The Chicago Bears face their stiffest test yet this season as they go on the road to play the Cleveland Browns. Many experts view that team as one of the primary contenders in the AFC. Their roster is littered with talent offensively and defensively. It isn’t a surprise the Bears are the underdog going into this game. Especially as they prepare to give rookie quarterback Justin Fields his first start.
That said, nobody would look at the Browns right now and say they’re at full strength. Nowhere is that clearer than the offense. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry is second on the team in yards and their best slot receiver by a significant margin. He went on injured reserve this week with a knee injury. Quarterback Baker Mayfield suffered a shoulder injury last week against Houston. One that is still affecting him based on recent practice clips.
The real intrigue though might be the offensive line.
Four of its five starters appeared on the injury report on Wednesday. Guard Joel Bitonio (back) and right tackle Jack Conklin (knee) were limited. Even more interesting was seeing both left tackle Jedrick Willis (ankle) and center J.C. Tretter (knee) miss practice entirely. Even if all four of those men end up playing on Sunday, it is apparent the Browns front is not even close to 100%.
— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) September 22, 2021
— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) September 22, 2021
This doesn’t guarantee a victory of course, but it does offer a window of opportunity. The Bears’ defensive line has played really well through the first two weeks. Now they’re about to get some reinforcements with the returns of Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. If they play the way they did last week against Cincinnati? There is a good chance this team can give the Browns a number of problems.
Chicago Bears must be willing to be aggressive
Through the first two weeks, it is becoming apparent that the Browns are vulnerable to this mentality on both sides of the ball. Mayfield has a pedestrian 79.17 passer rating when teams have blitzed him this year. Given the iffy state of his shoulder, he’ll be looking to protect himself a little more often than usual. All the more reason to go after him with some attacking packages. Something defensive coordinator Sean Desai hasn’t done much of thus far this year. Just 13 blitzes in two games. By comparison? Tampa Bay has 50.
On the defensive side, the Browns have proven vulnerable in the secondary when opponents look to throw deep. Through two weeks, they’ve already allowed six plays of 25 yards or more. This is where switching to Fields might actually benefit the Chicago Bears. While a rookie, he has already shown one thing. He likes to throw down the field at every opportunity. He is averaging over 10 yards per pass attempt, almost doubling Andy Dalton.
If the offensive line can hold up, he’ll take his shots.
Nothing about this game is going to be easy. Cleveland is a good team. They’re at home too. Still, the Bears match up well with them and may have the advantage of health for once. If they can control the line of scrimmage on defense and let Fields be himself? It isn’t crazy to think they can escape that stadium with a win.