Game #14 Bears @ Browns – Preview
For the final time during the 2013 campaign, the Cleveland Browns will play in front of their home crowd at First Energy Stadium. After a 3 – 2 start to the season, the home team has suffered defeat after defeat. Now, the Chicago Bears – who have also dealt with injuries and losses as well – come to town for an inter-conference matchup. As both teams near the offseason, both will likely miss the playoffs and have decisions to make at quarterback. This contest is a very winnable one for the Browns; it would be nice for the fans if the home team can go out a winner. However, several things must first go right in order for that to happen.
Offense: This is not the Chicago Bears’ defense that many have been accustomed to. The unit has given up more than 20 points every single contest and ranks 28th in the league in both points and yards allowed. Assuming the Browns can have decent quarterback play, they have a reasonable shot to win this contest. At this point, I would like to see the signal caller put up a decent amount of attempts; injuries (to Charles Tillman) have forced Isaiah Frey into action opposite Tim Jennings. The Browns’ offense can have success, assuming turnovers are avoided at all costs – tell me if you’ve heard of this one before. Besides Josh Gordon, I hope the quarterback can spread it around a bit; even if passes to alternatives are not extremely deep ones. I envision a contest where the signal caller nears the 300-yard total with a turnover – more than one might be too much to overcome.
If the coaching staff is patient with Willis McGahee and Chris Ogbonnaya, I could see a very productive day between the duo. The Bears are last in the league in terms of yardage allowed and yards per attempt when facing running backs; they are 29th in the league in rushing touchdowns surrendered. I understand that playing against Adrian Peterson twice may have skewed this (he rushed for 100 and 211 yards in those meetings), but the Browns’ platoon can have success. If these two, along with Fozzy Whittaker, can combine for the century mark on the ground and a score – it will be a great day. I do not anticipate a great deal from the backs in terms of receiving however; Chris Conte, Khaseem Greene, and Jon Bostic have been stout in coverage. Of note, the Browns have not had big receiving days out of the backfield thus far – Sunday should be no different.
It will be interesting to see how the Browns’ wide outs matchup with the secondary of the visitors. Outside of Calvin Johnson and (to a lesser extent) Tavon Austin, the Bears have not faced a talented athlete like Josh Gordon this season – and the two aforementioned had big receiving days. The former Baylor star will make the defense pay – he will likely not eclipse the 200-yard mark but should have several nice grabs and a score. The Browns will be in position to pick on cornerbacks opposite Tim Jennings, but will Greg Little and Davone Bess take advantage? This may be the final opportunity for the duo to display what they can do, but I (once again) have my doubts. Jordan Cameron ought to secure multiple grabs but it’s doubtful the tight end will find the end zone. He has done a better job in running crossing and under routes than vertical ones; Turner and Chud should realize this and put the athlete in position to help this offense.
Staring across from Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder, the Bears were able to take down the quarterbacks a combined five times a few weeks ago. I worry about Jon Bostic and Julius Peppers flying by Mitchell Schwartz or Shawn Lauvao and creating havoc against the team that allows a significant number of sacks (second most in the league). If the Browns can get the running game going early, like they did against Jacksonville, then I have confidence that the line can hold up against this defensive front. I feel the group will play well all game long until crunch time. The Browns will need to sustain a long drive to go ahead or maintain the lead, and the offensive line will permit a defender or two by them to force the offense to stall.
Defense: When healthy (which is the case), the Bears’ running attack is one of the best in the league. It will be an arduous task for the defensive line to limit Matt Forte all game long, but the primary goal should be to prevent any long gainers – i.e. rushes over fifteen yards. Playing the lighter, speedy Billy Winn (at end) a significant number of snaps, and the defense could be at an advantage. He will be expected to quickly “set the edge” and keep the runner in the middle of the field where Phil Taylor can make stops. On the other side, I anticipate another solid performance by Ahtyba Rubin – who has been great all season. Despite drafting Kyle Long in the first round, the Bears still continue to give up a high number of sacks on passing attempts (four against the Vikings, two weeks ago). Will one of the guys upfront for the Browns’ tackle the opposing quarterback behind the line of scrimmage? It’s unlikely, but this unit is due for a breakout in this department.
The Browns’ outside linebackers must pick up the slack in getting to the signal caller. It would be surprising to see either Barkevious Mingo or Paul Kruger have an outstanding game, as both continue to underwhelm the fan base. Maybe certain defensive stunts or personnel combinations can help these guys out, but I continue to struggle with the lack of production. Jabaal Sheard should see a great deal of snaps on Sunday, and Ray Horton should alternate the former Pittsburgh Panther between both sides so the offense cannot game plan as easily. Whoever has played alongside D’Qwell Jackson this season (Craig Robertson, Tank Carder, and Darius Eubanks) has been a reliable option at inside linebacker. Depending on how the first two recover from their injuries, the coaching staff could use a healthy rotation for certain situations – i.e. stopping the run, pass defending, or rushing/blitzing, etc.
This is an extremely tough matchup for the secondary of the home squad; the Bears feature a few receiving options that have excelled tremendously in 2013. Certain contests have displayed Brandon Marshall, while Alshon Jeffery has dominated other games. That being said, I am not sure if the Browns will employ Joe Haden solely on Marshall or just have the cornerback play a specific side of the field. Regardless, I hope help is available for Buster Skrine, as the veteran will struggle when facing one of the dominant wide outs. This could be an opportunity for rookie Leon McFadden to prove his future worth on the team. He has been getting more playing time as of late and will see the field, due to the injury of Chris Owens. I’m excited to see what he can do – the cornerback may get burned a time or two, but being physical and around the ball are the kind of things I will be looking for. Tashaun Gipson and T.J. Ward must keep their eyes on tight end Martellus Bennett. The former Texas A&M star is only averaging four receptions a game and has five touchdowns, but he can dictate the passing attack when given room to run deeper routes.
Special Teams: It’s been awhile since the Browns have faced one of the best returners in the game, but that is exactly the case on Sunday. The team must corral Devin Hester, as he can take any punt or kick and turn it into a touchdown. Additionally, I would prefer Robbie Gould at kicker – the veteran has been an exceptional kicker for many years. The Browns appear to be at a slight disadvantage when it comes to special teams, so they must win the offensive and defensive battles somewhat decidedly if they want to get the victory.
Coaching: There are a lot of similarities between Chud and Bears’ coach Mark Trestman. Both are offensive-minded leaders who are aggressive and rely on analytics. For the most part, “gutsy” decisions have worked out – i.e. the fourth down conversion for the Browns against the Ravens or the fourth down conversion for the Bears against the Packers. However, both have come up short in certain situations; failed fourth downs against the Steelers (Browns) and a missed field goal on second down versus the Vikings (Bears). This contest could be determined by a huge decision – which coach will have to make it and how will it go?
Prediction (My Record: 7 – 6): This game feels like it will come down to the fourth quarter and a couple of critical plays. The Browns will play hard but once again mistakes will cost them. The Bears take a small lead late and extend it, while the home team cannot make the comeback – with the final being 27 – 17.