Randall Cobb, leading the Packers with 29 catches, is out with a knee injury.
No. 3 receiver James Jones, with two touchdowns and a 17.5 average, was listed as questionable with a knee injury but isn’t expected to play.
Three starting linebackers, including elite pass rusher Clay Matthews, won’t play.
Perhaps the Browns (3-3) are catching the Packers (3-2) at the right time.
“No, not at all. Aaron Rodgers is playing,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden said.
The game’s best quarterbacks elevate the performance of everyone around them. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have built Hall of Fame careers by turning run-of-the-mill pass catchers into Pro Bowlers, and Rodgers fits right in.
If Jones joins Cobb on the sideline today at Lambeau Field, Rodgers will be down to Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin (one catch), Myles White and newly claimed Chris Harper at wideout. White and Harper have never played in the NFL.
“Cobb is a good player, but if you watch the film, the quarterback, he’s the one that … plays’ll break down and he’ll just find somebody open,” cornerback Buster Skrine said. “The team revolves around him.”
“With quarterbacks like him, with quarterbacks like Manning with Brady, it’s not really who’s at the other positions sometimes as far as he’s going to make sure he gets the ball to who he needs to as long as they run the right routes,” Haden said.
“With quarterbacks like him, if anybody else steps in there, the ball is still going to hit you in the chest.”
Rodgers’ credentials are impeccable. He was MVP in 2011, Super Bowl MVP after the 2010 season and has the highest passer rating in league history. His 104.7 career rating is 7.9 points higher than runner-up Steve Young, a Hall of Famer.
“This dude can really make every throw,” Haden said. “It comes out fast. We just gotta stay locked in and try to get pressure on him. If he’s just standing back there comfortable, there’s no way because his passes are so accurate.”
Rodgers, 29, has won 21 of the past 22 at home, completing 69.3 percent for 293.8 yards per game with 59 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a 116.1 rating.
His 8.18 yards per attempt rank third all time, behind ancient Hall of Famers Otto Graham and Sid Luckman. His .656 completion percentage is also third all time. His 3.62 touchdown-to-interception ratio is best in league history.
Rodgers has been nearly as efficient this year. He’s completed 64.1 percent for 1,646 yards, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 101.9 rating.
“I’m a big fan of him,” embattled Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “He, to me, is one of the top two or three quarterbacks in this league. He’s fun to watch.
“When you pop on the film, when he throws the football, it’s kind of different. He can spin it. He’s just an outstanding player. He poses a challenge. He’s going to give his offense a chance to score points.”
Rodgers might throw the prettiest ball in the league, and does it from the pocket or on the move. A survey of Browns defenders revealed the breadth of Rodgers’ skills, some more hidden than others. Mentioned were his accuracy on back-shoulder throws, mobility, pocket awareness, ability to read the defense and hard counts to draw it offsides.
“There’s a lot of danger to him, but I think if we go in and execute our game plan we’ll be able to get him stopped,” end Desmond Bryant said.
“Is he the best quarterback in the prime of his career?” defensive coordinator Ray Horton asked. “Yeah, I think he is.”
Horton’s group has the numbers to give its members confidence going against anyone. The Browns are tied for seventh vs. the rush (98.2 yards per game), eighth against the pass (214.3), seventh overall (312.5), sixth in sacks (3.2 per game) and 11th in scoring (20.8 points).
“They’re playing really well,” Rodgers said. “Their front is very talented. They’ve got a number of guys who can rotate in who are very good players. Some of those guys don’t get the recognition they deserve because they haven’t been able to be in the playoffs and get their names out there like they should.
“One guy in particular is Joe Haden, who I think came in with a lot of fanfare and has lived up to the billing and continues to get better. T.J. Ward jumps out on film as a guy who makes a lot of plays on the ball, great tackler. Seems to be kind of an energy guy for them. The front is very stout, especially against the run. So it’s gonna be a big test for us.”
Cleveland’s Achilles heel has been third down, where it ranks 29th, allowing 44.1 percent to be converted. An improved pass rush on the crucial down would help, but Rodgers’ quick release makes it difficult to get to him.
“He’s an elite quarterback. He doesn’t make many mistakes. To be able to get a sack on him, it’d be pretty cool,” rookie outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo said.
The dearth of Green Bay receivers, which could be mitigated by using tight end Jermichael Finley as a wideout, should help the Browns compete with Rodgers. Haden and Skrine have been solid, but nickelback Chris Owens is vulnerable and there’s little depth after him.
The offense can help by possessing the ball and keeping up on the scoreboard.
The harsh spotlight was directly on him following the inexcusable backhanded interception in the loss to Detroit in his return to the starting lineup. Weeden’s attitude remained positive and coach Rob Chudzinski said the team has rallied behind him.
“I thought he’s had his best couple of days of practice here: very focused and receptive to the coaching,” Chudzinski said. “You can see him doing things, specifically working to improve in areas that we’re talking about where he needs to improve. I am expecting him and I have confidence in him, like the team does, to go out and play his very best.”
Chudzinski said he never considered benching Weeden for Jason Campbell and he sees spurts of good play. Weeden needs more than that to prove he can be a long-term starter. He needs to elevate the guys around him.
Like Rodgers does.
“I think there’s different ways of doing that,” Rodgers said. “If you’re throwing the ball accurately, that might be what they’re talking about there. Because it’s gonna give them catches and yards and touchdowns and whatever. That’s one way to do it. The other thing is leadership and finding ways to motivate different guys. I’m blessed that I don’t have to do it myself. We have a number of guys who stepped up in a leadership role.”
He’s being humble. The Browns know exactly who makes all of the Packers better.
“When you have a quarterback like him, he just makes everybody good,” Skrine said. “He can make every throw. He looks the safety off a lot of times and then comes back to the guy he really wants to throw it to. So he’s a crafty quarterback and probably the best, or one of the best, in the league.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @scottpetrak.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Green Bay
TIME: 4:25 p.m.
WHERE: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WKNR 850-AM, WKRK 92.3-FM, WNCX 98.5-FM