By Jeff Joniak–
(CBS) — The Bears (4-10) host the Browns (0-14) on Sunday at noon. Here are my keys to the game.
Offense: Protect Trubisky
Nothing is more important with two games to go than keeping Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky healthy, because a late-season injury would delay his progress and development for the start of next season. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is difficult to game plan for, but count on this for sure: the blitz. No team blitzes more than the Browns. They have knocked down quarterbacks 62 times, which is only 29th in the league, but the pressure will come and the diagnosis must be on point. There will be opportunities for the Bears to make big plays, given the 10 touchdowns allowed on Browns blitzes. Getting the running game revved up again is also critical. The Browns are stout, allowing the fewest yards per carry on first down rushing the ball, but becoming one-dimensional against the Browns isn’t a healthy outcome.
Defense: Take it away
Cleveland’s turnover total is up to 36. Opportunities will present themselves defensively, and the Bears must be all over it. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer has thrown 19 interceptions in 13 starts, including 10 inside the opponents’ 30-yard line. The Browns can move the ball with their underrated running game, Duke Johnson out of the backfield in the passing game and size and speed on the outside at receiver and tight end. They just break down a lot when they get on the other side of midfield. With only six interceptions this season, the Bears defense is hunting for more opportunities, and the Browns are just the team to give them those chances to make a big play.
Special teams: No more penalties
Even special teams penalty is enough to make a fan want to pull his/her hair out. No more, right? It’s demoralizing to have a big return from Tarik Cohen wiped out by penalty. The fundamentals and techniques taught must be executed by the Bears on Sunday. The Bears have 18 special teams penalties this season for 148 yards, which ranks 24th in the league. Cleveland’s special teams unit has played a cleaner game so far and has a return man to watch in Jabrill Peppers. Cohen could find a crease and go against a Browns punt coverage unit that has permitted four returns of 20-plus yards this season.
No matter what is said, it’s hard for players to not think about being victimized by a winless team. Hue Jackson’s Browns won their only game last season on Christmas Eve, beating the San Diego Chargers. He did the same thing as head coach of the Raiders on Christmas Eve to beat the Bengals. A strong start and solid finish for the Bears should take away any of the built-in pressure of playing a winless team. The Browns aren’t a layup. The Bears must come ready to play and play loose and free.
Numbers: Behind the 8-ball
This is crazy: The Browns have run a total of 64 offensive plays when they have been in the lead this season. I haven’t checked, but I can’t imagine any team running fewer plays behind the 8-ball. It speaks to a big reason for the winless season the Browns are experiencing. The Bears have four wins, so they have been in position to play on the lead a little bit with 207 plays. That still isn’t great, but not rock-bottom like the Browns. The end game for the Bears: Take the lead early and keep it, because the Browns don’t know what it’s like to be in the lead.
Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780 & 105.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.