With the dream of making it into the NFL at stake just before the final roster cuts, expect an intense violent brand of football. The final preseason game will only see a token appearance by the starting units but it also has a tendency to produce some of the most entertaining football of preseason. Many may say this game is totally meaningless but. to those trying to fulfill their dream of playing professional football, this game is everything.
After three preseason games the Browns' offense has revealed a great deal more questions than answers. Injuries have plagued the Browns and, although most do not seem serious, they have prevented the Browns from developing "chemistry". This unit lacks any semblance of cohesion but with injuries to QB Derek Anderson, RB Jamal Lewis, WR Braylon Edwards, OG Ryan Tucker, WR Joe Jurevicius, FB Lawrence Vickers and TE Kellen Winslow it isn't hard to figure out why the offense has struggled.
Having 7 of the 11 starters from last years offense can be used as an excuse but when it comes to the play of the offensive line their is no excuse. This group has been together since spring and it is simply not clicking. I had concerns of how Rex Hadnot would fit into the offensive line puzzle before camp began. With Ryan Tucker out and Hadnot in, the line is dragging down every other position on this team.
Tucker may not be ready by the opener and the Browns should prepare as if he will be absent. Seth McKinney lost his job last year when he was injured and Tucker returned from a four-game suspension; maybe injury and a poor performance can help him regain his starting position.
Brady Quinn will be making his second straight start this week due to the concussion suffered by Derek Anderson against the Giants. Quinn struggled last week but it is hard to gain any rhythm when you are constantly feeling pressure on a three-step drop. Every snap taken is a positive step for the young quarterback. With the fierce pass rush of the Cowboys expected on opening day combined with Anderson's concussion and the poor line play, Quinn will need all the reps he can get.
The receiving corps of the Browns has done little to help the young quarterback. Travis Wilson has struggled since preseason began. With Wilson's struggles, Steve Sanders has a legit shot to make the final roster depending on how many receivers the Browns choose to carry. Sanders shows a willingness to go across the middle and make the reception in heavy traffic. His versatility is a huge asset for this team. Syndric Steptoe appears to have locked up a roster spot not only as a special teams player but also as a receiver.
Jerome Harrison has the talent to be a successful running back in this league but that will likely not happen until he hits the free agent market in the near future. The Browns coaching staff appears to have little to no confidence in the RB despite how well he runs with the ball. Jason Wright is a good emergency-type back but he simply isn't a playmaker at the position.
The Bears have one of the best front seven's in all of football when healthy. Last year was disappointing for this group as injuries did not allow them to play the aggressive, physical style of football that they are known for. They are getting healthy and with the struggling offensive line of the Browns, expect a feeding frenzy for the Bears defense.
The Bears play primarily a Cover 2 defense with the front 4 taking off in one direction while the linebackers shift in the opposite direction. This is done with single gap responsibility and, when it works, it works very well. With Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs covering the back side of the attack, there is no room for error for the offense. You miss your block and someone is punished.
The weakness for this defense remains in the secondary as the safeties are often slow to react to the deep ball. This should give Quinn and the Browns an opportunity to do something they have done little of thus far and that is work the vertical part of the offense. The quick slants and curls routes are a challenge against the Bears.
The Bears have always been a running team and that will not change this year. Talented rookie Matt Forte looks ready to carry the bulk of the load and is my favorite for offensive rookie of the year. Matt has decent size and speed but what makes him special is his attitude. He is a perfect fit for this offense with his style of running and love of the game. Forte doesn't look to run out of bounds nor does he look to avoid contact. He loves to deliver the punishing blow and has the balance to keep his feet underneath him as he runs over the defender.
Behind the rookie is speedster Garrett Wolfe. Wolfe is the perfect compliment as a change of pace back. His speed and quickness, combined with good hands in the passing game, makes him a very dangerous back. The last thing you want to do is allow the young man to get the ball in the open field.
The Bears still have their struggles at quarterback and receiver. Kyle Orton is now the starter and, while he doesn't stretch the field like Rex Grossman, he doesn't force throws often. He is looking to move the chains with as little risk involved as possible. I believe he is a good fit for the running game of the Bears but he must improve his deep ball as teams will look to load-up on the run.
The Browns' injury bug may have produced a vital key for this defense as the season progresses. Rookie Alex Hall did not have a big game stat-wise in his first start but he was impressive nonetheless. Hall is more rounded than any OLB on the roster. He has patience to play the run but the speed and athleticism to get to the quarterback, and he's also looking comfortable when asked to drop back into coverage. While it's unlikely he can upset the pecking order at outside linebacker, he has the talent to not only be a contributor for this defense but possibly a starter.
Not enough can be said about the performance of Shaun Rodgers last week against his former team, the Lions. Rodgers is a true force in the middle and this defense should only get better as Rodgers and fellow newcomer Corey Williams becomes more comfortable in the 3-4 scheme.
It might be best to take the same approach with the corner tandem as well. Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald simply are too valuable to risk in this contest especially with the backup situation still in doubt. I would not be surprised to see the corners rotated throughout this contest.