Heading into a pivotal stretch that begins Sunday at Cleveland, Jay Cutler takes the reigns when the Chicago Bears (7-6) travel to the shores of Lake Erie to meet the Cleveland Browns (4-9) in a game that may have more significance than it appears on the surface.
Cutler takes over for Josh McCown, who played well in a five-game stint that culminated with an impressive 42-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Monday night. McCown won NFC Player of the Week honors for his four touchdown performance, but now retreats to the bench as head coach Marc Trestman makes one of his early-defining decisions as Bears boss.
How Cutler and the Bears fare the last three games will shape General Manager Phil Emery’s offseason agenda, but first things first. The Bears chances of advancing to the postseason start in Cleveland. Here’s three things to look forward to:
1. Can Cutler begin where McCown left off? The Bears high-powered offense appeared to be rounding into form, with receivers Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and running back Matt Forte clicking on all cylinders. Will Cutler demonstrate noticeable rust and turn the ball over, something McCown avoided (with just one interception in five games)?
2. Will the Bears take advantage of a Cleveland team that has lost four straight games or play down to the competition? Chicago has struggled on the road, losing to two consecutive opponents with losing records in St. Louis and Minnesota. Can the Bears jump out to an early lead and seize momentum?
The game features stark contrasts between a Bears club that ranks second in poins scored and a Cleveland unit that labors to score and rates near the bottom in rushing.
3, With LB Lance Briggs absent for at least another week, can the Bears defense show any sign of improvement against a Browns squad led by exciting WR Josh Gordon and TE Cameron Jordan?Athletic TE’s pose a challenge to a Bears stop attack that is often caught out of position and may be a step slow in reacting.Rookie LB’s Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene are raw, but forced to play for Chicago due to injuries. Expect Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner to exploit their learning curve and inexperience.
Bears Bits: Trestman returns to Cleveland after last coaching on the Browns staff when they advanced to the AFC Championship game in 1989….Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker held the same role for Cleveland from 2005-2008….Former Bear Jason Campbell with QB Cleveland….Former Asst. Special Teams coach Chris Tabor heads up the Browns special teams unit….The teams meet for just the 15th time, with Cleveland holding a 9-5 series advantage. The Bears won the last meeting, 30-6 in November 0f 2009 at Soldier Field.