The Chicago Bears are headed to Cleveland for a crucial game against the Browns to fight to keep their playoff hopes alive. Three weeks ago, that’s something that nobody in Chicago really thought was a possibility, but here we are. A loss almost certainly ends any hope of the playoffs so each game is a must-win game for Chicago.
The Cleveland Browns are an interesting team. They’ve had a great defense for most of the year, they’ve started four different quarterbacks, and their offensive line is significantly banged up. To get a better read on the Browns, we sat down with Chris Pokorny from our sister site, Dawgs by Nature, to help us preview a big game for both teams.
1. So how about the Browns at quarterback? Four different starters this year and now it’s Joe Flacco. How much has this mess impacted the Browns this season?
You would think that four starting quarterbacks within a season would spell disaster for a team, but the Browns are 8-5, and each of those quarterbacks has at least one victory under their belt. It has impacted the season to a degree, because there’s a couple of games that make you think, “Well, if that backup quarterback didn’t muck it up, we’d have had an easy victory.” I would argue that the team could have a 10-3 record. On the flip side, though, we’ve had some heroic performances. P.J. Walker had some out-of-the-blue drives in rallying wins over the 49ers and Colts; so maybe those wins “offset” some of those performances that I look at and say, “Ah, if only we had Deshaun Watson in there.”
Back to Flacco, though, fans are on cloud nine over him right now. He has restored faith that, despite all the injuries the Browns have suffered, that we can continue that push forward to the playoffs. Our passing attack had been lackluster all season, even with Watson, and now it has come to life with Flacco over the past two weeks. He is still throwing a great spiral, has been accurate, and quickly recognizes the open man to get them the ball so they can have yards after the catch. Ball placement was terrible with the likes of Walker and rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but Flacco has been beautiful with that.
2. One more quarterback question: where is the fan base on Deshaun Watson? Put the off-the-field issues aside (if you can), and just talk about how he’s played since getting the massive deal. Are fans still supporting the move or do they want this contract and player to get moved as soon as possible?
We’ve seen it come-and-go in phases. The off-the-field stuff didn’t help fans warm up to him, but yes, let’s put that aside and look at it from this perspective: we made the playoffs with Baker Mayfield, and yet we traded for a quarterback who required a record-setting deal and giving up first-round draft picks in three consecutive drafts. The result over the first two seasons? He was suspended for much of last year, and then rusty-beyond-belief when he played at the end of the year. Then, this season, he was still a bit “off” with his play, and then the first shoulder injury happened that led to Walker and DTR having to play. On November 12, in a 33-31 victory over the Ravens, it was the first time that fans looked at Watson’s performance and legitimately saw, “Wow, that’s the guy we’ve been waiting for.” A few days later, it was announced he was having season-ending shoulder surgery for a new injury. Ugh. I think we’re beyond the point now of debating the move, because what’s done is done. The general mentality now is, “Alright, we’ve got Watson, let’s get him back on the field next year and get ready to be a top contender again.”
3. The Browns defense has been something else for most of the season but it certainly looks more vulnerable the last few weeks. What has gone wrong with the defense recently, and do you expect that to be better against Chicago?
This Browns defense loves to attack. They want to play man coverage, and then have the front four or front seven be as aggressive as possible, reacting and selling out to the first thing they see. When it works, it works beautifully, and offenses are inept for the entire game. When offenses utilize consistent elements of misdirection, heavy pre-snap movement, etc. to keep the defense flat-footed or going the wrong direction on their first instinct, then they are very vulnerable and have a lot of lapses.
Teams like the Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Rams, and Indianapolis Colts utilized elements of that misdirection, and the Browns paid the price for it. Then, you have a team like Jacksonville last week, which is a good offense, but they did absolutely nothing involving misdirection. They played right into the hands of the Browns’ defense, and Cleveland thrived all game. I know the final score might make it seem like the defense gave up a lot, but PFF had almost the entire defense graded highly, and most of those points by the Jaguars came off of short fields from turnovers on offense. I haven’t watched the Bears play enough this year to get a vibe on how much misdirection/pre-snap stuff they do, but I’ll know pretty early on in the game whether we’re in for a long day, or if we’re going to make Justin Fields having flashbacks to 2021.
4. How is the Browns offensive line? It looks like they are facing a lot of injuries right now, and I’m curious if you think that’s going to be an issue for Joe Flacco, who isn’t exactly mobile.
They are holding it together. It’s definitely crazy because at left tackle, Jedrick Wills was the starter, but has been out (and now on IR, as of this week). Geron Christian was signed off the street a few weeks ago and has actually played better than Wills, so that has turned the “weakest part of the line” into a slightly more stable spot. The guard positions have remained stable with Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller, both of whom are All-Pro/Pro Bowl type of players. At center, Ethan Pocic has been a consistent starter, but left early on in last week’s game with a “stinger.” As of Thursday, he has not returned to practice, so I’m expecting him to be out. However, the Browns have had Nick Harris on their roster for years, who was supposed to be the team’s starter a few years ago before suffering an injury. He still provides a deal of stability at center.
The biggest concern for the rest of the season is at right tackle. Jack Conklin started the year there, but got hurt immediately. Rookie Dawand Jones was plugged in there and was having an outstanding, rookie-of-the-year type of season; but then he suddenly landed on IR prior to last week, ending his season. Now, James Hudson is starting at right tackle. I wouldn’t call him a disaster like he was as a rookie a few years ago, but he is definitely the guy who makes you the most nervous. Regarding Flacco’s mobility, I had the same concern about that when he was starting prior to the Rams game. Through two weeks, though, it hasn’t been an issue at all. He gets rid of the ball quickly, and he also sells the play action fake well, which buys him some time on the routes that he tries to go deep on.
5. Is there a particular Cleveland Brown player prop that interests you on the DraftKings Sportsbook?
I’m going to go with Myles Garrett getting over 0.75 sacks (-135). Garrett had 12.5 sacks in his first 10 games, but has 0 sacks in his last 3 games. That sackless streak started when he hurt his shoulder, and you could tell he was a bit limited for two weeks. Last week against Jacksonville, he looked back to his dominant form, but there was a long analysis done by Browns fans showing how crazy it was that Garrett was being held, clawed in his face, etc. all game, with no calls being made against the Jaguars. It even prompted Garrett to criticize officials after the game. When I think of the combination of him being due for a sack, the officials maybe paying more attention to calling flags, and how Garrett had 4.5 sacks on Justin Fields back in 2021, I think you have to roll the dice and take that bet.
Well, Bears fans, what do you think? Will Justin Fields lead the Bears to another victory and push them one step closer to potentially making the playoffs? The Browns currently sit as a 3-point favorite but with injuries mounting and Cleveland struggling, this is certainly a game the Bears could go on the road and win if they play like they have been of late.
And as always, if you want to place a little wager on the game, DraftKings Sportsbook has you covered.