3TFO: Bears @ Browns, Week 15
The (7-6) Chicago Bears head to Cleveland for a Week 15 match-up with the (4-9) Browns. The Bears will be looking to build on their big Monday night win last week against the Cowboys. The Browns play tough at home and will be looking to clear away all remnants of last week’s collapse in New England.
Chicago comes in with a red hot offense. They rank eighth overall in our cumulative rankings and fourth in passing offense. Much of that ranking has to do with the play of veteran backup Josh McCown. McCown is sixth overall among QBs with a +14.5 grade. In comparison, Jay Cutler has a +4 grade, with 50 more snaps played. Marc Trestman has already announced that Cutler will be the starter. Cutler will need to keep the offense rolling with the Bears’ defense struggling. The Chicago defense ranks last in our cumulative rankings (and by a solid margin). Lack of run defense is the main culprit, but the Bears have also struggled with coverage, and rushing the passer.
While the Bears seem to have two quarterbacks playing well, the Browns are just trying to get any form of consistency out of one. The Browns are still a quarterback away from contention. They have the weapons on offense with Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon. They have some solid pieces on the offensive line with Joe Thomas and Alex Mack (both grading in the Top 3 individually at their positions), and their young defense is a Top 10 run defense and improving overall. While waiting for that franchise quarterback to arrive the Browns will have to settle with the feisty underdog label. This week they play that role again in what should be a highly competitive game.
Browns Running Game vs. Bears Run Defense
The Bears’ horrible run defense is no secret. They have allowed six straight 100-yard rushers and their -108.8 cumulative team grade is by far the worst in the league. With Lance Briggs out they really don’t have a consistently positive run defender. You can start with the safeties. Chris Conte and Major Wright have a combined -28.3 run grade and have also missed 25 tackles. Things don’t get better at the linebacker position as James Anderson comes in with a -20 grade. Shea McClellin’s -15.9 grade bottoms out the defensive line. When you add it all up, the Bears have the worst graded run defender at defensive end, outside linebacker, and both safety positions.
Thankfully for the Bears, the Browns don’t really have a strong running game. With the banged up Willis McGahee most likely out, the Browns carries will be divided between Fozzy Whittaker and Chris Ogbonnaya, neither of which makes much of an impact carrying the ball. They won’t get much help up front either. Alex Mack is the only strong run blocker as his +8.5 run grade ranks fifth among centers. Joe Thomas is a sensational pass blocker but around average as a run blocker, and the rest of the offensive line is slightly below average filler. This is definitely a weakness on weakness matchup that one of these teams can steal to help turn the tides on Sunday.
Joe Haden vs. Brandon Marshall/Alshon Jeffery
Joe Haden has had a pretty busy season, as he’s been thrown at 90 times. This ties him for fourth in the league in targets. Despite being targeted so often he has allowed only 50 completions, and his 15 combined passes defensed and INTs ranks him third out of all cornerbacks. Though he is much smaller than most of the receivers he matches up against, he makes up for it with his physicality and competitiveness. The Bears will try to test the Browns down the field all game. It’s up to Haden to try to limit some of that damage and maybe come up with a crucial interception.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery will ensure that Haden gets a battle wherever he lines up on the field. Both Marshall and Jeffery rank in the Top 5 in our receiver rankings. Marshall has already topped the highest overall grade we’ve given to a wide receiver, but the way he does it is unconventional. His +13.7 blocking grade doubles that of the next best blocker. We haven’t seen blocking like this from the position since Muhsin Muhammad was in his prime. Alshon Jeffery has had his share of highlight-reel catches in the last few weeks as well. He started off the season slow but now has almost 1,200 yards and 6 TDs. Look for Cutler to throw up a few jump balls to these two that could turn in to game changing plays.
Josh Gordon vs. Tim Jennings and the Bears Secondary
After talking about Marshall and Jeffery, it’s hard to go anywhere but down. Josh Gordon’s unprecedented run over the last week prevents that. Sam Monson takes a detailed look here. Gordon leads the league with 1,400 receiving yards. This is despite missing the first two games of the season. His 19.7 yards per catch also lead the league. No receiver has led the league in yards and ypc since 2000. He also leads our yards per route run signature stat with a 2.85 average. Gordon and Calvin Johnson lead the next group of receivers by almost 0.3 yards (this margin equals 11% more production, per route run). He’s big, fast, and athletic and the Bears will have their hands full.
Tim Jennings will see some time matched up with Gordon. Jennings has been solid this year, but his small stature could present some problems against a receiver of Gordon’s size. Isiah Frey and Zackary Bowman could also see time on Gordon. Neither of these two has been terrible. Bowman has graded out slightly better than average and Frey slightly below average. The problem these three corners might encounter is the amount of help they get from the safety position. Conte and Wright have not only struggled in run defense. They have also combined for a -15.4 pass coverage grade, and with the way these two miss tackles, the last thing the Bears want to see is Josh Gordon running down the middle of the field. It’s going to take a collective effort for the bears to slow down Gordon. Expect them to look to their own divisional experience for help and to give him the same looks Calvin Johnson gets.
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