Browns/Bears: 4 Keys To Victory Week 15

December 15, 2023

Andy Billman Tony Camino

Cleveland Browns vs Chicago Bears Matchups to Watch:

1 – Joe Flacco vs. Justin Fields

Andy –

Regarding straight-up passing, the Browns have the advantage with the quarterback Joe Flacco, who has proven he can still spin the ball well and make plays with this passing game.  Justin Fields is average at best in passing the ball, and his numbers say as much.  Fields does not rack up yards and is not a threat, throwing for 300-plus yards and three or more touchdowns.

Also, the Bears are in the bottom third of passing yards allowed, Flacco and Kevin Stefanski should be excited about the opportunity to let it rip on Sunday.

Fields, however, is a threat when running the ball, and the Browns must be prepared for RPOs (run-pass option). He is undoubtedly a comparable threat to Lamar Jackson in that regard. This is where I am nervous as a Browns fan; the defense needs to force Fields to throw the ball.

I give the edge to the Browns with our hero Flacco, but Fields must be limited to just a thrower for the Browns to win.

Tony –

The early struggles of the Bears and the injury to Justin Fields hindered the public’s opinion of him, but he’s playing pretty good football at this moment in time. Since his return in Week 11, the Ohio State alum has totaled at least 250 yards in all three games and ranks in the top five in completion percentage and top 10 in completion percentage over expected in that span. On the other hand, Joe Flacco ranks third-last in completion percentage and second-last in completion percentage over expected, influenced by the Browns’ inability to run the ball and their need to air it out.

Flacco has been a calming presence the Browns desperately needed, but he’s not some gunslinger in his prime outplaying most of the league’s quarterbacks. Fields is the driving force behind everything the Bears do, while Flacco just has to navigate his way through the game to give the team a chance.

The advantage from a player-only comparison is with the Bears here, as Fields is effective as both a passer and a very talented runner. The Flacco/Kevin Stefanski combination will make this matchup appear closer than it is. Fields’ two biggest strengths are undeniably the deep ball and running the ball, so the defensive line has to apply pressure and eliminate the running lanes on Sunday.

2 – Browns OL vs. Bears DL

Tony –

The trenches are always the biggest keys to every matchup, but the makeshift Browns’ offensive line will have to generate enough push on Sunday to allow everyone else to do their jobs. The Bears are 12th in the NFL in run stuff win rate, while the Browns are 25th in run block win rate. Injuries continue to hamper this unit, and hopefully, Ethan Pocic can play just to maintain some familiarity in the unit.

Pass protection shouldn’t be much of an issue, as the Bears rank in the bottom half in pressure rate and pass rush win rate. The Browns have been solid for much of the year in pass protection, although it might be a bit weaker with Geron Christian and James Hudson playing. Chicago’s pass rush isn’t particularly dangerous outside of Montez Sweat, and the pass protection advantage is with Cleveland as long as they limit miscommunications.

Andy –

The Browns have some obvious challenges in this match-up with the Bears, and frankly, every week will be a challenge with this offensive line because of the injuries. 

The good news is the Bears don’t get a lot of pressure on the quarterback; they are second to last in sacks and, as mentioned above, are in the bottom 3rd of the league in passing yards allowed. The Browns should be okay with pass protection, with the most significant threat of getting to Flacco being Montez Sweat.

The run game is a different story. The Bears are second in the league against the run regarding yards allowed. They are a solid defensive team with the run game. The Browns must get creative with getting a push in the run game. I suggest having the Browns run inside with Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio.

3 – Browns DL vs. Bears OL

Andy –

Chicago loves to run the ball and have a running quarterback.  The Bears are in the top five regarding the ground attack.

With that in mind, the Browns’ defensive line must be able to slow down the Bears’ run game and force them to throw.  Cleveland needs Dalvin Tomlinson and Shelby Harris to keep the interior running game at bay, and Myles Garrett will have to limit plays where he over-runs the running back.

On the other hand, the Bears allow sacks, currently tied for 6th in most sacks given up in 2023.  Garrett, Za’Darius Smith, and others should be able to get to Fields.

It is a growing theme when playing the Bears: force Chicago to throw as they don’t have a quarterback in Fields who can light it up, and the OL gives up sacks.  Let them throw, let them throw, let them throw!  

Tony –

As usual, the Browns’ defensive line needs to dominate to set the tone in this matchup. The Bears’ offensive line is better than usual, ranking in the top four in both pass block and run block win rate. While they do rank in the top 10 in pressure rate, it’s worth noting that Fields generates a significant portion of those pressures on his own. Chicago is in the top 10 in rush success rate and has performed well all year on the ground, especially when their quarterback is healthy and leading the attack.

Fields is at his best when he can use his legs to buy time, which is reflected in one of the highest time-to-throw stats in the NFL at 3.3 seconds. Teams typically aim to release the ball quickly against the Browns, as evidenced by the last two quarterbacks each having a time-to-throw in the 2.4-second range. If the Bears don’t plan to get the ball out quickly, the Browns could exploit this in the pass rush game and have another significant impact in the sack department.

4 – Browns WR/TE vs. Bears Secondary

Tony –

The Bears’ secondary is relatively average in terms of success rate, with their top cornerback, Jaylon Johnson, standing out as one of the NFL’s best at that position. Free safety Eddie Jackson has experienced success in the past but hasn’t performed at his peak level in recent years. While Johnson is likely to shadow Amari Cooper for most of the game in an attempt to neutralize him, the other defensive backs aren’t as talented and may be vulnerable to attacks.

Elijah Moore has seen an increase in volume with Flacco and has excelled when the Browns deploy him as an outside route runner rather than a slot gadget player. Moore’s route running should be a significant focal point for the Browns’ offense if Johnson follows Cooper, as none of the other Bears’ defensive backs may be able to effectively cover him. Additionally, getting the ball to David Njoku in an open space is always a good strategy, and he will also need to continue playing a crucial role in the game plan.

Andy –

If the Browns are going to win on Sunday, this is a match-up they must take advantage of regarding the Cleveland passing playmakers.  Amari Cooper and David Njoku have a good opportunity on Sunday to have big days, and if Elijah Moore can hang on to the ball, as mentioned above, the Bears will give up a lot of yards in the air.

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