On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns take on the Chicago Bears in Week 3. Below, we analyze a few advantages, disadvantages, or general thoughts about the two teams before getting to our predictions for the game.
Facing a Rookie Quarterback
- Justin Fields will make his first career start in the NFL against the Browns, replacing the injured Andy Dalton. Browns fans are well aware of Fields, who was the Ohio State Buckeyes’ quarterback. Fields got Bears fans excited with his preseason performance, as he completed 61.2% of his passes with 2 touchdown passes. He also ran 11 times for 92 yards and 1 touchdown.
- In two regular season games, Fields is 8-of-15 for 70 yards and 1 interception. He’s run 11 times for 34 yards and 1 touchdown.
- One of the Browns’ biggest issues on defense through two games has been their third-down defense, where they are ranked dead last in the NFL. They have allowed a conversion an astounding 63% of the time. By comparison, the best team in that category, the Panthers, have only allowed a conversion 21% of the time. I don’t know what the one solution is for Cleveland to get things together, because we need to see improvement from a lot of guys. In particular, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, John Johnson, and Troy Hill need to deliver at a higher level. Defensive coordinator Joe Woods also needs to speed up the game for Fields early and often.
The Formula on Offense
- Khalil Mack. Robert Quinn. Roquan Smith. And the list goes on. Chicago’s defense is solid, so this is a week where Cleveland has to be somewhat cautious in their approach. This is a game where I think the ideal formula for success for the Browns is to have the defense force punts and some short fields, and the offense takes advantage of those short fields with efficient touchdown drives. It’s not the same group that you can run up and down the field against for several 80-yard touchdown drives.
- Through two games, the Bears’ run defense ranks 5th in the NFL, allowing 71.5 yards rushing and 3.33 yards per carry. Their pass defense has been more suspect, and starter Tashaun Gipson is out this week. Even though you typically think about the threat of the Bears’ pass rush, Cleveland’s offensive line is the best in the business and Kevin Stefanski’s scheming will give Baker Mayfield a lot of opportunities to air the ball out this week. I’m expecting the run-pass distribution to lean toward the passing side of things this week.
- It almost hasn’t hit me yet that Odell Beckham Jr. will be back in today’s game, and it’s something that will no doubt have a ripple effect on the rest of the offense. I’m optimistic that it’ll be a big positive for the offense, but also remember the timing of things last year — Baker really found himself after Beckham’s departure. I still believe the timing of that is more coincidental, but the narrative still lingers.
- The other big positive is that Jedrick Wills will be back at left tackle.
Here are predictions from multiple staff members at DBN.
Chris Pokorny: “I don’t expect as high-scoring of a game as some of my colleagues this week. I’m anticipating a better defensive performance, with a measured but efficient offensive approach for back-to-back wins.” Browns 28, Bears 17
Thomas Moore: “Despite a few bumps in the road, the Browns offense is humming along and averaging 30 points a game through the first two weeks of the season. Cleveland will be down wide receiver Jarvis Landry, but might see the return of Odell Beckham Jr., which theoretically will be a benefit to the offense. The Browns defense is still working to find its way, if we are being kind, and the game against the Bears will be an opportunity to show that time on task is resulting in some tangible improvements. One area of improvement that would be nice to see is the defense actually stopping someone on third down, as the Browns allowed the Chiefs and Texans to convert 63 percent of their opportunities. Cleveland should be able to take advantage of the fact that Bears quarterback Justin Fields is making his first NFL start, although his ability to get out of the pocket and extend the play is something the Browns have struggled to contain the past two weeks.
Still, Cleveland’s offense is working right now and there should be no way for the Bears to keep up with Cleveland.” Browns 31, Bears 17
Barry Shuck: “The Bears have almost no passing success but can run the ball effectively. Rookie Justin Fields is about to be throw to the fire for his NFL decertation, so Browns and OSU fans will have a Catch 22 during this game. Both the Browns and Bears have so far allowed way too many yards passing and both can stop the run. So expect fireworks in the passing game for Cleveland, several lead changes and a high score. The game to watch is the Browns run defense vs. Chicago’s running game.” Browns 41, Bears 30
Matt Wood: “I think the Browns kind of took the Texans for granted on Sunday. Kind of odd to be on the other side of one of those games. Felt like one of those games in which the Browns hung around for 2.5-3 quarters and a better team would just put them away.
I don’t think the Browns do that this week. I think they come out and throw some things at Fields to see if they can rattle the young QB. On offense I think they make an attempt to get OBJ going early and Schwartz has a big play because of it. Run game finishes this one off after Fields makes a play or two.” Browns 34, Bears 18
rufio: “Justin Fields scares me, but I’m trusting that he won’t be fully ready in his first NFL start. At Ohio State I couldn’t tell if he was not moving quickly through his progressions because he couldn’t, or if he just felt like he didn’t have to because of his ridiculous athleticism. He will still be a running threat in the NFL, but he won’t be able to shrug off every tackle attempt like a varsity starter playing against 8th graders. This Browns defense has to begin to gel, as we are having trouble stopping anyone right now. The talent seems to be there, we just aren’t making enough plays.
Offensively, however, we are on fire. And the Bears might have a good defense but we are going to come to play. You can nitpick Bakers’ performances thus far, but he’s leading the league in completion percentage and he’s 2nd in yards per attempt. Even Manning and Brady have plays they want back, so let’s take his overall performance in context: he’s been plenty good enough for us to win whatever game we are playing. Odell will make a few plays to remind everyone why he’s so widely-known, and the Chubb/Hunt train will keep on rolling.
In the end, the game will feel tense to Browns fans because we’ve been through so many collapses, but it will feel like a mostly comfortable Browns win to everyone else. The Bears will keep it close early, we’ll pull away in the 2nd half, and the Bears will score late making the score closer than it should have been.” Browns 33, Bears 24
Ezweav: “I think as we get closer towards the end of the season this win against Houston is going to look a lot better than it does right now. The Bears figure to be a similar type of test but with of course the rookie QB variable. I have a fairly high opinion of Justin Fields as an NFL prospect but he’s still a rookie starting his first NFL game and rookie gonna rookie. That probably means a few turnovers, but also he’s likely to make a few plays here and there - especially since we still seem to be feeling things out a bit on defense. I do think he’ll be more prone to try to stand back in the pocket more than either KC or HOU did, just because he’s (probably) not as adept at running the incredibly quick passing schemes both the Chefs and Texies threw at us. They did that to mitigate our pass rush, and Fields not doing that means we’re likely to get home more this week than we have thus far.
Meanwhile our offense is operating at a high level of efficiency and while the Bears definitely have some dudes on that defense I don’t expect them to really slow us down much. Baker is dialed in and we’re keeping teams off balance and constantly exploiting their overpursuing either the run or the play-action that comes off of it. Teams playing us have to feel pretty frustrated because what can you do? Focus on the run and Baker will boot hard to either direction and chew you up on the mid-range stuff. Focus on him and now you’re too late to get to Chubb or Hunt who can either drop a shoulder and put you on the ground or make a move and break both of your ankles. And we might get Odell back this week. It’s not a good place to be if you’re trying to stop us.
And Chicago won’t be able to. Barring something truly shocking we should handily take this one.” Bears 25, Browns 23
Who do you think will win, Browns fans? Let us know in the comments section below.