Chicago vs. Cleveland: Bears Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
The Bears will wrap up the preseason Thursday night against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium, and it will mark the 11th consecutive year the two teams have squared off in the preseason.
The Browns lead the all-time preseason series with an 18-11 record that dates back to 1950. Cleveland won last year's contest 18-16 at Soldier Field.
The fourth preseason game is typically reserved for the backups to get one final opportunity to impress the coaches. The majority of the roster is already set, leaving a handful of players to fight for one of the few remaining spots.
With starting quarterback Jay Cutler and backup Jimmy Clausen expected to stay on the bench, rookie David Fales will get an opportunity to take the majority of reps Thursday night, via the Chicago Bears' official Twitter account:
LM: Trestman says rookie QB David Fales will start #Bears' preseason finale in Cleveland & play most if not all of game.— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) August 25, 2014
While Fales will not be competing to be the No. 2 behind Cutler, it will give him some much-needed experience heading into the season. Along with Fales, guys like Senorise Perry, Jordan Lynch, Santonio Holmes, Brock Vereen, Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson will all get critical reps on Thursday night.
Just like all of the other preseason games, finishing Thursday night's game without any significant injuries will be priority No. 1 for the Bears, followed by finding clarity near the bottom of the roster.
Here is our Chicago vs. Cleveland preseason Week 4 preview.
Chicago Bears Preseason Week 3 Recap
Friday night against the Seattle Seahawks, the Chicago Bears struggled in all three phases of the game.
Luckily for them, it was only the preseason.
The Bears struggled to put points on the board with their first-team offense and failed to contain quarterback Russell Wilson with their first-team defense.
Jay Cutler completed 12 of his 20 passing attempts, threw one interception and struggled to get into a rhythm with his receivers.
Despite the struggles, Cutler does not believe they have affected the offense's confidence.
“Anytime you go out there early on and it doesn’t go the way you want it, you’re going to be a little surprised,” Cutler said to the media after the game, via Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. “But at the end of the day, we’re not going to lose our confidence offensively.”
While the offense may not lack confidence, the defense is going to need to find some heading into the regular season.
The team allowed 252 yards through the air with most of that coming from Russell Wilson, who went 15-of-20 for 202 yards with two touchdowns and finished with a 140.0 quarterback rating.
Wilson did much of his damage outside of the pocket Friday night. Head coach Marc Trestman thought the team did a good job of creating pressure but struggled to contain Wilson, via ChicagoFootball.com's Kevin Fishbain:
Trestman says the Bears defense "rushed the passer hard. … What we didn't do is we didn't contain."— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) August 25, 2014
With so many quarterbacks in the NFL possessing the ability to move outside of the pocket like Wilson, the Bears defense is going to need to improve on its ability to not break contain when a passer makes his way outside of the pocket.
While it is difficult to put stock into any preseason game, the Bears showed on Friday night they might not be up to the level they thought they were when they squared off against the defending Super Bowl champions.
News and Notes
Jimmy Clausen to Start Season as the No. 2 Quarterback
After being a late addition to the roster in June, Jimmy Clausen has worked his way up the depth chart to become the team's No. 2 quarterback behind Jay Cutler.
Because of Clausen's strong training camp and preseason, the team released veteran Jordan Palmer this past weekend, via NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
Bears announce the release of backup QB Jordan Palmer, who can now go back to what he's great at -- teaching draftable QBs.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 24, 2014
Head coach Marc Trestman was very complimentary of Clausen this past Monday during his press conference. He noted Clausen's upside and experience were two of the reasons why they opted to keep him.
“I think the upside for Jimmy, his age, his experience, and he came highly recommended from some people I trust in Carolina,” Trestman told the media, via Arthur Arkush of ChicagoFootball.com. “His ability to handle the adversity that he had in his first year, his leadership qualities, he stood up tall through a lot of tough times in Carolina and gained the respect of his teammates and the team there with the way he handled himself in a very, very difficult year.”
