The difficulties in the Bears’ run defense are legion and long-standing this season. Yet the Bears may in fact prefer the Browns come out on Sunday with a run-run-run mindset.
The simple reason is because the Browns are not a good running team, with their strength lying in wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Those two have combined 15 touchdowns and 2,225 yards, while the entire rushing offense has 1,096 yards and two touchdowns.
A team getting away from what it does best can do itself more harm than the opponent whose weakness is being targeted. Leading rusher Willis McGahee is averaging 2.7 yards per carry and is getting over a concussion.
“I think [running the ball] has been up and down this season,” said coach Rob Chudzinski. “I’ve seen us make strides and make progress in it. I think there’s a number of factors of why but it’s something that we recognize and want to work on and get better at.”
Teams have gotten run games better at the expense of the Bears. But the reality is that of the Bears’ last seven opponents, five are in the top 11 for rushing average and only Baltimore and Dallas.
The Browns rank 27th vs. 10th in passing yards per game.
The temptation will be to attack rookie linebackers Jonathan Bostic and Khaseem Greene. Both have struggled mightily since injuries to D. J. Williams and Lance Briggs elevated them to the starting lineup.
Both have been coached since the offseason to play a max speed; if they make a mistake, and they will, make it at full speed. The result has been some problems getting to some gaps too soon and overrunning them rather than simple failure to get where they’re supposed to be.
“Run, hit, line up where you think you’re supposed to line up, read the key that you think you’re supposed to read,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “And when you see that key, wherever it tells you to go, go there fast and be physical… .Typically, when you continue to work at it, you continue to see those plays and be in those situations, you get better.”
The Browns may be looking at the Bears as a chance to get their running game better. The Bears likely are looking at the Browns’ run game the same way: a chance to get better.
What to look for: It was not the first time — the Bears had him drop into coverage in zone-blitz calls last season — but the deployment of Shea McClellin warrants watching because of the possibility of coaches wanting him on the field as one of their best 11 defensive players. Corey Wootton is best fitted at defensive end; Jeremiah Ratliff is an every-down defensive tackle; and that leaves the Bears options with McClellin, who could work as a de facto linebacker with pass-rush ability.