NFL Preview - Cleveland (1-6) at Chicago (3-3)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - What began as a season of optimism is quickly turning to disappointment for the Chicago Bears. How could things get worse for the club?
Well, a loss to the Cleveland Browns this Sunday at Solider Field would certainly be a low point.
The Bears will be aiming to a avoid a third straight loss this Sunday. Chicago won three in a row heading into its Week 5 bye after a season-opening loss to Green Bay, but has lost both of its games since, to Atlanta (21-14) and Cincinnati (45-10).
Aiming to recover from a 35-point thrashing at the Bengals, the Bears return home to Solider Field, where they are 2-0. That includes a hard-fought 17-14 win over Pittsburgh in Week 2, its only other win versus an AFC North opponent this year.
Chicago figures to get on track this weekend against a Browns club that is ranked last in the NFL in total defense (414.9 yards allowed per game) and 31st in total offense (225.4 ypg).
That figures to help a Bears offense that managed just 279 yards of offense versus the Bengals, including a mere 35 on the ground. Chicago's defense, meanwhile, yielded 448 yards of offense, including 215 rushing, in the setback.
Cleveland is just 1-6 on the season and is having trouble even staying competitive in its games. The Browns have been outscored 179-72 this year and last weekend's 31-3 setback to the Packers marked the fourth time in six games that they were held to six points or less.
Billy Cundiff accounted for Cleveland's points with a 22-yard-field goal, as he continues to play in the place of injured kicker Phil Dawson (right calf). Dawson has yet to appear since Week 2.
Despite throwing for just 99 yards and getting picked off once without a touchdown pass, quarterback Derek Anderson will start this contest. Yet, it wouldn't be shocking to see either Brady Quinn make his return to the field, or even third-stringer Brett Ratliff take his first NFL snaps.
Cleveland has lost 12 of its last 13 games dating back to last season and will get its much-needed bye the weekend following this contest.
Cleveland has a 9-4 lead in its all-time series with Chicago, including a 20-10 home victory when the teams last met, in 2005. The Bears won the previous meeting, a 27-21 overtime affair at Soldier Field in 2001. The Browns are 0-2 in Chicago since last winning there in 1969.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 0-1 in his career against the Browns, but is 1-0 against Cleveland coach Eric Mangini thanks to a 10-0 Chicago win over Mangini's Jets in 2006. Mangini is 0-1 against the Bears as a head coach.
The teams also met during the 2009 preseason, with the Bears earning a 26-23 win at Soldier Field on Sept. 3rd.
WHEN THE BROWNS HAVE THE BALL
Cleveland's struggling offense posted only 139 yards on offense versus Green Bay, with running back Jamal Lewis (280 rushing yards, 0 TD) leading the way with 47 yards on 15 carries. Anderson (605 passing yards, 2 TD, 7 INT) has hardly been the answer since taking over for Quinn as the starter in Week 4. He has thrown for just 244 yards total in his last three games while getting picked off three times to just one touchdown pass in that time. With the trade of Braylon Edwards and an eye towards 2010, the Browns started both of their 2009 second-round draft picks at wide receiver last week for the first time, as Brian Robiskie (36th overall) got his first start along side Mohamed Massaquoi (50th overall). Massaquoi is third among all NFL rookies with 300 receiving yards. With Steve Heiden (knee) having missed the last two games and Robert Royal (illness/hamstring/finger) sitting out last weekend's game, the Browns signed former Bears tight end Michael Gaines on October 17. He made two catches for a team-high 30 yards.
Chicago's defense aims to rebound after allowing former Bears running back Cedric Benson to run for 189 yards on 37 carries with a score in last weekend's meeting with the Bengals. Benson wasn't the only handful, as Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer found the end zone five times through the air. Hopefully the return of Tommie Harris (7 tackles, 1 INT), who recently returned to practice, will boost Chicago's defensive line. He was held out of last week's game due in part to a sore knee, though both the player and Smith cited Harris' recent ineffectiveness as a reason for the scratch. Last Sunday also saw the debut of defensive end Gaines Adams, who was acquired two weeks ago from Tampa Bay and ended with two tackles. In a familiar theme, linebacker Lance Briggs (46 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) led the team with 13 tackles, while defensive back Danieal Manning (42 tackles, 1 sack) added 10 stops. Chicago was unable to force a single turnover versus the Bengals, a problem that has plagued the Bears all year. They rank 26th with a minus-five turnover ratio and also failed to record a sack versus Green Bay.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
"Bad" Jay Cutler showed up for the Bears against the Bengals. The signal-caller threw for 251 yards on 26-of-37 passing but was picked off three times, giving him five picks in the last two weeks and 10 total on the season. After throwing four picks in his Bears debut back in Week 1, Cutler (1452 passing yards, 11 TD) threw just one in three games before the bye. Playing from behind versus the Bengals, running back Matt Forte (318 rushing yards, 22 receptions, 1 TD) ran the ball only six times for 24 yards and has only one 100-yard rushing day on the season. For the year, Chicago ranks 29th in the NFL in rushing (80.7 YPG) after averaging 104.6 ypg on the ground last year. Forte also caught four passes for 25 yards, while Devin Hester (28 receptions, 3 TD) led the team with eight catches and a career-high 101 yards, including a five-yard touchdown catch. Tight end Greg Olsen (19 receptions, 3 TD) seeks a third touchdown catch in four games this weekend, while rookie Johnny Knox (21 receptions) leads all NFL rookies with four total touchdowns, including three receiving and one on a kick return.
While the Browns' offense has struggled all year, the defense has not been any better. Cleveland is allowing 170.6 yards on the ground (31st) and 244.3 passing per game (24th), and the club has a minus-seven turnover ratio. Packers running back Ryan Grant averaged 5.5 yards per carry in last Sunday's game, ending with 148 yards on 27 carries, while Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes without getting sacked. Like the Bears, the Browns also failed to force a turnover last weekend and have recorded only three interceptions and four forced fumbles on the year. Defensive end Robaire Smith (28 tackles) had 12 tackles versus Green Bay, while linebacker Eric Barton (56 tackles) added seven. Starting in place of D'Qwell Jackson (59 tackles), who is on injured reserve because of a shoulder injury, linebacker Kaluka Maiava (15 tackles) made five tackles. Linebacker David Bowens (29 tackles, 1 sack) added eight stops.
Expect Cutler to bounce back in a big way in this contest. The Browns get little pressure on the quarterback, meaning Cutler will have plenty of time to make plays. That is good news for Hester, Knox and Olsen. Forte has been a big disappointment so far this year, but could put up numbers this weekend and is worthy of a start, especially with six teams on the bye. Chicago's defense draws a favorable matchup and field goal kicker Robbie Gould is worth a look as well.
The Browns have not been solid fantasy contributors this season and that isn't likely to change anytime soon. Anderson has no business being on a roster and Lewis has been unable to get anything going in the ground game. Deep keeper leagues should keep an eye on Robiskie and Massaquoi, as they continue to gather experience. Cleveland's defense isn't going to get many points, while Cundiff owners will just need to double-check that Dawson isn't slated to return.
The Bears draw the perfect bounce-back opponent as they aim to get their season back on track. Cutler has been inconsistent, but a matchup versus the Browns should cure what ails him. While Cleveland has been unable to play well against anyone this year, Chicago at least has lost to three playoff-caliber and showed it can compete with top-tier teams after its Week 2 win over Pittsburgh. Anything less than a victory for the Bears this weekend will go down as a large disappointment.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 27, Browns 10
10/29 11:49:51 ET