Clausen is not expected to play Thursday against the Cleveland Browns unless there is an injury to rookie David Fales, according to TheGameChicago.com's Adam Hoge, but he has firmly entrenched himself as the backup to Cutler this season.
More Clarity Comes with Roster Cuts
By rule, all NFL teams had to have their rosters cut from 90 players to 75 players before the end of this past Tuesday.
Since the end of the third preseason game on Friday, the Bears have been busy trimming their roster down to 75 with the largest amount of cuts coming Saturday, via ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson:
#Bears announce cuts that includes: Nate Collins, Adrian Wilson, Michael Ford, Greg Herd, Kofi Hughes, Joe Long, P. Thompson, Purdy, Gandy.— Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) August 24, 2014
The next wave of cuts came Sunday afternoon, most notably quarterback Jordan Palmer, via Hoge:
More #Bears cuts: Jordan Palmer, Darius Reynaud and Jordan Senn. Three more needed by Tuesday.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) August 25, 2014
The team wasn't done on Monday, releasing veteran safety Craig Steltz, via Patrick Finely of the Chicago Sun-Times:
#Bears cut S Craig Steltz, a ST stalwart since 2008. must trim 2 more by 3 pm tomorrow— Patrick Finley (@patrickfinley) August 25, 2014
Lastly, the team released cornerback Isaiah Frey and offensive lineman James Brown on Tuesday to get the roster to 75 players, via the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer:
OL James Brown, CB Isaiah Frey get cut as Bears get down to 75 players before today's deadline.— Dan Wiederer (@danwiederer) August 26, 2014
With those 15 players released, the Bears now have a slightly better grasp on what the roster is going to look like this season. Of the remaining 75 players, 22 of them will need to be cut to get the roster down to 53 before the final deadline this Saturday.
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Teams are not required to put out a full injury report for preseason games, which makes it difficult to get a good gauge on which players will see the field on Thursday night and which will not.
According to Dickerson, Chris Conte missed Monday's practice while recovering from a concussion he suffered against the Seattle Seahawks Friday night, while Jared Allen, Eben Britton and Kyle Fuller returned to the practice field.
According to Fishbain, Ryan Mundy, Tony Fiammetta, Brian de la Puente and Chris Conte all missed Tuesday's practice.
With Thursday being the final preseason game and many starters not expected to play, it makes it much more difficult to determine which players will be taking the field in Cleveland.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Chicago's Defensive Line vs. Johnny Manziel
One area Bears general manager Phil Emery wanted to improve this offseason was his defensive line. He added Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency, re-signed veteran Jeremiah Ratliff and drafted Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton, all with the hope they could revitalize a defense that struggled to get after the quarterback last season.
Against the Seahawks on Friday night, the defensive line did a nice job of getting pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson but struggled to maintain rush lanes, giving Wilson opportunities to make plays outside the pocket.
"We definitely have to work on rush lanes, as far as pass rush," Ratliff told Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune. "It was exposed with the good quarterback who had great poise, great feet and able to buy time with his feet."
With regular-season matchups looming against mobile quarterbacks like Buffalo's E.J. Manuel, San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick and New York's Geno Smith in the first three weeks, the defensive line will get a final tune-up against Cleveland's Johnny Manziel, who is expected to play Thursday night, via the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich:
#Browns HC Mike Pettine said Johnny Manziel will get some work Thursday night, hopefully finish first half.— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) August 25, 2014
While many members of the first-team defense will likely not be playing, guys like Ferguson, Sutton, David Bass, Trevor Scott and Cornelius Washington will all get an opportunity to try and slow down Manziel.
Manziel has had his struggles this preseason, but there is no denying he can be electric when he gets outside the pocket.
If guys like Bass and Washington want to make this team, a strong showing against a mobile quarterback like Manziel could help get them on the final 53-man roster.
Chris Conte vs. Danny McCray
While these matchups are typically reserved for opposing teams, the Bears' free safety battle remains wide open heading into the final preseason game.
