Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is out for the Browns, Odell Beckham Jr. is back, Cleveland’s defense is still a work in progress, the Bears will be handing rookie quarterback Justin Fields his first NFL start, and the Browns will be looking to win the first two homes games of the season since the 1979 season.
Let’s take a look at what you need to know, along with some storylines, as the Browns take on the Bears.
Records: Cleveland is 1-1. Chicago is 1-1.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
Stadium: FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland
TV: Fox (Check out the full coverage map)
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen, Pam Oliver (sidelines)
Radio: 92.3 The Fan (WKRK), ESPN 850 WKNR and WNCX (98.5)
Announcers: Jim Donovan, Doug Dieken, Nathan Zegura (sideline reporter)
Last meeting: The Bears won the last meeting, 20-3, in Week 16 of the 2017 season. (Boxscore)
All-time series: Cleveland leads the all-time series 9-7, and has a 7-2 record at home against the Bears.
Weather: 70 degrees and partly cloudy, with no chance of rain (weather.com)
Uniform: The Browns will debut their 75th-anniversary throwback uniforms against the Bears.
Injury report: Browns - Questionable: center JC Tretter (knee) and offensive tackle Jedrick Wills Jr (ankle). Out: offensive lineman Chris Hubbard (tricep) and linebacker Sione Takitaki (hamstring).
Bears - Questionable: linebacker Jeremiah (hamstring), defensive lineman Akiem Hicks (illness/knee), defensive lineman Eddie Goldman (knee), wide receiver Darnell Mooney (groin), wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (ankle), safety Eddie Jackson (toe) and defensive lineman Bilal Nichols (back). Doubtful: safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (hamstring). Out: quarterback Andy Dalton (knee).
The line: Browns -7.5
A Few Things to Watch For
OBJ’s return: Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will be making his first start since suffering a season-ending ACL injury last October against the Cincinnati Bengals. His return comes at an opportune time as the Browns placed wide receiver Jarvis Landry on the injured list this week and, while talented, the rest of the wide receiver group is still pretty raw in experience.
The Bears will likely devote much of their attention on Beckham, which means the other receivers need to step up their game in a way they were not able to do against the Texans after Landry left the game. Quarterback Baker Mayfield also needs to be comfortable spreading the ball around and not forcing it to Beckham, even if that proves a bit irritating to OBJ.
Even if the coaching staff decides to limit Beckham’s playing time to help ease him back to game speed, having him on the field should give the Browns offense a different look and open things up for the rest of the offense.
Third-down woes: Cleveland’s defense has had difficulties getting off the field on third downs through the first two weeks of the season as they allowed the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans to convert a combined 63 percent of their opportunities. The Bears come into the game converting at just 42 percent on third down, so this game is a perfect opportunity for the defense to flex its muscles and shut down the Bears on third and get the offense back on the field.
The defense is still finding its way after an offseason of considerable change, so some struggles are to be expected. But if the Browns can’t keep Chicago’s offense under control, those struggles may move from the “mildly concerning” category into “there might be an issue here” pretty quick.
Keep containment: Mobile quarterbacks have proven puzzling to Cleveland’s defense as Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Tyrod Taylor both had a rushing touchdown on the Browns, and used their legs to escape pressure and keep the play alive.
Chicago quarterback Justin Field presents a similar problem. While he was nothing special in relief of Andy Dalton against the Bengals - six-of-13 for 60 yards, an interception, a sack, and a quarterback rating of 27.7 - but he has had the entire week of practice to prepare. Fields is athletic and if the Browns can’t keep him in the pocket, he could prove to be a problem.
The Browns don’t necessarily have to pile up the sacks against Fields, they just need to keep him in the pocket and make him uncomfortable and good things should happen.
Hold onto the ball: The Browns have been uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball in their first two games with four turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions — while the Bears made good use of their turnovers last week in defeating the Bengals.
Cleveland was a perfect 10-0 last season when they did not lose the turnover battle, according to clevelandbrowns.com. One way to lose a game to an inferior team is to turn the ball over, so keeping a clean sheet in that department will be a huge benefit to the Browns against the Bears.
A final quote
Defensive coordinator Joe Woods (via a team-provided transcript):
“Really, it is a problem (with a mobile quarterback) because the times when you rush four and they have six or seven guys blocking, there are going to be lanes where he can escape. You always want to have in your package the ability to bring five-man pressures, six-man pressures or have somebody spying on him. In order to strengthen yourself in one area, you are going to weaken yourself in another area. It is just playing that game and having that mixture of what you are trying to do.”
These are just a few things to keep an eye on; now it is time to have your say. What are you looking for from the Browns in Sunday’s game against the Bears?