Hub Arkush: Browns' 4-9 record deceptive
The Bears are desperately in need of a three-game win streak to keep their hopes for a trip to the playoffs alive and the Cleveland Browns appear to be exactly the cupcake the doctor ordered.
After all, the Browns are 4-9 and mired in a four-game losing streak.
But looks can be deceiving.
The Bears have faced three other last-place teams this season in the Vikings, Redskins and Rams and lost to all of them.
Cleveland’s record is weak but they do own victories over the Bengals and Ravens, and they actually had a 26-14 lead last week in New England with just two minutes remaining before the Patriots made a large comeback.
The big questions are what do the Browns have left after the gut–wrenching loss to the Patriots and do the Bears get a bounce or a stumble with the return of Jay Cutler?
The good news for the Bears is the Browns' greatest struggles are the Bears' greatest challenge. While the Bears are dead last in the NFL against the run, the Browns are just 28th in the NFL in rushing and 27th in average gain per run.
Better yet, Willis McGahee, who has been the Browns No. 1, is likely out due to concussion and knee issues. Unknown youngsters Chris Ogbonnaya and Fozzy Whittaker will attempt to dent the Bears on the ground.
Cleveland is good throwing the football, ranking 10th in passing yardage. But they’re only 28th in average gain per pass and 18th in both interceptions and sacks allowed.
Part of the problem is the inability to keep quarterbacks healthy.
Brian Hoyer had won the starting job before tearing up a knee, and former Bears quarterback Jason Campbell, who has played very well in Cleveland, missed time with a concussion.
Campbell will be ready for the Bears after returning last week to throw for 391 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions at New England, the bulk of it going to Josh Gordon.
Gordon is enjoying an All-Pro type season with 71 receptions, 1,400 yards and eight touchdowns, with 649 of those yards in the past three games. He will pose the biggest challenge for the Bears' defense, Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman in particular.
Tight end Jordan Cameron also is extremely dangerous with 72 passes for 825 yards and seven touchdowns.
For all of their prowess in the passing game, the Browns still average just 19.8 points a game, good for 27th in the league is scoring.
The Browns defense has been excellent most of the season, ranking seventh in total defense, fourth against the run and second in average yards per rushing play. They are eighth against the pass, and third in average yards per pass play.
Big plays are the Browns' defense's Achilles' heel, though, as they’re just 24th in interceptions, 14th in sacks and 19th in points allowed.
Paul Kruger and rookie first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo are their best pass rushers. D’Qwell Jackson is the club’s leading tackler from the inside linebacker spot, and Phil Taylor and Ahtyba Rubin do a really nice job up front at nose tackle and the five technique, respectively, in the Browns' base 3-4 defense.
The best matchup of the game will be Cleveland cornerbacks Joe Haden and Buster Skrine on Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Haden and Skrine are the best pair of corners the Bears have seen this year but at 5-foot-11 and 5-9, respectively, Haden and Skrine give up a ton of size to Marshall and Jeffery.
If the Bears' offense plays like it did against the Cowboys, they’ll be an extremely tough out for Cleveland. But if the Bears can’t pressure Campbell in the pocket, he, Gordon and Cameron will give the Bears another shootout.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.