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Keys to the Game

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Keys to the Game: 3 things that will help Bears beat Browns

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The Bears (5-8) will visit the Browns (8-5) Sunday in Cleveland. Here are three things that should increase their chances of recording their fourth win in five games:

(1) Pressure quarterback Joe Flacco.

The 38-year-old, who joined the Browns Nov. 20 after injuries to Deshaun Watson and Dorian Thompson-Robinson, is a traditional pocket passer with a rocket arm. Because he's extremely dangerous when given time to throw and not much of a threat to extend plays with his legs, the Bears must generate a consistent pass rush Sunday.

In two starts for Cleveland, Flacco has thrown for 565 yards with five touchdowns, two interceptions and an 83.8 passer rating while being sacked three times.

"The thing that stands out is his ability to make every throw," said Bears linebackers coach Dave Borgonzi. "He's got a strong arm, really comfortable in the pocket. It's impressive to see a guy that just got there have such good command of the offense.

Last Sunday in a 31-27 win over the Jaguars at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Flacco tossed TD passes of 34, 30 and 41 yards—the first game in his 16-year NFL career in which he had three touchdown passes of at least 30 yards.

"He stretches the whole part of the field," said Bears coach Matt Eberflus. "It's not just vertically, it's horizontally as well. There are certain quarterbacks that only throw in between the hashes, in between the numbers and you can certainly pack the paint so-to-speak on that, but he makes you defend the whole field.

"You can see the talent. He's always had it, and he still has it. You can see the arm strength, the accuracy, the vision, the patience in the pocket. Very calm in there, and you can see that. He's put up good numbers. There's no secret to that, and they've done a nice job protecting him, too. He's had some time back there."

The Bears will rely on a resurgent defense that's helped produce three wins in their last four games. The unit has recorded 11 sacks during that span after mustering only 10 sacks in the first nine games of the season. The Bears have also generated 11 takeaways, including nine interceptions, in their last four contests.

Last Sunday, the defense held the Lions scoreless in the second half, enabling the Bears to turn a 13-10 halftime deficit into a 28-13 win, and limited quarterback Jared Goff to a 54.6 passer rating that was his lowest in a game since 2020.

The pass rush is led by defensive end Montez Sweat, who leads the Bears with 3.5 sacks since he was acquired Oct. 31 in a trade with the Commanders.

(2) Contain defensive end Myles Garrett.

The four-time Pro Bowler is a game-wrecker who ranks seventh in the NFL with 13.0 sacks and leads a Browns defense that is No. 1 in the league in total yards, passing yards, sacks per pass, first downs per game and third-down efficiency.

"He's a freak, I mean, that's what he is," said Bears left guard Teven Jenkins. "He's a great guy, great dude, greater rusher. His explosiveness and quickness and just overall play strength is just otherworldly, really."

Garrett has not registered a sack in his last three games and has not gone four straight contests without a sack since the Browns selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. In his last outing against the Bears, Garrett set a franchise record with 4.5 sacks in a 26-6 victory in Cleveland Sept. 26, 2021.

"Really, there's nothing he can't do," said Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. "He's got every facet of a defensive lineman that you would want. The guy can play noseguard, three-technique, end. He can stand up and be a edge rusher, an outside linebacker. He's got every trait that you really want. He's an incredible player."

The Bears will counter with Justin Fields, who has posted a 104.5 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in his last six starts. Fields also remains a threat on the ground, leading the Bears in rushing with 458 yards, the third most among NFL quarterbacks behind the Ravens' Lamar Jackson (644) and the Eagles' Jalen Hurts (460).

Fields' favorite target is DJ Moore, who tops the Bears in all receiving categories with 76 catches for 1,071 yards and seven touchdowns. Moore has accounted for 40.1% of the Bears' receiving yards, the second highest percentage in the NFL behind the Dolphins' Tyreek Hill (40.9%). Fields boasts a 144.0 passer rating when targeting Moore, the highest among all NFL quarterback/receiver duos.

While the Browns rank at the top of the league in multiple defensive categories, they've permitted 29, 36 and 27 points in their last three games. A defense that allowed only nine touchdown passes from Weeks 1-11 has permitted seven since Week 12.

The unit is particularly stingy at home, where the Browns have won four straight and six of seven games this season.

"You're facing another good defense," Eberflus said. "They play a similar style to what we play. They're a four-down group and they mix their coverages. They've got a great pass rusher and they've got a lot of guys that play with great energy. It's going to be a big challenge for our offense, for sure."

The Bears were back on the practice fields at Halas Hall to continue their preparation for Sunday's road game against the Cleveland Browns.

(3) Win the turnover battle.

It's no coincidence that the Bears are plus-eight in turnover ratio in a 3-1 stretch that began in Week 10. They hope to continue that trend Sunday against the Browns, who have committed a league-high 27 turnovers this season.

In their last three games, the Bears have generated 11 takeaways, including nine interceptions, the most in both categories in the NFL over that span. The 11 takeaways are their most in a three-game stretch since they also had 11 in Weeks 2-4 in 2013.

Linebacker T.J. Edwards has produced a takeaway in each of the last three games with two interceptions and a fumble recovery, while linebacker Tremaine Edmunds has a pair of interceptions, as does cornerback Jaylon Johnson.

"Right now, we're in a takeaway competition amongst the linebackers, so they're competing against each other, which is great," Borgonzi said. "And really that's the formula to win games. What we talk about is hustle, intensity, takeaways, smart situational football, and the takeaways, that's the best stat in ball. That correlates the most to winning and it's something that we practice and it's something we take a lot of pride in."

While the Bears have been taking the ball away on defense, they've been protecting it on offense. In three starts since returning from a broken right thumb that sidelined him for four games, Fields has thrown 93 passes without an interception, the longest streak of his three-year NFL career.

"Taking care of the football, in terms of interceptions, that's been good as of late," Eberflus said. "A perfect game for a quarterback is zero turnovers. That gives us a chance to win the game."

Asked what accounts for Fields' stretch without an interception, Eberflus said: "Just him being mindful of it and us visiting about it before the game. We visit on Saturday when the game plan is all in and we talk about that. He knows how important it is to the success of the football team."

Numbers bear that out: The Bears are 4-0 this season when they don't commit a turnover and 1-8 in games in which they do. They have two turnovers in their five wins and 19 turnovers in their eight losses.

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