In Chicago Bears’ 24-7 loss to the Oakland Raiders in the third preseason game of the season, quarterback Josh Rosen failed to pass the offense past the Cleveland Browns’ 31-yard line, completing a pass that fell incomplete.
The Browns’ defensive line is set with some heavy bodies, including a pair of off-ball defensive linemen in Kevin Dodd and Larry Ogunjobi. For tight end David Njoku, they are dangerous, especially if he lines up across from one.
“We can use him a little bit off the line,” Browns Coach Hue Jackson said, adding that he didn’t know yet where Njoku was going to line up in an on-field drill later Sunday.
That’s exactly where it happened. Njoku lined up on the right end of the formation against Chicago’s first offensive line – once again, undrafted rookie tackle Bilal Nichols playing right tackle and a pair of first-time right guards, Brian Schottenheimer and Beau Allen.
Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, Cleveland’s 2015 first-round pick, rotated in at one defensive end spot against Chicago’s second line – outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who replaced defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, and defensive end Adrian Amos.
The Browns’ biggest strength is their run defense. They’re third in the NFL in yards allowed and No. 10 in rushing yards.
But that strength came into question for the first time all preseason Sunday. And it could have a big impact on how Cleveland plays throughout the season, as opposing offensive lines don’t have an answer for Cleveland’s front seven.
Oakland’s linebackers – Deon Hollins, Tahir Whitehead and Keith McGill – had a tough time getting in coverages Sunday, often left under center by Ravens coach John Harbaugh.
Hicks was disruptive throughout the contest, finishing with one tackle for loss and one pass defensed. Brooks took over the play-calling, setting up his 1-yard loss on the first-quarter touchdown for the Raiders. Defensive end Carl Nassib finished with three tackles, but no sacks.
With five more in-game snaps coming against the Ravens, that defense will have a tough time duplicating what Chicago’s had up front, particularly against better quarterbacks than the first rounders the Browns passed up in recent years. (Notably, the Browns chose running back Kareem Hunt over Pitt’s true-freshman sensation, running back Saquon Barkley, with the No. 236 overall pick.)
The Bears enter the regular season with eight players in the top 100 in sacks, including four in double figures: Khalil Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and Akiem Hicks. Willis was listed eighth at the position, with 3.5.
But the 4-3 defense should offer the Browns room to experiment offensively.
Sunday’s performance was a confidence booster for Cleveland’s quarterbacks and a reminder of what he has to offer, as the team rekindled chatter about signing veteran quarterback Josh McCown, who caught four passes on Saturday.
Rosen completed just 3 of 8 passes for 15 yards on Sunday, and Jackson is preparing for the possibility he could be starting the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
The score remained 17-7 for much of the second half, but the defensive line and the backups kept the Bears from falling further behind. Jackson said Sunday his starters will have another shot to test their abilities on Wednesday.