The 3-4 defensive scheme and its various iterations has given the Bears problems in past seasons, for any number of reasons. This season, that has not been the case, for some helpful reasons that will not apply to Sunday’s game in Cleveland against the Browns.
The Bears drew the Baltimore Ravens without nose tackle Haloti Ngata. That was two weeks after they prevailed over the Green Bay Packers without rush force Clay Matthews (and Aaron Rodgers).
On Sunday they will have to deal with the Browns’ 3-4 that has everyone in place and ranks in the top 10 for most run- and pass-defense categories. And they are going to Cleveland with a starting quarterback who has played barely one full game since Oct. 20.
“We’re definitely seeing a good defense,” said offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. “They’re No. 1 in yards given up per play in the National Football League. And so we have our work cut out for us. We’re anticipating that, we’re studying that. We’re finding plays we feel are best and that best suit our people. and so all we can do is go out and play.”
The Browns, like the Washington Redskins, rely for quarterback pressure on “linebackers” — former Raven Paul Kruger and Jabaal Sheard, both with 4.5 sacks, and rookie Markevious Mingo, who has five despite starting just three games.
The trio combined for four sacks of Tom Brady in the Browns last-minute loss to New England last week.
The protection allowed nine sacks over the five starts by Josh McCown. Jay Cutler was sacked nine times in his first six starts this season, before the injuries and other chaos. The Browns are expected to pressure Cutler early to force quick decision-making by a quarterback who has had to do very little of it over recent weeks.
“Rust, we’re kind of knocking it off as we go in practice,” Cutler said. “I don’t we really have a lot of room for me to be rusty out there. So we’ve got to hit it running. We’ve got to play well. Cleveland’s a really good defense. They show a lot of different fronts.”
What to look for: Ball security. The Cleveland offense has improved under Jason Campbell but among the worst on third downs, and the Cleveland defense ranks just 26th in stopping third downs. Meaning: If Cutler is not pressured into turnovers, and the offensive line with run blocking for Matt Forte can slow the Browns pass rush, it is unlikely that the Browns will be able to sustain enough drives on their own to outscore Chicago.