The winter storm that is threatening to turn the Bears-Browns game into a snowy affair is currently overhead here in Indiana; it’s not pleasant, but at least I’m not driving anywhere. It’s unlikely that Sunday’s game will be as bad as Lions-Eagles; the snow is supposed to slow by then, so there probably won’t be eight-inches of snow covering the field. But a cold, windy day with moisture in the air won’t exactly make it easy for a returning Jay Cutler. On the other hand, one of my favorite Cutler games came in similar conditions. The box score might not look that impressive, but given the circumstances, some of the throws he made that day were incredible. So maybe I’m fretting too much.
- As the Tribune’s Rich Campbell lays out, both Lance Briggs and Marc Trestman were optimistic that Briggs could make his return next Sunday when the Bears travel to Philadelphia. Spurring the newfound optimism were the two limited practices Briggs had this week, both of which went well. I think Lance returning would be a very uplifting thing defensively, and not only for his physical gifts and impact. (Those are obviously huge as well, as few linebackers play the run as well as Briggs. I’ve long thought of him as one of the best tacklers in football.) When healthy, Briggs was responsible for calling the signals, aligning the defense, and making changes at the line of scrimmage. There’s no way his return could hurt the play of Jon Bostic, among others. I don’t think a healthy Briggs turns the team into a formidable defense, but I do think he could reduce the level of incompetence. In a playoff race, anything helps.
- If you do want to believe that his return could drastically improve the Bears NFL-worst rush defense, this AP article has some interesting numbers for you. In the six games prior to his injury, the Bears gave up 102 yards rushing. In the seven games since (including the Washington game), they’ve allowed an average of 204 yards on the ground. Again, all my statistical caveats from the QB-debate post apply here, and I don’t think you can blame that level of deterioration on the absence of any one player. But I do think it’s a factor, and I do think he can help, even if he’s not able to come back and be 100% Lance Briggs Outside Run Eraser right away.
- Staying with the rushing defense theme, and jumping back to the aforementioned Rich Campbell article, the Bears will try to avoid setting an ignominious record on Sunday; they’ve allowed a 100-yard rusher in the six games since Briggs was injured, which ties the NFL record. We’re #1! We’re #1! (Hey, if you’re going to be grossly incompetent, at least be grossly incompetent on a record scale.) At least the Browns won’t have an Adrian Peterson-caliber runner, or even anything close; as Campbell notes, Willis McGahee (not exactly AP himself, of course) has been ruled out due to a concussion, leaving Chris Ogbannaya as the main running threat. Ogbannaya has averaged 5.3 yards per carry this season, spread across 42 attempts. He’s more of a fullback than a true running back, though; hopefully that mitigates some of the cutbacks that have so flustered the Bears in recent weeks. (If you’re curious, former Bear Jason Campbell will be starting at quarterback for the Browns.)
- Along with McGahee, starting guard John Greco will be out for the Browns. Anything that might help the Bears defensive line win a few more battles is good news for me. (But, obviously, I hope he gets better, and all that. I’m not a monster.) As for the Bears, only two players were listed on the injury report: Briggs as out, and Cutler as probable.
- While the Bears starting quarterback is making a return this week, the Packers aren’t so lucky. Aaron Rodgers was officially ruled out of Sunday’s game against the Cowboys. Matt Flynn will get the nod against the sieve that Jerry Jones calls a passing defense. Rodgers was hoping to play, but was not medically cleared to return from the broken collarbone he suffered at the hands of Shea McClellin and Isaiah Frey. It’s unfortunate news for Green Bay, as they essentially need to win out to have any hopes of pulling off a miracle divisional title. If they lose this weekend, I wonder how loud the “shut him down” whispers will get; speaking from a purely selfish perspective, in which I really hope the Bears are still playing for something meaningful in Week 17, I’d much rather face Matt Flynn than Aaron Rodgers. Speaking objectively, if you are eliminated from contention, I don’t see much point in throwing Rodgers out there; he doesn’t exactly need the reps. Maybe to appease him, I suppose, but quarterbacks need both of their shoulders and collarbones, and considering the upside to playing him (none, that I can think of) I just don’t know why they would risk it.
- It pains me to include this, since I just wrote a post titled My Final Thoughts on Cutler and McCown, but Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders (a site I enjoy) wrote a piece for ESPN.com on Friday outlining why he believes the Bears are making a mistake by playing Cutler. He outlines some interesting points, and acknowledges the weak defenses McCown has faced, but for some reason he bases his entire argument on two things that most analytically-minded folk tend to oppose: a small sample size and the “hot hand” theory. That’s unfortunate. He also glosses over McCown’s own ball security issues; only the Cowboys ineptitude kept him from two interceptions on Monday, and it was his incredibly poor decision to flip a pass into traffic that led to a key Kyle Long fumble against Minnesota. A surprising take from an analytical outfit.
- I missed this earlier in the week (still tuning the filter), but ESPN Chicago’s Jeff Dickerson held his weekly chat on ESPN.com, and it was interesting and informative as usual. (I really like how Jeff is willing to expand on his answers in this format; some writers aren’t nearly as engaging.) Some of the more interesting points: it’s his belief that Cutler will sign a shorter-term deal (he mentions three years) in the $16-$17 million range; he thinks the “Titans interested in Cutler” story was probably just a leverage ploy from Cutler’s agent (I’m guessing he might say the same about the National Football Post story from Wednesday, which said the Bears are considering letting him walk); the Bears will probably release Peppers this offseason unless he is willing to restructure his deal; he thinks the Bears have interest in bringing McCown back in a backup role next season, even though they might have to offer a two-year deal to make it happen.
- Brandon Marshall was fined $15,000 for wearing orange cleats on Monday Night Football. He will apparently match the fine with a donation to charity. As I said on Twitter, it seems a bit wrongheaded. I’m not sure why the NFL polices the cleat colors so closely; the NBA and soccer leagues seem to get along just fine without such a restrictive policy.
I’ll be available on Twitter for most of the weekend (@BearsBN) and I hope to have a quick Browns preview up this afternoon; if I don’t get to it due to time constraints, it will be up tomorrow morning as part of the Sunday coverage.
Just in case I don’t get to it today, here’s the bare minimum you should know about the Browns:
- Josh Gordon is incredibly talented.
- Jason Campbell is not so incredibly talented, but I’m trained to assume the Bears will make bad quarterbacks look good (cough*Matt Cassel*cough) so who knows?
- I’d trade Jim Belushi for Drew Carey in a heartbeat, and I don’t even like Drew Carey.