Bears offense vs. Browns defense
If there’s one team against whom even the woeful Bears’ run game can have success, it’s the Browns. Cleveland’s defense is second-worst at stopping the run, yielding 170.6 yards per game on the ground. They’ve also allowed 10 rushing touchdowns, which is third-most in the league. Although the Bears would like to establish their run game, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of Matt Forte’s carries and yards came in the second half as they attempt to wind down the clock while playing with the lead. As inept as the Browns are at stopping the run, they have just as much trouble defending the pass. Cleveland’s pass defense is allowing 244.3 yards per game through the air, which ranks them No. 24. In short, unless the Bears’ offense shoots itself in the foot, we should see them clicking all game. The Browns are No. 27 in terms of points allowed — they’ve given up 25.6 per game — so expect the Bears to find the end zone a few times in this game.
Bears defense vs. Browns offense
Try as I may, I cannot justify giving the Browns the edge in this matchup despite the Bears’ atrocious performance on defense last week, and their poor pass defense for the past 22 weeks. Although they allow 220.3 passing yards per game and have struggled to get off the field when it counts, the Bears’ defense can’t be any worse than this Browns offense. The Browns are quarterbacked by Derek Anderson, once heralded by fans in Chicago thirsty for an end to the quarterback carousel. Three weeks ago against the Bills, Anderson completed just 2 of 17 passes for 23 yards with no touchdowns and 1 interception… and the Browns won that game. Anderson has only started 4 games and has already thrown 7 interceptions, tied for seventh-most in the league. He’s prone to making mistakes while trying to force things with little to no talent surrounding him. This is a game in which we could see the defensive line return to early-season form. Besides left tackle Joe Thomas, who is one of the best offensive linemen in the game, the Browns are young and bad up front. And if the Browns can’t pass well against the Bears’ secondary — which would be a first — they’ll try to run with veteran Jamal Lewis. Lewis is averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Aside from being destroyed for almost 200 yards by Cedric Benson last week, the Bears have faired well at stopping the run this season and last.
There was a time when everybody in Cleveland contended that Josh Cribbs was the best kickoff returner in the NFL, even better than somebody that most experts were calling the best kick returner of all time, Devin Hester. Well, more than a year later, Cribbs is still returning kicks at a high level while the Bears are foolishly trying to force Hester into the No. 1 receiver role. Cribbs is fourth in the NFL — among those kick returners with at least 10 attempts — averaging 28.9 yards per kickoff return. He also had a 98-yard touchdown against the Steelers. The Bears’ Johnny Knox, however, has done slightly better with a 29.0 yards-per-return average and returned a kick 102 yards for a touchdown. Cleveland punter Dave Zastudil has a better net average than Brad Maynard and also leads the league with 25 punts downed inside the 20, more than double Maynard’s total. Cleveland kicker Phil Dawson has missed more than a month with an injury but might play this week. If not, Billy Cundiff will resume the kicking duties and has done well. Robbie Gould has been solid all season. The Bears have played some of their worst special teams that we’ve seen under Dave Toub during the last two weeks. The Browns are playing solid in this phase right now.
Let me take you back to last week, if I may, and ask you to remember how you felt throughout — and after — the Bears’ embarrassing 45-10 loss to the Bengals. Not so good, huh? Now, extrapolate that over the course of many seasons and you’ll know what it’s like to be a Browns fan. Aside from a teaser season in 2007 when they miraculously went 10-6 and fooled most of the football world — myself not included — into thinking they were a good team, this Browns organization has been pathetic. And I didn’t think it was possible to get any worse than they were under the Romeo Crennel regime, but they went and hired Eric Mangini and actually appear to be getting worse. They have two of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL, whom they can’t choose between, but who would have fit nicely in the long list of Bears quarterbacks over the past few decades. And, at 1-6, they have very little to play for, even though the season is still young. If the Bears come out and punch the Browns in the mouth early with a physical style of play, the Browns will be retreating all day and could be down for the count early in the fight. The Bears will be wearing their obligatory ugly orange uniforms on Sunday, on a day they’ll be honoring Walter Payton at halftime. Hopefully, that’s the worst thing that goes wrong today.
Final Score: Chicago 27, Cleveland 13