Justin Fields’ first start at quarterback is going to come on the road against a team many had as a playoff team this preseason and one that was expected to really build off the good season they had a year ago.
This is a fairly less-than-ideal spot for that, even if we all think that he’s built to handle it.
Fields has started plenty of huge games in his college career, but this is going to be a different test.
The Browns are an exciting young team with a lot of expectations, but they aren’t without their flaws.
Like the Rams game, I think this is one where our expectations are low, however, the difference is that the excitement and potential of Justin Fields will make whatever happens Sunday much more palatable.
Then again, these are Chicago Bears fans I’m talking about. Some of them will still complain about anything!
SB Nation site: Dawgsbynation.com
Record: 1-1, tied for first AFC North
Last week: 31-21 win over the Houston Texans
Game day, time, TV: Sunday, noon CT, FOX
Bears all-time record against: 7-9
Historical meetings: In September of 1986, the Bears opened the season against the Browns.
The Bears jumped out to a 21-7 lead behind a Dennis Gentry kickoff return, a Walter Payton rush and a WIlbur Marshall pick six.
The Browns battled back and in the third quarter drew within three as the Bears held on to a 24-21 lead.
But a Payton receiving touchdown and a late Matt Suhey touchdown let the Bears win a wild shootout 41-31.
Last meeting: Christmas Eve 2017, the Bears hosted the 0-15 Cleveland Browns.
Do we really want to remember that game?
If you do, here’s a very quick synopsis: The Bears had a 6-3 halftime lead after Mike Nugent missed the extra point following the first of Jordan Howard’s touchdown runs. He added a second one in the third quarter and Mitch Trubisky added a 4-yard run late in the third to give the Bears a 20-3 win.
Injury report: Of the 12 players listed on the Browns’ Wednesday injury report, four were full participants (including Odell Beckham)
Limited: G Joel Bitonio (back), DE Jadeveon Clowney (knee), T Jack Conklin (knee), LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (knee)
Did not participate: T Chris Hubbard (triceps), LB Sione Takitaki (hamstring), C JC Tretter (knee), T Jedrick Wills Jr. (ankle)
Offense: The Browns offense comes in to the game ranked sixth in points and eighth in yards on offense.
They rank third in rushing yards and 14th in passing yards. They are first in rushing touchdowns but 28th in passing touchdowns.
The offense is led by Baker Mayfield (81.6 pct. cmp./534 yds./1 TD/2 INT) is going to remain the talking head hot take king this year in the “should he get paid” debate.
Mayfield’s targets have been banged up, Odell Beckham Jr. (23 rec./319 yds./3 TD in 2020) is coming back from the ACL tear that cost him the final 11 games last year and Jarvis Landry left the Texans game with a sprained MCL that now has him on injured reserve.
Beckham may be back, but in the interim Baker will be looking for TEs Austin Hooper (8/67/0) and David Njoku (5/94/0). The receivers that are expected to step up are Donovan Peoples-Jones (2/18/0) and Rashard Higgins (2/27/0).
Demetric Felton (2/51/1) has the Browns’ only touchdown catch of the year, on a 33-yard pass.
The Browns get most of their offensive production on the ground, where they have a one-two punch of Nick Chubb (26 att./178 yds./3 TD) and Kareem Hunt (19/84/1). They also have rushing touchdowns from Mayfield (9/17/1), FB Andy Janovich (2/0/1) and Landry (2/13/1).
Kevin Stefanski’s offense operates quickly and gives space to his playmakers. The Bears defense cannot afford to miss tackles in this game. Stefanski also uses the ground game to set up play action, which they ran 30 percent of the time last season.
The Browns currently rank 29th in pass play percentage. They are a run-first team.
Defense: The Browns defense currently ranks 21st in points allowed and 14th in yards allowed.
Their passing defense ranks 23rd, while their rushing defense ranks third in terms of yards.
It’s still early in the season and their week one track meet against Kansas City may be skewing things, but they followed it up allowing 302 yards to the lowly Texans.
The Browns defense has a lot of big name players, starting with Myles Garrett (1 sk/8 tkls/1 TFL/3 QB hits), LB Malcolm Smith (9 tkls/1 INT/1 TFL/3 QB hits), CB Denzel Ward (10 tkls/1 PD) and Jadeveon Clowney (6 tkls/1 TFL/2 QB hits).
Rookie CB Greg Newsome II (4 tkls/1 PD) is also a starter and playing well, allowing a 50 percent completion percentage on six targets in the young season.
Key match ups:
- I think the biggest match up in this game is going to come down to the Bears’ front seven against Cleveland’s offensive line and running backs.
- Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the catalyst for the Browns’ offense and if the Bears can build off their run-stopping ability from the first two games, they can keep themselves in the game.
- If Odell Beckham is back, he should see a lot of Jaylon Johnson, however, the Browns’ play action game is going to test the secondary the front seven.
- Roquan Smith against Austin Hooper is also going to be a key match up with back up receivers playing.
- For the offense it’s going to be about complementary football to keep the pressure off of Justin Fields in his first start. That means opening running lanes for David Montgomery and keeping even run/pass balance.
- Rookie QBs are 2-5 in the last two seasons in their first road start
- Fields will be the fourth of the five first round quarterbacks this year to make his first start
- Baker Mayfield got his first career start on the road in week four of 2018 in a 45-42 Browns loss to the Raiders
- Browns defense ranks 32nd in third down defense and 20th in red zone defense
- The Browns offense ranks sixth in red zone offense
- Cleveland has the second-fewest pass attempts in the league and the fifth-most rushing attempts
What do you think the Bears need to do to pull out a road upset? Can Justin Fields be superman or does he need a lot of help?