Are the 1-1 Cleveland Browns and 1-1 Chicago Bears as evenly matched as their records, or is the two-week sample size just not enough to know who these teams are?
The Browns fell at Kansas City, as the Bears did visiting the Rams, although the Browns were more competitive in defeat, and the Browns’ win over the Texans and the Bears’ over the Bengals did little to separate the two.
Sunday’s game game will offer strength against strength, weakness against weakness. The Browns’ offense is sixth in the league, averaging 406 yards a game and third in scoring with 30 points a game, but the Browns’ defense is 23rd against the pass and 25th in scoring, allowing 27 points a game.
Of course, all eyes around the league will be on Justin Fields in his first NFL start.
The Bears are 7-point underdogs, and the over/under is 46.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns RBs vs. Bears run ‘D’
Almost everything the Browns and second-year head coach Kevin Stefanski do revolves around their run game. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt are the best two-headed monster in the league.
Like Matt Nagy, Stefanski was the NFL Coach of the Year as a rookie.
After two weeks, the Browns are third in the NFL in rushing, averaging 154.5 yards a game on the ground, 5.15 a carry (fifth). The Bears’ defense is fifth at stopping the run, allowing 71.5 yards a game and 3.33 a carry (fifth).
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
How conservative or aggressive will Nagy be with Fields?
It is well past the time to lose the ridiculous notion that Nagy has different offenses for Fields and Andy Dalton. The Bears’ scheme will not change at all Sunday, but the plays Nagy chooses to trust Fields the most with will matter.
The big question will come with trying to open up or take the top off the Browns’ defense. Going for it leaves the rookie open to holding the ball too long, taking sacks and possibly forcing mistakes.
But not doing it will allow the Browns to stack the box, bring their safeties down and have a greater ability to take away the run from Bears backs and Fields.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr., edge rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney; Bears DT Eddie Goldman, S Deon Bush and OT Germain Ifedi.
Beckham will make his first start of the year coming off ACL surgery. Garrett and Clowney are big-time playmakers who haven’t made a lot of plays early this season. How much they can pressure Fields and then react to his escapability when they do could be the difference in the game.
Getting Goldman back, which seemed unlikely Friday, would be huge in dealing with Chubb and Hunt.
Bush most likely will have to step in for Tashaun Gipson. Matched against Garrett most of the afternoon, Ifedi will get his first real test at right tackle.
Browns TEs David Njoku, Austin Hooper and Harrison Bryant; Bears WRs Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd
The three tight ends are Mayfield’s security blanket and favorite targets with five, eight and five catches, respectively. Take the tight ends away and the Browns passing game can grind to a halt.
If Goodwin and/or Byrd take the top off the Browns’ defense early, Cleveland could need to rework its defensive plan on the fly.
THE FINAL WORD
Browns 23, Bears 16