Matchup Headaches for Bears on Both Sides

Cleveland's offense and defense has distinct mismatches to enjoy when the Bears try to extend a streak of nine straight victories they have over AFC North opponents.
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The Bears went up against one high-powered team on the road and failed in Los Angeles in the opener.

They'll face a second one Sunday in Cleveland.

The Browns have yielded ground on defense but make the big plays necessary to produce wins. With the ball, Cleveland rates among the league's best teams with a powerful offensive line, two excellent running backs and quarterback Baker Mayfield.

There are mismatches in several spots where the Browns can cause real trouble for the Bears in Sunday's game.

Bears CB Kindle Vildor vs. Browns WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Beckam hasn't played yet as he recovered from last November's torn ACL but had practiced last week on a limited basis and is expected back for this game. The question is whether he'll still have the same explosive 4.38-second 40 speed he once had, and athletic ability coming off the ACL tear. Vildor has struggled in coverage even worse than last year, when he was a rookie. He has given up seven completions in nine targets, including two touchdowns. The passer rating against him is 157.6, nearly perfect for opposing quarterbacks. Vildor is a fairly sound tackler, and last week seemed to improve his ability to stay close with receivers.

Bears DE Bilal Nichols vs. Browns LG Joel Bitonio

Nichols stepped up his play last week over Week 1 with four tackles and a sack as he gets healthier after a toe injury in preseason. He will be coming off the field more in this one and will be replaced in passing situations by Mario Edwards Jr., a strong pass rusher as a three-technique tackle. Neither one will have an edge on Browns left guard Joel Bitonio, who is rated the best pass-blocking guard in the league at the moment by Pro Football Focus with a 90.1 grade. He the third-best overall grade at 82.6. The Browns' offense is perfectly balanced with the running of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb as a counter to Mayfield's passing. Their running works largely because of their effective run blociing from Bitonio, a 6-4, 320-pounder who hasn't missed a game since 2016.

Bears LT Jason Peters vs. Browns DE Myles Garrett

One of the top pass rushers in the league, Garrett had a sack in Week 1 but was held without one last week. When you consider the Browns now have Jadeveon Clowney on the other edge, they're more likely than ever to flip their defensive ends at times and this is what they'll do in order to gain matchup edges. Either way, you've got a pair of defensive edges in their prime, excellent pass rushers and they're attacking the weakest spots on the Bears offensive line, the tackles. Peters has held up well for a 39-year-old, but in two games he has suffered a dislocated finger and a quad injury. The other problem the Bears have here is who they're protecting. Normally with quarterback Justin Fields taking snaps they would want to attack the edges, go with bootleg action and play the offense much like they did with Mitchell Trubisky last year. However, this could be playing right into the Browns' hands because on both sides they have fast, strong rushers who have seen plenty of bootlegs and zone-read runs. They're not going to be as susceptible to this kind of trickery. Also, Fields is a passer who tries to escape the pocket to make a play by going outside rather than stepping up. This avenue won't be open much of the time. You'd almost be better with an immobile quarterback facing the Browns because then at least the edge rushers have to first beat a tackle and then work their way into the pocket to get a sack. So if, as expected, it's Fields starting, expect he'll throw more from the pocket or off the RPO fake than he might normally against a team with average or poor edge rushers. And expect the Bears to emphasize the run with David Montgomery rather than come out throwing. They need to do something to hold the ends in place first.

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