cThe Cleveland Browns have three wide receivers and a tight end enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. None of them, and not even the Bears’ Alshon Jeffery, has done what Josh Gordon is doing.
Gordon leads the NFL with 1,400 receiving yards and that is with playing just 11 games (he was suspended for the first two games this season for a positive codeine test), and 12 of his 13 touchdowns over his 27 career games have been 20 yards or longer.
Given that the Bears have allowed 49 pass plays of 20 yards or longer this season — after allowing 47 all last year — this makes Gordon a huge (6-3, 220 pounds, just about Jeffery size) problem regardless of how troubled the Bears’ rushing defense has been.
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“He can take a five-yard slant and turn it into a 60-yard touchdown,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “The quarterbacks have confidence in him to go up and make plays. He can catch the ball in a crowd and win the contested one-on-one battle.”
The issue is matchups. The Browns have won only four games as they’ve muddled through a quarterback quagmire but rank 10th in passing yards and have 24 passing touchdowns (the Bears have 26).
The Bears have not allowed a wideout to net 100 yards since Antonio Brown’s 196 in Pittsburgh back in week three. They have had nightmares with tight ends (Jimmy Graham 10-135 for New Orleans, Jordan Reed 9-134-1 for Washington) and the occasional Calvin Johnson, but have survived even without Charles Tillman.
Tim Jennings locked onto Dez Bryant last Monday night and kept the 6-foot-2 wideout in check with two catches for 12 yards, albeit in a game where Dallas appeared to lose its compass or at least had it freeze up.
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As big a matchup problem for the Bears is Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron, overshadowed by Gordon’s pyrotechnics but with one more catch (72) than Gordon and one less touchdown (7).
“He’s another young guy that hasn’t played a lot [three seasons],” said Cleveland coach Rob Chudzinski. “He’s really emerged this season. He’s a playmaker for us. He’s got really good hands and athleticism, and when the ball’s in the air and close by him it seems like he’s going to make that play and make that catch any time he has that opportunity.”
What to look for: The Bears expect teams to come out running at them. But the Browns don’t run the ball well at all, at 3.8 yards per carry and a total of two rushing touchdowns this season. Cameron and Gordon have accounted for more than half the Cleveland touchdowns and a surprise will be if they stray too far from this area where they have matchup advantages.