On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Chicago Bears. To help preview a few topics from the Bears’ perspective, we reached out to Patti Curl from Windy City Gridiron and exchanged five questions with her. Enjoy!
Chris: “The big story this week is that Justin Fields is starting over Andy Dalton, due to injury. What are the expectations for Fields in his first start?”
Patti: “We got a decent look at Fields last Sunday, since he played more than half the game after Dalton’s injury. We saw some rookie mistakes, including two false start penalties on Fields himself and an interception the Bengals deviously baited him into. We saw some beautifully placed deep balls dropped by our best receiver. We saw a lot of running plays, including some obviously electric scrambles from Fields, and we saw a number of safe throws, likely in part because of the game script surrounding the Bears savage defensive annihilation of the Bengals.
I think with a week of game planning—and of Justin Fields actually practicing with the starters—we’ll see a more comfortable version of Fields. I expect a mix of deep shots and short plays, both running and passing. I think Fields will impress, but he’ll likely also make at least one costly mistake. The story of his game will likely hinge on whether his deep shots connect. I’m choosing to believe they will. Right now I’m closing my eyes and imagining a 3rd and 1 on the Bears first drive, play action, Marquise Goodwin gets a step ahead of John Johnson on a deep crossing route and Fields drops into Goodwin’s paws in stride as he coasts in for a touchdown and an early Bears lead.”
Chris: “What is the strength and weakness of the Bears’ offensive line?”
Patti: “If you’d asked me before the season started, I’d have told you the interior was the strength and the tackles were the weakness. Both Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are former second round picks who have shown the ability to play at an above average level, and Sam Mustipher the center is an undrafted free agent who played better than expected at the end of last year and I was hopeful could take another step in his first season as a starter. All three have played below my expectation, while octogenarian tackle Jason Peters has played like a man 90% his age, and Germain Ifedi has been pleasantly adequate holding down the right tackle spot.
In short, the Bears have been playing strong on the outside and weak in the middle, like a tootsie pop. Hopefully the Browns stick with licking at the Bears O-line from the edges and don’t think to send Malik McDowell biting up the middle.”
Chris: “Even though their offense may not have a lot of firepower, Chicago’s defense is still pretty stout. If there’s a weakness that Chicago’s defense has had, though, what is it?”
Patti: “First off, I resent the notion that the offense lacks firepower! Justin Fields is a powder keg giving off sparks and I hope he makes you pay for your doubting tone. Secondly, the defense does not have a weakness, it has many. Nickel corner is the most glaring weakness. The Bears have played two games with two different starting nickel corners, journeyman Marquis Christian who is best suited to play safety, and former 6th round pick Duke Shelly who is best suited to play limited reps in a pinch. Honestly, I think the Bears best slot pass defender is linebacker Roquan Smith.
The rest of the secondary has shown its warts, with both safeties Eddie Jackson and Tashaun Gipson playing a terrible week one and bouncing back to decent-at-best for week two. The Bears second outside corner, Kindle Vildor is a 2020 5th rounder who shows promise but hasn’t progressed beyond liability-level play in his first two games.
Overall, the Bears defense played much better week two than week one, and I’m hoping it’s just taking time to gel in Sean Desai’s system, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Baker Mayfield exposes the Bears secondary Sunday and broken down coverages lead to a comedy of Bears.”
Chris: “Is there any chance we see, by design, a mix of Nick Foles in at quarterback this weekend?”
Patti: “This would surprise me. I personally think it would be kind of fun. I also think most of the Bears fans at FirstEnergy stadium would boo when he took the field. I don’t think Foles has a skillset you build a package for. His advantage over Fields would lie in the ability to read the defense, recognize masked coverages, and make a quick decision. On the plays where a confusing defensive coverage would get the best of a rookie, it would be better to have Foles on the field, but obviously you can’t predict when that would be.
If I were to use Foles in a package, I would put him in on the goalline or 4th and short, line up in an empty set, and then see if he can “run” the ball across the line because who would expect that!”
Chris: “Tell us about one player who Browns fans may not have heard of, but who could have an impact on this Sunday’s game.”
Patti: “Second year cornerback Jaylon Johnson has been the best player in the Bears secondary this season. He nabbed his first career interception against the Bengals last week, but most likely the impact he makes on this game will mean he doesn’t get targeted. So come to think of it, the Browns fans who haven’t heard of him before the game will likely still not have heard of him after the game, since the Browns will have plenty of opportunities to feast on the rest of the secondary.”
Thanks again to Patti for taking the time to answer my questions.