­fen­sive line, the Browns’ tight ends.

Two po­si­tions were a push: cor­ner­back and spe­cial­ists.

The Pack­ers come out ahead, no ques­tion. But the dif­fer­ence is hardly over­whelm­ing.

An­other way to com­pare is by the color-coded rat­ings for each ros­ter. That tells you which team has more dif­fer­ence-mak­ers and good play­ers. Those are the guys that win games.

I asked the scout to iden­tify the blue-red-gold play­ers (there’s also black, green, yel­low, white, brown), not in­clud­ing the quar­ter­backs. Here are those re­sults:

BLUE (Pro Bowl)

Pack­ers: None. Browns: None.

RED (above-av­er­age starter):

Pack­ers: Mike Daniels, Nick Perry (mi­nus), Clay Matthews (mi­nus). Browns: Joe Thomas.

GOLD (av­er­age starter)

Pack­ers: David Bakhtiari (plus), Bryan Bu­laga, Jordy Nel­son, Da­vante Adams, Ran­dall Cobb, Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix, Mor­gan Bur­nett, Ma­son Crosby.

Browns: Joel Bi­to­nio, Kevin Zeitler, Chris­tian Kirk­sey, Jason McCourty.

Look at the blues. Those are the guys who change games. None for ei­ther team with­out Rodgers.

The Pack­ers have three reds to the Browns’ one, and eight golds to the Browns’ five.

So the Pack­ers again come out ahead. But it doesn’t come close to ac­count­ing for the dif­fer­ence be­tween these two.

Some un­doubt­edly will see this as an in­dict­ment of Ted Thomp­son, the Pack­ers’ gen­eral man­ager. His ros­ter, with the ex­cep­tion of the quar­ter­back, isn’t that much bet­ter than the league’s worst team’s. And there’s truth there. Thomp­son’s first five drafts were out­stand­ing (Rodgers, Nick Collins, Greg Jen­nings, Matthews, Nel­son, Jer­michael Fin­ley, Josh Sit­ton, T.J. Lang). He signed a fran­chise-chang­ing free agent (Charles Wood­son) early in his ten­ure as well.

Since then? Painfully few big hits in the draft, es­pe­cially on the de­fen­sive side. And he was much too slow to see that there’s such a thing as strate­gic free-agent sign­ings. He de­serves to be dinged for both.

But there’s a larger truth here as well. Namely, that not all that much sep­a­rates most NFL teams, ex­cept for QBs.

Think about it. You swap QBs be­tween most teams in this league, and the fran­chises’ for­tunes swap with them.

Put Aaron Rodgers on the Ben­gals and Andy Dal­ton on the Pack­ers, and the Pack­ers be­come the Ben­gals, and the Ben­gals be­come the Pack­ers. Same with Rodgers and Philip Rivers, or Joe Flacco, or Eli Man­ning, Ja­coby Bris­sett or Car­son Palmer. You can go on.

Of course there are ex­cep­tions. Most years one or two de­fenses are a cut above. Seat­tle has been there for sev­eral sea­sons, though now the Sea­hawks are start­ing to de­cline. Same for Den­ver. The Jaguars are knock­ing on that door.

And Kansas City might have the best over­all ros­ter. If you put Rodgers or Tom Brady on the Chiefs or Sea­hawks or Broncos or Jaguars, you’d have not just a con­tender but the Su­per Bowl fa­vorite.

But those are ex­cep­tions, and main­tain­ing that cal­iber of a de­fense for more than a cou­ple years is al­most im­pos­si­ble. The draft, salary cap and free agency see to that.

Then look at what Car­son Wentz has done for Philadel­phia in only his sec­ond NFL sea­son. The Ea­gles sud­denly are as good as any­body, and it’s be­cause of him. To think the Browns passed on draft­ing that guy. Wow.

So sure, there are dif­fer­ences be­tween some NFL ros­ters. Coach­ing mat­ters, too. But a lot more of­ten than not, one player sep­a­rates teams in this league.

At the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, I asked the scout how many games the Browns would win with Rodgers at the helm. His an­swer? At least 10.

“It’s all about the quar­ter­back,” he said. “You bet­ter get one or you ain’t go­ing any­where. The Pack­ers have been spoiled for 20-some years.”

Ros­ter rank­ings

Here is a syn­op­sis of a high­rank­ing NFL ex­ec­u­tive’s po­si­tion-by-po­si­tion com­par­i­son be­tween the Pack­ers and Browns. The con­ver­sa­tion was just a few days af­ter Rodgers’ bro­ken col­lar­bone but be­fore Browns tackle Joe Thomas’ sea­son-end­ing torn tri­ceps. The cat­e­gories: big edge, medium edge, small edge or push.


