A’ight, let’s get back to footy business…no funny stuff from me today.
Steve Doerschuk of the CantonRep.com is our designated hitter today…his job is to get you and me all riled up for viewing tonight’s PS3 game:
“Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles is expected to start against Tyrod Taylor as the Browns face defending NFL champion Philadelphia in preseason Game 3.”
EAGLES at BROWNS
KICKOFF: 8 p.m.
TV: FOX, national telecast, Troy Aikman, Joe Buck, Erin Andrews, Kristina Pink
EAGLES, LATELY: In the last five seasons, going backward from 2017, they have gone 13-3 (won Super Bowl), 7-9, 7-9, 10-6 and 10-6 (won NFC East).
PRESEASON: Eagles lost 31-14 to Pittsburgh, lost 37-20 at New England; Browns won 20-10 at New York (Giants), lost 19-17 to Buffalo.
2018 PROJECTION: The Street & Smith’s Yearbook has the Eagles winning the NFC East and losing to the Rams in the NFC finals.
CALLING SHOTS: Doug Pederson, 50, who started eight games at quarterback for the 2000 Browns, signed a contract extension through 2022 this week and is in his third year as Eagles head coach. His offensive coordinator is Mike Groh, a former Virginia quarterback. Jim Schwartz, a former Lions head coach who began his NFL career in Cleveland, is defensive coordinator.
QB vs. QB: Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, 29, is expected to start for the Eagles against Tyrod Taylor. Foles replaced injured Carson Wentz last Dec. 10 and was on the field for postseason wins against the Falcons, Vikings and Patriots. He was a third-round pick out of Arizona in 2012, the sixth QB taken after Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler and Russell Wilson. Taylor is expected to play the entire first half before Baker Mayfield gets his turn.
ROOKIE WATCH: The Eagles’ only selection in the first 105 draft picks was tight end Dallas Goedert at No. 49. He has seven catches this preseason. Browns picks in that range were Mayfield (No. 1), CB Denzel Ward (No. 4), OG Austin Corbett (No. 33), RB Nick Chubb (No. 35), DL Chad Thomas (No. 67) and WR Antonio Callaway (No. 105).
EAGLES OUT: Injured Eagles starters not expected to play include Wentz, OT Jason Peters, RB Jay Ajayi, WR Alshon Jeffrey and WR Nelson Agholor.
What Dave Spadaro of PE.com is telling us to watch tonight:
IT’s ALL ABOUT FOLES AT QB—-“Uncertainty….
“I’m really just focusing on the moment, doing what I can to prepare for the Browns, getting ready to go,” said Foles. “That sort of alleviates all the different anxieties that you may face.”
All of this makes the game in Cleveland more important for Foles, who could play into the third quarter with the rest of the starting offense (minus some key pieces like wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, running backs Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles, and tight end Richard Rodgers). Foles is coming off a struggling performance in New England, where, in his first game since his Super Bowl LII brilliance, he completed 3 of 9 passes for 44 yards. He was sacked three times, including the one that knocked him out of the game and into the sideline medical tent with what has been described as a right shoulder strain.
The initial diagnosis held, and Foles is fine. He was back at practice on Sunday at the NovaCare Complex and hasn’t looked back. What he wants on Thursday night is to get flowing early against the Browns’ defense.
Spadaro: “There is some importance to this preseason game, one that obviously doesn’t count in the standings but one that matters to Foles and his reliance on touch and timing. He didn’t have much of either last week. Thursday night, it’s an entirely new experience, and one he hopes will vault the offense into that September 6 focus and whatever that might mean for No. 9 and the quarterback position.”
What we as visiting Philly fans get to witness tonight may have more to do with HC Hue Jackson’s future with the Browns than anything else.
Under new general manager John Dorsey, the Browns executed high-profile trades for starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry and free safety Damarious Randall. The trio — plus a score of familiar and new faces, including rookies quarterback Baker Mayfield (the No. 1 overall pick) and cornerback Denzel Ward (the No. 4 overall pick) underscore what Cleveland hopes is the start of a culture change.
[Personally I see this 2018 Browns edition as a possible 5-win team. That’s 500% better than what they did last year. So I doubt the Eagles will be approaching this game as a walk in the park.]
Hue Jackson believes this group is built unlike his previous two years with the club.
“(I’m) probably more excited than I have been the first two years because I truly believe that winning is in this group, in this coaching staff, in this group, in the plan that we have laid out,” he said Tuesday as the Browns broke training camp. “I think that there’s a chance. Now, we have to go do it.”
With an offense headlined by Taylor, Landry, Josh Gordon and Duke Johnson plus a defense that, on paper, could be among the league’s best, the Browns enter 2018 with heightened expectations.
Bleeding Green Nation loves to preview these preseason games, but even they admit this traditionally most important tune-up for the regular season is lacking in luster for the Eagles, who are kind of holding their best hand (and best players) under the table for this one.
Brandon Lee Gowton:
“The Philadelphia Eagles are set to play their “most important” preseason game on Thursday night in a “dress rehearsal” against the Cleveland Browns. I put those terms in quotes since this is still a relatively meaningless outcome we’re talking about here.
“In any case, I reached out to our SB Nation associates over at Dawgs By Nature in order to preview this week’s tilt. The dutiful Dan Lalich kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at the answers. Also don’t forget to check out my Q&A exchange coming up at DBN.
1 – Let’s address the elephant in the room. The Browns are 1-31 since passing on Carson Wentz. How do Browns fans feel about that decision? I’ve seen some suggest that drafting Wentz wouldn’t have made a difference but I find that very hard to believe, especially after watching the 49ers turn around with Jimmy G last year.
