KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: FOX, Ron Pitts, Tim Ryan, Jay Glazer
SERIES: 13th meeting. Browns lead series 8-4 over Bears, but they gave met just once in the past 12 years, a 27-21 Bears victory in overtime on Nov. 4, 2001. The Bears scored 14 points in the final 28 seconds of regulation and then won on the Browns' first possession, when QB Tim Couch's pass was batted at the line of scrimmage by DT Bryan Robinson and picked off by S Mike Brown, who returned it 16 yards for the win. It was the second straight week in which Brown returned an interception in overtime for a Bears victory.
2005 RANKINGS: Bears: offense 27th (14th rush, 29th pass); defense 4th
(9th rush, 5th pass). Browns: offense 12th (25th rush, 5th pass); defense 30th
(26th rush, 30th pass)
PREDICTION: Browns 14-10
KEYS TO THE GAME: Bears QB Kyle Orton has thrown one touchdown to six interceptions, but coach Romeo Crennel isn't likely to go overboard with various packages to confuse the rookie because the Browns are still getting adjusted to their new 3-4 defense. Chicago desperately needs to run the ball to put Orton in manageable passing situations, and rookie WR Mark Bradley needs to produce in his first career start to take pressure off Muhsin Muhammad, whose 16 receptions are four more than the Bears' five other receivers. The Browns also want to run the ball well on early downs to avoid facing the Bears' strong pass rush, which should only improve with DT Tommie Harris as healthy as he has been all season.
FAST FACTS: Bears: Are 10-6 (.625) following a bye. ... Muhammad has five 100-yard receiving games in his past six road games. Browns: Offense has just one touchdown in six red-zone possessions. ... Have forced at least one turnover in 16 consecutive games, tied with San Diego for the NFL high.
--SS Mike Brown (hamstring) didn't practice Thursday, although he remains probable for Sunday.
--S Mike Green, who was replaced as the starting free safety after Week One, would be part of a platoon that would replace starting SS Mike Brown (hamstring, probable) if he can't play Sunday. Green would share time with Todd Johnson.
--SS Todd Johnson would be part of the Bears' replacement plan if SS Mike Brown cannot play on Sunday because of a hamstring injury. Johnson would share time with Mike Green.
--PK Doug Brien (back) did not practice Thursday but remains probable for Sunday.
--PK Tyler Jones would be promoted from the practice squad to replace starter Doug Brien (back) if he cannot play Sunday.
--CB Jerry Azumah was removed from the injury list and returned to practice
on Thursday. He is expected to play nickel and return kickoffs on Sunday.
--QB Trent Dilfer ranks 20th in the league in third-down passer rating (71.6 rating). Dilfer said he needs to be better there, especially in the red zone. "That's where I want to play my best football," he said.
--RB Reuben Droughns welcomed the return of Lee Suggs to full health, even if it cuts into Droughns' playing time. "We're a different style of running back," Droughns said. "When you got that you're going to throw defenses off balance."
--WR Dennis Northcutt has just eight catches for 62 yards in the team's first three games, totals far below what is expected of him. "I don't think he's gotten as many looks as some of the other receivers have gotten," coach Romeo Crennel said. "As a result he might not have been as productive as we all would like him to be and know he can be."
--DE Orpheus Roye benefited more than any Browns player from the bye week. Roye had time to rest a sore knee. Thing is, the "injury" has not affected Roye's play one bit. He's been the team's best player.
--LB Andra Davis is on pace for more than 200 tackles but shrugged it off saying: "I really haven't paid attention to the tackle totals. I'm just out there trying to get a victory."
--LB Kenard Lang said a fast start is the key to curing the Browns woes at
home. The team has not won a home game since Oct. 17, 2004, when they beat the
Bengals. "You start fast you get the crowd into it and get going," Lang said.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Muhsin Muhammad isn't listed as a player-coach, but the Bears' go-to receiver has helped mentor the team's young wideouts since minicamp, and he's been doing more of that than ever with rookie Mark Bradley joining him in the starting lineup.
They're an odd couple. The 32-year-old Muhammad is a 10-year veteran, an elder statesman and a team leader, even though he's only been with the Bears since Feb. 26. Bradley is readying for his first NFL start at 23, and he only started four games in two years at Oklahoma after transferring from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, where he started just six games.
"It's a great relationship," Bradley said. "He's a guy with poise and leadership. Coming into the league, you don't know what to expect. You have a guy who has been a Pro Bowler and has been in the league for a long time and you just try to learn everything you can about the game from him, even off the field."
More than anything, Bradley needs to learn how to attract some of the attention that opponents have been lavishing on Muhammad. Even so, the veteran has 16 catches for 198 yards and 1 touchdown. The Bears' five other wide receivers have combined for 12 catches, 146 yards and zero touchdowns. As a result, the Bears are No. 29 in passing yards and No. 27 in total yards. Even Muhammad won't be able to maintain his numbers without another viable option on the field.
Four years ago, during his nine-year career with the Carolina Panthers, Muhammad came to practice wearing a jersey that read: "D. Coy," because he wasn't satisfied with the number of passes coming his way. Now, he wouldn't mind that role - temporarily.
"I'd like to be the decoy one weekend and have somebody have a big game," Muhammad said. "When I was in Carolina, the one thing we always knew was that there's no way that a defense was going to take both of our receivers out of the game. Somebody was going to have a big game receiving, whether it was Steve (Smith), or me, or both."
Bradley is second on the Bears with 57 receiving yards on four catches, but that's not enough to take double-team coverage off Muhammad. Bradley has more than enough speed to stretch opposing defenses vertically, the size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) and strength to break tackles and the elusiveness to avoid them.
Off the field, Bradley has learned some valuable lessons in private film
sessions with his teammate/teacher on Tuesdays, a day off for most players.
Romeo Crennel didn't sound so confident about using different coverages to try to confuse rookie quarterback Kyle Orton of the Bears.
"You have to be able to get in position and do your job after the disguise is over so you can do your job," Crennel said. "That's the main thing we are concerned about. The disguise is great if you can pull it off, but if you can't pull it off you have to get lined up where you need to be."
Crennel seemed to be expressing some reluctance to use his secondary to confuse a rookie.
Cornerback Daylon McCutcheon favored trying different things.
"If our defensive line gets in his face, it'll be hard for him," McCutcheon said. "If our secondary moves around and disguises our coverage, it'll be even harder for him.
"He's only going to get better and better, but right now, he is a rookie."
This seems like classic pre-game gamesmanship. The effort itself is confusing.
On the one hand a player advocates confusing the rookie. On the other the coach said: "I don't know if we're good enough to disguise."
How it plays out will be an interesting feature of the game.