The season is starting to wrap up, and the playoff picture is starting to take form. The Cleveland Browns got back on the winning track with a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and this week they will get ready to play against NFC North opponent, the Chicago Bears.
Going into this season, many believed that the Bears had a great offseason (they didn’t), were going to be a playoff contender (that’s funny, real funny) and quarterback Justin Fields would be an MVP candidate (if you placed money on Fields winning the MVP, show yourselves right now).
Out of all those three things, none has happened and it’s fair to say the season has been a disappointment despite the team going 5-4 in their last 9 games.
Offensively, the unit has varied between average and below average at times. Currently, the unit ranks 22nd in EPA/per play. Average.
Fields has been through a lot this season, whether when it comes to dealing with injuries, questionable play-calling as well as his play he’s been through a lot. Trading for wide receiver D.J. Moore has paid off, as the QB finally has a reliable target. The running game with Khalil Herbert and D’onta Foreman is a solid running back duo and tight end Cole Kmet is a contributor in the passing game.
Defensively, the unit ranks 20th in EPA/per play. Again, this is average. They have some talent but there are some questions about how the talent is being utilized.
After trading away linebacker Roquan Smith, the team decided to sign Tremaine Edmunds this offseason (thought it was an overpay and I still think it is). After neglecting the edge rusher position this offseason, the Bears addressed it at the trade deadline by adding for Montez Sweat from the Washington Commanders.
It has paid dividends as the defense has played better as of late. The secondary has nice quality pieces with cornerbacks Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon and rookie Tyrique Stevenson. Safety Jaquan Brisker leads the backend and is a budding star but could miss this week’s game.
Here are my 3 players to watch for.
QB Justin Fields
Who else to start with but the quarterback?
Going back to his days at Ohio State, I respected Fields and what he did and I believed that in the right place, he would thrive. Since he’s been in Chicago, it hasn’t been anything close to that. Fields has had to deal with both inept offensive play calling and a lack of a quality supporting cast.
However, the QB is not free of blame. He’s had his moments of playing well and he’s had his moments of the Bears looking to draft another quarterback (the team has two first-round picks, one is their own and one they obtained from the Carolina Panthers).
Fields is a dual threat, he can be a problem with his passing and his running.
We’ve seen improvement in Fields when it comes to how he operates the offense, ball placement on throws and his ability to create explosive plays. The last time Fields played in Cleveland he was a rookie back in 2021. It didn’t go well. However, things have changed and he’s a different player.
For Cleveland, it’s imperative that they don’t let Fields get into a rhythm and take the game over with either his legs or his arm.
TE Cole Kmet
For some reason, there are some people who are still low on Kmet. I am not one of those people. Kmet has always been a solid tight end for Chicago considering that the team has lacked talent offensively for the past few years. He’s a solid option in the red zone, a quality pass catcher and has shown his reliability in the run-blocking game.
Cole Kmet has caught 85% of his targets this year and has a 110 passer rating when targeted. He’s top 10 in catches and yards. He can do it all.— Clay Harbor (@clayharbs82) December 11, 2023
These are back to back plays: #DaBears #Bears pic.twitter.com/0mm9InUKNA
There is a reason why Chicago paid him the money he earned this past offseason. Cleveland’s defense will find ways to limit wide receiver D.J. Moore but when that happens it will free up opportunities for Kmet to get involved.
With safety Grant Delpit on IR, look for Cleveland to find ways to limit Kmet in the passing game with creative coverages.
DT Gervon Dexter
The Bears defense has some quality pieces but the one person that sticks out is Dexter.
Dexter, the 2023 2nd rounder out of Florida has started to emerge as a stud on the Bears defensive line. The interior defensive line for the Bears was an issue last season, and Dexter has been a solution for that issue. He’s huge and he fits what the Bears are trying to do defensively.
I expected to talk all year about Gervon Dexter the run stuffer, instead we're talking about Gervon Dexter the pass rusher.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) December 11, 2023
He's coming along quite nicely pic.twitter.com/dk1VRfaTy3
He’s stout against the run but he’s starting to build a form of a pass rush repertoire as an interior defensive lineman (which is important). When I watch his tape, his get-off is slow but he has good power and I like his hand fighting.
Cleveland’s interior offensive line has been fine this season but Dexter is someone who can find ways to make an impact in the game, whether it is in run defense or in terms of pass rush.
Who do you think is key to watch for the Bears this week versus the Browns?