Game 4 of preseason is nothing more than an anxiety riddled event in which there is little to gain but a season can be lost. While position battles remain unsettled, expect nothing more than a token appearance by the starters.
The Bears Offense
For as long as there has been football in Chicago, two things have been consistent, great defense and a great running game. The defense remains solid and may have improved but thanks to injuries to both Cedric Benson and Thomas Jones, the running game has been rather ineffective in preseason. Neither will likely see a snap in Thursday's game as the Bears will look to have a potent 1-2 punch ready for the Packers, on opening day.
The Bears have invested a great deal of time, money and a high draft pick on quarterback Rex Grossman but that may not be enough to save his job. Head coach, Lovie Smith continues to publicly support Rex but Bears fans can not be ignored, especially when they are booing the starting quarterback whenever he takes a snap. If Rex continues to struggle, he may not be the only one in trouble of losing their job as coach Smith is in the final year of his contract.
It would have been easier to ignore Rex's troubles, if Brian Griese wasn't playing at such a high level. In fact Brian has been one of the best passers in preseason. He is finding and utilizing all of his weapons. He has simply been flawless in running the offense.
Wide receiver Mushin Muhammad is the star of the offense. Muhammad is a nightmare for corners due to his ability to use his body in shielding defenders and his break away speed. He is also incredibly strong and once he gets into the open field, he is difficult to bring down. The remaining receiver positions are up for grabs but Rashied Davis is quietly putting together a tremendous preseason.
The Bears have one of the best front fours in football. They use a variation of the cover 2 that calls for the line to push left or right and the linebackers swarm opposite to the defensive line, making a large front where there is little room for the running back. This is designed to penetrate and make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. Tommy Harris will be a tremendous test for the interior of the offensive line. He is one of the most talented defensive tackles in football that will feast on any slow footed linemen.
The linebacker unit is equally impressive. Brian Urlacher is one of the best middle linebackers in the game. He is big, physical and a true playmaker. Brian makes his living at defeating the block. Expect major collisions between Urlacher and the Browns' fullbacks.
Outside linebacker Lance Briggs is also emerging as a bright young star of the Bears defense. He has the unique ability to play through traffic finding the ball. Lance loves chasing the ball from sideline to sideline and is showing improved technique in pass coverage. He gets a tremendous jump on the ball and must be accounted for especially in throwing those running back and tight end screens.
The weakness of the defense is the secondary. They are vulnerable deep as was displayed last year by Antonio Bryant. Antonio beat the secondary deep on almost every single play. Rookie Daniel Manning should help in this area but with most rookies, there is a learning curve.
The top position battle to be decided on the offense is the backup quarterback position. While the Browns were hoping that Ken Dorsey would solidify himself as the number 2, it has been Derek Anderson that is emerging as the better option. Anderson has showed improved technique and a comfort level running the offense. This should be his night to shine as the Browns will likely give Charlie Frye only one series of play.
The running back battle is heating up. The battle isn't for #1 or even #2. Those spots are solidified with Reuben Droughns and rookie Jerome Harrison. The number three back is where the competition resides. William Green, Lee Suggs and Jason Wright will not only need a solid game running the ball but special teams play will likely be the deciding factor on which back remains on this team.
At wide receiver the top 5 receivers are set with Braylon Edwards, Dennis Northcutt, Joe Jurevicius and rookie Travis Wilson and special teams ace Josh Cribbs. The Browns will likely carry 6 receivers making the battle between Frisman Jackson and Kendrick Mosley one to watch. Jackson has the experience and has shown flashes of dominance but he has failed to show any consistency. Mosley has made the most of preseason, providing clutch plays down the stretch including two big receptions last week.
The Browns offensive line is set at four starting positions. Center is wide open for anyone to emerge as the starter, as well as the vital backup role. All other backup spots remain open. Rookie Rob Smith is catching the coach's eye and could see a great deal of playing time this week.
The Browns have three fullbacks and it will be hard to cut anyone but if anyone has to go, it could very well be the starting fullback, Terrelle Smith. Smith is a run blocking force but he is considered very one dimensional. Rookie Lawrence Vickers is multifunctional with his ability to run the ball in short yardage situations and also shows great hands receiving the ball. Corey McIntyre is an excellent blocking fullback but he is also the Browns best special teams contributor.
The Bears aren't the only team bolstering a solid defense this year. In the first half of 3 preseason games, opposing running backs have carried the ball 31 times for a total of 60 yards. This is an incredible statistic when you consider the Browns' rush defense last year in which they could not stop anyone.
The defensive line is primarily set as the Browns will likely carry only 6 defensive linemen and 5 of those positions appear locked up.
The top linebacker battle is for the starting inside linebacker position, along side Andra Davis. Chaun Thompson returned from injury last week and was solid but rookie D'Qwell Jackson has been very impressive in preseason as well and despite limited time last week, he equaled Thompson's performance.
Safety has been an ongoing battle between Sean Jones and Brodney Pool. Everyone has an opinion on which player provides the most at this position but to be quiet honest, both deserve to start. Sean is the safety that is going to draw most of the one on one cover responsibility. With teams across the league using multi-receiving sets, it virtually demands that you have a safety with those skills. Brodney is a playmaker and you can see it anytime he steps on the field. At some point, these two need to be on the field together. The only thing Brian Russell has over Jones and Pool is experience, and no one gains experience sitting on the sidelines.
The corner position, opposite Leigh Bodden, has simply been horrible. The Browns would get as more production out of this group if they cut the entire lot and started from scratch. When Gary Baxter returns, this position should become a team strength but for now it is the team's most glaring weakness.
This is an excellent game to watch as a pure fan of the sport. The Bears have not finished off the preseason with a victory since 1994, while the Browns are looking to end the preseason on a three game winning streak. Players understand their careers are on the line and the intensity level just seems to be cracked up another level. It may only be the backups playing but it gives both teams a chance to evaluate their depth. This is vital for two teams that believe they will be playing in January, when that depth will be tested.