BEARS RB JORDAN HOWARD VS. BROWNS MLB JOE SCHOBERT
Three of the Bears’ four wins have come against the AFC North with Howard leading the way. The Browns (0-14) have done little right this year, but are among the league’s best versus the run and must keep it up if they hope to prevent a Chicago sweep of the division.
“We take pride in stopping the run game,” said Schobert, who shares the league lead with 127 tackles and was voted first alternate to the Pro Bowl. “That’s our focus going into the game — try to make a rookie quarterback (Mitchell Trubisky) beat us consistently throwing the ball.”
In order to do that, the Browns will have to do a better job against Howard than did their rivals, who are traditionally stout versus the run. Howard carried 82 times for 454 yards, a 5.5 average and four touchdowns as the Bears beat Pittsburgh 23-17 in Chicago, won 27-24 in overtime at Baltimore and 33-7 at Cincinnati. The Browns have never beaten the Steelers, Bengals and Ravens in the same season.
Howard’s 231 rushing yards were the most ever allowed by the Ravens, and he has been effective against just about everyone. He’s fourth in the NFL with 1,069 rushing yards, trailing Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt and the Rams’ Todd Gurley. He has two 1,000-yard seasons in his two years, a first in a Bears history that includes Gale Sayers and Walter Payton. Howard has five 100-yard games this year with seven touchdowns, and his 12 100-yard efforts since the start of last year are the most in the NFL.
“He’s a big back. He’s shifty. He breaks a lot of tackles,” Schobert said. “You see a lot of plays against the Steelers, the Ravens, the Bengals, where he breaks three or four tackles and it’s a 50-yard run when really he should have been tackled at the line of scrimmage because they had guys in gaps and they had guys hitting him.”
The Browns are seventh against the run, allowing 96.1 yards a game, and lead the league with 3.3 yards per attempt. The Bears have rushed for at least 220 yards four times this season.
It promises to be strength vs. strength on a winter’s day on Lake Michigan.
“We are always ready. We are one of the best against the run,” safety Jabrill Peppers said. “We love teams that want to line up and run the ball against us. If they are going to run the ball on us, go right ahead.”
The Bears complement Howard with explosive 5-foot-6 rookie Tarik Cohen, who has 348 rushing yards and 327 receiving yards. So the Browns must be prepared for thunder and lightning.
“They do a really good job on how they direct the run game,” defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said. “We have to make sure we understand how they go about doing it and then play the way we are supposed to play in the run game. We have to get this thing right.”
The Browns ranked 31st against the run last year and credit the significant improvement to a change in attitude under Williams.
“We have been challenged by more than a couple teams this year trying to run the ball up and down on us,” said defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 pick. “Respect to (the Bears) for being able to run the ball well, but it is one where force meets object, so who wins?”