Three Things to Look For
- You Can’t Stop Him, You Can Only Hope to Contain Him: While Alshon Jeffery has stolen quite a few headlines, the Browns have their own talented second-year receiver in Josh Gordon, who currently leads the NFL with 1,400 yards receiving. (This despite having sat out two games due to a substance-abuse suspension.) With his interesting backstory and massive output, he’s a very bright light for an otherwise dim Cleveland season. He has 774 yards receiving over his previous four games, which is the most over any four-game stretch in league history. That’s the hot streak with which the Bears will contend. If you’re wondering if there’s any way to slow him down, Deadspin’s Samir Kalif had this breakdown of Gordon’s strengths and weaknesses; Wagner notes that Green Bay held him to a season-low 2 catches for 21 yards by bracketing Gordon for most of the game. I’m not sure if the Bears will employ a similar strategy; they didn’t necessarily give a lot of help against Calvin Johnson, after all. But considering the dearth of other weapons to worry about, perhaps that’s something Mel Tucker considers doing. What does worry me is Gordon catching a running a simple in-route, a Bear safety taking a bad angle, and Gordon turning a short Jason Campbell checkdown into a long Jason Campbell touchdown. Just tackle, please. It shouldn’t be that much to ask.
- Big Games Are His Forte: There is a litany of factors that make me think Matt Forte needs to and will have a good day. The weather being a primary concern; the field should be clear, but there might be a few flurries in the afternoon, and it’s going to be cold and quite windy. And while I think the entire playbook will be available for Cutler, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Trestman work in a few short passes or screens early as a sort of acclimatization for Jay. (Having said that, you just know the first play is going to be a deep shot off of play-action.) Cleveland’s defense hasn’t given up very many yards this season, ranking 7th total and 4th against the run in terms of yards allowed. But Football Outsiders adjusted numbers think that’s been a bit of a mirage. Matt has been incredibly good this season; he’s already racked up 1,591 yards from scrimmage, good for third in the league. It’s a higher single-season total than he’s had in all but two years of his career, and assuming good health, he’s certain to set a new career high mark, with a realistic chance at passing the 2,000 yard mark. His previous best was his rookie total of 1,715; I’m hoping he passes that tomorrow. If he does, the Bears should be in good shape. If he’s held below 100 or so total yards, though, they could be in trouble. In any case, he’s had a remarkable season. It’s easy to focus on the vastly-improved quarterback play from both Cutler and McCown, Brandon Marshall’s continued excellence, and the emergence and development of Alshon Jeffery. But Matt Forte has also blossomed under Trestman and behind the improving line. The impact of the new offensive coaching staff has been incredible.
- There’s a Reason They’re Called “Special” Teams: Last week I gave you “win the turnover battle” as one of my three things to look for. This week’s cliche is the third phase of the game: special teams play. Beyond my hopes to see Devin Hester break the return record in Cleveland (although in my mind he has it already, since I have no idea why the Super Bowl return doesn’t count) that’s just a small part of the picture. From Adam Podlesh and the punt coverage unit pinning Cleveland deep (giving Jason Campbell longer fields) to Robbie Gould kicking in tough conditions, the Bears need their special teams unit to have a very solid day. I’ve mentioned before that the ongoing defensive ineptitude puts a lot of strain on the offense; that goes for special teams, as well. (I would love a Devin Hester return touchdown, though. Just want to make that clear.)