After returning to the field for the first time following offseason shoulder surgery, Chris Conte had to leave Friday's game against the Seahawks with an apparent concussion, via Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times:
Tests say #Bears safety Chris Conte has a concussion.— Adam Jahns (@adamjahns) August 23, 2014
Before the concussion, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker liked what he saw from Conte. He said, via Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com:
I thought Chris played fast. He was aggressive. He made a nice play in the end zone. He was excited to be out there. There was no hesitation with Chris in his reads and his progressions, and I thought that was positive. With the amount of evaluation time available, we felt like that was enough time to make a clean evaluation on him, and we don't feel differently.
There has been no timetable set for his return, and head coach Marc Trestman has only stated, via Wright, that "it is a day-to-day thing" with Conte.
In Conte's absence, veteran Danny McCray has been getting most of the first-team reps at free safety for much of training camp and the preseason.
Known mostly as a special teams contributor, McCray started the first three preseason games at free safety alongside Ryan Mundy. He wasn't initially viewed as someone who could push for a starting job, but he knew he would have the opportunity when he signed this past March.
Bears' X-Factor of the Week: David Fales
After being picked in the sixth round of this past draft, David Fales has only had limited reps during training camp and the preseason.
Fales went 5-of-7 in the team's preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles but did not get any snaps against the Jacksonville Jaguars or Seattle Seahawks. All of that will change on Thursday night as he is expected to play the whole game against the Cleveland Browns, via Campbell:
Bears 6th-round rookie QB David Fales expects to play the whole fourth exhibition game vs Browns. Great developmental opportunity for him.— Rich Campbell (@Rich_Campbell) August 25, 2014
There is not a specific area that Fales wants to work on Thursday, but he does want to show improvement.
"I’m just trying to improve," Fales said, via Campbell. "I don’t have my focus on just one thing, what I need to show. I’m just going to go out there, go through the reads and have fun competing, take care of the ball, (eliminate) turnovers and just have fun."
After the release of Jordan Palmer earlier this week, Fales will get one final opportunity to prove what he can do on the field. While it is not a given he will start the season on the team's 53-man roster, a strong showing on Thursday night may force the team to keep him on the roster instead of subjecting him to other teams when he is put on the practice squad.
After Thursday night's game concludes, fans of the Chicago Bears should have a good idea of what their team is going to look like heading into the regular season.
Following the team's cuts earlier in the week to bring the roster down to 75, the team is required to make its final cuts to get the roster to 53 players by August 30.
Thursday night will be the last opportunity for guys on the bubble to make one final impression.
For veterans, putting on a good show Thursday night is not just for the sake of sticking with the Bears, but also to give other teams a good look at what they can do in case they get cut.
While many rookies will be doing the same as the veterans, they will also be fighting for the opportunity to stick on the team's practice squad.
Last week the NFL officially announced that the practice squad will be expanding from eight players to 10 for the 2014 and 2015 seasons, via ESPN's Adam Schefter:
Now official: NFL and NFL Players Association have agreed to expand Practice Squads to 10 players 2014 and 2015 seasons.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 19, 2014
While the previous three games were most crucial for those who are fighting for a possible starting spot, Thursday's contest will be pivotal for those who are seeking for a spot on the practice squad.
Undrafted rookies like Senorise Perry, Jordan Lynch, Lee Pegues, DeDe Lattimore and others will get their biggest opportunity to prove they can at least stick with the practice squad with strong showings against the Cleveland Browns.
With a bevy of rookies looking to make a final impression, it makes predicting the game much more difficult to do. Both teams will likely be running generic offenses and defenses, resulting in a low-scoring game.
Thursday night for the Chicago Bears will be all about staying healthy, determining the final spots at the bottom of the roster and moving forward toward Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills on September 7.
Prediction: Bears 17, Browns 10
Record/statistical information provided via email from the Chicago Bears or NFL.com.
Matt Eurich is an NFL/Chicago Bears Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.