This week, the Cleveland Browns take on the Chicago Bears. Can the Browns send their fans home happy, or will their losing streak be extended to five consecutive games? Our position-by-position evaluation and game prediction are below.
The Bears offered Jason Campbell a contract to stay with them this offseason, but he turned them down in favor of the Cleveland Browns. Now, he gets to go up against his former team. We've seen two versions of Campbell -- one who has exceeded expectations, and one who has been pretty poor. His gameplay seems to coincide with the health of his ribs, so he should be able to have a decent game against Chicago's defense.
Chicago will send Jay Cutler back on the field as their starting quarterback as he makes his return from an ankle injury. Those of you who have been following DBN for a long time may know my opinion of him: I used to despise him in Denver, solely because I felt the media over-rated him as a better quarterback than he actually was. Over the past couple of years, he's started to grow on me to the point where I no longer have any disdain for him. Will he be able to shake off the rust in a critical game for Chicago, though, or will Cleveland be able to play spoiler?
Is it just me, or is Matt Forte the forgotten running back in the NFL? He is 4th in the NFL in rushing yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. He's also 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards among running backs, putting him in the same class as LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles. Backup running back Michael Bush has surprisingly low production, though, at 2.4 yards per carry. Those are the only two running backs to receive carries for Chicago this season.
The crazy thing about this game is that at the end of the game, the Browns' running backs have a high probability of putting up better stats than Forte and Bush, thanks to the Bears' horrid run defense. Willis McGahee is out with a concussion, so Chris Ogbonnaya could be in for extended carries. Fozzy Whittaker will also get some touches, and Norv Turner said that new running back Edwin Baker will get some snaps as well.
Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon are looking like a mighty-fine duo right now, but the Bears get the advantage because they have a better trio than Cleveland. Both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are over 1,000 yards receiving on the year with a combined 15 touchdowns. The third weapon is tight end Martellus Bennett, who has 588 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns -- not bad for a third wheel. Besides Forte, the Bears keep it simple in the receiving game: nobody else touches the ball.
One of these weeks, you'd think that a defense will scheme to pay more attention to Josh Gordon. When that happens, Greg Little and Davone Bess need to be productive. Over the past four games, those two players have combined for just 17 catches for 112 yards, which means each of them are averaging 2 catches for 14 yards per game. For all of the reps they are getting, that has to get pretty demoralizing.
Is it a coincidence that as soon as Brandon Weeden stopped starting games, the Browns' sacks per pass attempt rate improved to 18th in the NFL? John Greco has been ruled out for this week's game, so Jason Pinkston will make his first start since a year ago. It shouldn't be a huge drop off, considering Pinkston was the starter before his injury. This is a big game for Pinkston, who could end up earning playing time over Greco or Shawn Lauvao if he does well.
The Bears don't give up many sacks, which is a big change from the past three years when Cutler was getting destroyed behind the line of scrimmage before he could even drop back to pass. That, coupled with the Bears' effectiveness on the ground with Matt Forte, is the reason they get the advantage on the offensive line.
Last week, the Browns faced a 4-3 Patriots defense that had lost both of their defensive tackles, which hurt their ability to stop the run. The Bears face a similar situation on their defensive line. Defensive tackle Henry Melton went on injured reserve back in Week 3, and his replacement, Nate Collins, went down the following week. Julius Peppers has 6.5 sacks on the season, but isn't getting as much pressure as fans would have hoped, and will be up against Joe Thomas this week.
Cleveland showed how deep they were on the defensive line last week against the Patriots: with Desmond Bryant gone for the year, they didn't miss a beat as Billy Winn, John Hughes, and Armonty Bryant rotated reps. In fact, I think the combination actually provided more energy than Bryant had been providing in recent weeks.
The Bears were hoping to get the leader of their defense, Lance Briggs, back on the field this week, but he's been ruled out again with a shoulder injury. Second-round pick Jonathan Bostic is the team's middle linebacker, replacing Brian Urlacher. Fourth-round pick Khaseem Greene is starting at one of the outside linebacker positions. While it's good that the youngsters are getting experience, they are also a significant reason why Chicago's run defense has had a big dropoff.
Jabaal Sheard, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo combined for their most effective combined effort in a long time last week. Unfortunately, given the Bears' quick passing game and stout protection, it'll be difficult for them to get to Cutler this week. Matt Forte is another good receiving back, so we'll see if the Bears continue to exploit Craig Robertson in coverage.
The loss of Charles Tillman to the Bears' secondary was another tough blow for the defense. The cornerback position is now anchored by veterans Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman, with Major Wright and Chris Conte manning the safety positions. It makes sense that the secondary is still getting by fairly well, considering that is Mel Tucker's coaching specialty.
Cleveland's secondary will have their hands full this week. Jay Cutler won't be afraid to target Joe Haden, but this will be a week in which Buster Skrine or Leon McFadden will also be facing a dangerous receiver. It'll be interesting to see if the Browns utilize T.J. Ward in man coverage on Martellus Bennett, and continue using him in an inside linebacker type of role.
Robbie Gould is 24-of-27 on the season on field goal attempts this season, and his touchback rate is 42.7%. Adam Podlesh handles punts for the Bears but is near the bottom of the NFL in that department. Chicago always boasts a threat at the kick and punt return position because of Devin Hester.
Spencer Lanning had a bounce-back game last week, but now his challenge will be to keep the ball away from Hester as much as possible. Can he execute the coffin corner to perfection? Similarly, Billy Cundiff will have to hope he can boom the ball out of the end zone for touchbacks again.
The Browns will stay competitive because of how poor the Bears' run defense is, but Chicago's offense is one of the best in the league. Cleveland had success against New England by getting pressure on Tom Brady while his receivers dropped passes, but the defense won't have that luxury this week against the Bears' weapons.
Chicago Bears 27, Cleveland Browns 20
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