Pack­ers: Aaron Jones, Ty Mont­gomery, Ja­maal Wil­liams. Browns: Isiah Crow­ell, Duke John­son, Matt Dayes. Scout’s call: Big edge Browns.

The in­ter­view was done be­fore Jones’ 131-yard game against New Or­leans, which might have shrunk the gap.

“John­son (32 re­cep­tions, 9.8-yard av­er­age) is a great third-down back,” the scout said. “I like Aaron Jones. He’s got vi­sion, he’s got re­ally good eyes. … I think (Mont­gomery) is a fraud. He’s not a real run­ning back, he’s a big­ger re­ceiver. He can’t with­stand 16 weeks (at run­ning back).”


Pack­ers: Jordy Nel­son, Da­vante Adams, Ran­dall Cobb, Geron­imo Al­li­son.

Browns: Ri­cardo Louis, Rashad Hig­gins, Kenny Britt, Kasen Wil­liams.

Scout’s call: Big edge Pack­ers.

“Not even close,” he said. “(The Pack­ers’) top three are bet­ter than any­body on the Browns.”


Pack­ers: Martel­lus Ben­nett, Lance Ken­dricks, Richard Rodgers. Browns: Seth De Valve, David Njoku, Ran­dall Telfer. Scout’s call: Small edge Browns.

The scout chose Ben­nett as the best of the group.

“The Pack­ers have more ex­pe­ri­ence, the Browns have more ath­leti­cism,” he said. “All three Browns are ath­letic, and in to­day’s foot­ball you need ath­letic tight ends. The rookie (Njoku) is the Browns’ best one. He’s ta­lented.”


Pack­ers: David Bakhtiari, Lane Tay­lor, Corey Lins­ley, Jahri Evans, Bryan Bu­laga.

Browns: Joe Thomas, Joel Bi­to­nio, JC Tret­ter, Kevin Zeitler, Shon Cole­man.

Scout’s call: Small edge Pack­ers.

This is based on both lines be­ing healthy. “Very close,” the scout said. “The Pack­ers get it be­cause Bu­laga is a lot bet­ter than (Cole­man).”

DE­FEN­SIVE LINE Pack­ers (In­cludes out­side lineback­ers):

Clay Matthews, Mike Daniels, Kenny Clark, Nick Perry. Browns: Myles Gar­rett, Trevon Co­ley, Danny Shel­ton, Em­manuel Og­bah. Scout’s call: Medium edge Pack­ers.

“Mike Daniels is a dis­rup­tor, I like what he brings,” the scout said. “Myles Gar­rett has a fu­ture ahead of him, he’s got every­thing you want – size, length, ath­leti­cism. But he’s a rookie, you can’t just give it to him. Shel­ton is a pure run­stop­ping nose tackle.”


Pack­ers: Blake Martinez, Jake Ryan, Joe Thomas. Browns: Chris­tian Kirk­sey, Joe Schobert, Jamie Collins. Scout’s call: Medium edge Browns.

“Ath­let­i­cally, the Pack­ers don’t have any­body like (Kirk­sey),” the scout said. “Martinez and Schobert are a push. I like Jamie Collins.”


Pack­ers: Davon House, Kevin King, Da­mar­i­ous Ran­dall, Josh Hawkins.

Browns: Jason McCourty, Ja­mar Tay­lor, Briean Bod­dyCal­houn, Michael Jor­dan.

Scout’s call: A push. “On the starters I have to go Browns,” the scout said. “On the four of them it’s a push be­cause (the Pack­ers’) third and fourth are way bet­ter than the Browns’ third or fourth.”


Pack­ers: Ha Ha Clin­ton-Dix, Mor­gan Bur­nett, Ken­trell Brice, Josh Jones.

Browns: Jabrill Pep­pers, Der­rick Kin­dred, Ibra­heim Camp­bell. Scout’s call: Big edge Pack. “Pep­pers isn’t a safety,” the scout said. “Pack­ers by a lot.”


Pack­ers: Ma­son Crosby (K), Justin Vo­gel (P), Tay­bor Pep­per (LS), Trevor Davis (R).

Browns: Zane Gon­za­lez (K), Brit­ton Colquitt (P), Charley Hugh­lett (LS), Jabrill Pep­pers (R). Scout’s call: Push. “I’d take Crosby, Colquitt and Pep­pers,” the scout said.


Pack­ers de­fen­sive line­man Mike Daniels and line­backer Clay Matthews are solid de­fen­sive play­ers, but scouts don’t view them as Pro Bowl play­ers cur­rently.


Cleve­land Browns run­ning back Duke John­son is an ex­cel­lent re­ceiver out of the back­field, es­pe­cially on third downs.

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