Most Browns fans wish the team would have drafted Wentz. His first two seasons have shown everything you want in a young QB, and the Browns haven’t had a good quarterback in about two decades. Having said that, count me as one of the people who isn’t sure Wentz would have succeeded in Cleveland. You gave Jimmy G as an example of a QB turning a team around, but those situations were pretty different. Garoppolo was a veteran QB going to a team with an outstanding offensive coaching staff. Carson Wentz was an extremely raw rookie with a lot of growing to do (as shown by his struggles as a rookie) and I’m not sure our coaching staff would have done as good a job as Philly’s. This is a contentious point among Browns fans, but personally I think 1-31 has a ton more to do with coaching than talent.
2 – How long should we expect to see the Browns’ starters on Thursday night? Who has already been ruled out? What’s the quarterback situation look like?
Expect the starters to play into the second half, but maybe not three full quarters. Tyrod Taylor is pretty firmly entrenched as the starter, despite Baker Mayfield having a great camp, so if I had to guess he will get all the snaps with the ones. Depending on how much of a look the coaching staff wants to get at Mayfield, we could see the starters come out after a series or two in the second half.
3 – Which players are Browns fans most excited to see this preseason?
Should I just put “Baker Mayfield” here like 40 times? When you draft a quarterback first overall, that’s who you want to see. But I guess I should also mention guys like Jarvis Landry and Nick Chubb. There’s also been a lot of interest in whether or not Jabrill Peppers can turn his career trajectory around (results have been mixed). On a team as full of young players as the Browns, interesting storylines are everywhere, but Baker Mayfield really does dominate the discussion. We’ve hardly even talked about the battle for kicker!
4 – How many games do you realistically expect the Browns to win this year?
This one is easy. 19. Not sure if you’ve heard, but the Browns are really good now. Get Hype.
5 – What’s the latest on former Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks? How has he done this summer and how does he fit into the team’s plans this season? (Also: how does former Eagles CB Denzel Rice look? I saw this interesting stat from PFF.)
I’m a big fan of Kendricks, and was pretty shocked to see him sign with the Browns. The team already had three quality linebackers in Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert, and Christian Kirksey, and Kendricks has certainly shown he belongs on the field as well. This is probably the deepest position group on the team, and it will be interesting to see who gets snaps out of these four guys, especially given how often the defense will be in nickel with just two linebackers.
This is probably like the third time I’ve heard Denzel Rice’s name in my entire life I think. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention and he’s passed up some of the more established names, but I don’t see him making the final roster. Maybe the practice squad if he’s still eligible.
Zach Berman of Philly.com produced these preview notes:
Say it again: It’s just the preseason. But it would be helpful if the starting offense could at least score a few points on Thursday. In eight offensive drives, they have no points this summer. They’re missing key starters and they’re not putting together intricate game plans, so the performances must be understood in context. (Five starters will be out Thursday: Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Jay Ajayi, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor.) However, the first-team offense is expected to play the first half and they spent more time on the practice field than usual this week. Nick Foles will start at quarterback, and he spoke on Tuesday about finding a rhythm. Foles might not be the starter on Sept. 6, but he can send the offense into Week 1 preparations with a good taste by leading them on a touchdown drive or two.
You might have heard about the NFL’s new tackling rule. The Eagles defense knows it too well. The defense and special teams have been flagged five times this summer for a player lowering his head to initiate contact. That’s a concern. Maybe the officials are less stringent in the regular season, but the Eagles cannot rely on that. They must adhere to the rules, or else they’re going to cost themselves 15 yards at an inopportune time in a regular-season game. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz had his players watch film from penalties around the league on Monday and knows they need the penalties to settle down. “The problem is [officials are] dealing with world-class athletes who are moving targets,” Schwartz said. “A little bit easier said than done. Those fouls have hurt us in these first couple pre-season games and we just got to get to a point where they don’t hurt us in the regular season. It’s going to be very important work over the next couple weeks not just learning from our own mistakes but learning from other teams.” Thursday would be a good start.
After five weeks of practice and the preseason, Thursday might be the final evaluation for the remaining starting-type positions on defense: weak-side linebacker and slot cornerback. Nate Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill are the top contenders at weak-side linebacker. Sidney Jones and Avonte Maddox are competing for playing at slot cornerback. “This week will go a long way to determine how we line up,” Schwartz said. At linebacker, Schwartz isn’t just thinking about the weak-side spot. He needs to figure out who will start at strong-side linebacker in Week 1, when Nigel Bradham is suspended. Although there were will be roster spots up for grabs in the preseason finale, the Eagles likely won’t risk starters in that game. By Friday morning, Schwartz should know who won these competitions.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai had perhaps his worst performance since his first career start last week. “It wasn’t Big V, for whatever reason,” Pederson said. “He’s definitely played better. We know exactly who he is.” Vaitai will be challenged on Thursday by Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft. Nick Foles was injured last week when Vaitai was beat around Foles’ blindside. The Eagles cannot afford to let that happen again. Although Vaitai is not a starter when Jason Peters is playing, he’s their top reserve swing tackle and would step in if Peters or Lane Johnson suffer injuries this year. The Eagles are comfortable with Vaitai – he started in the Super Bowl, after all – but they need a better game from him this week.
The Eagles were supposed to have a spirited competition for the No. 4 running back spot. To this point, no one has grabbed the job. Adams missed last week’s game with an injury, but he’s expected to return on Thursday and he has a chance to distinguish himself. With Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, and Donnel Pumphrey unlikely to play, Adams will have more opportunity than usual. Wendell Smallwood and Matt Jones are also in the mix, but neither player stood out last week. Adams rushed for 30 yards on six carries in the preseason opener. If he has another good game on Thursday, he could take the lead one week before the Eagles cut the roster.