This team is floundering and a loss to the Cleveland Browns would pretty much put the 2020 Eagles into the “non-competitive against quality teams” file.
The Eagles are about to head into the most difficult portion of their schedule Sunday when they drag their 3-5-1 record, which somehow remains good enough for first place in the NFC East, to Cleveland for a game against the 6-3 Browns and their lethal ground game.
That gut-check will be followed by games against 7-3 Seattle, 7-2 Green Bay, 7-2 New Orleans, and 6-4 Arizona.
At such watershed moments over the course of the last 13 seasons during which the EYE has been watching from the wall, we traditionally turn to veteran sportswriter Paul Domowitch of the Inquirer. He’s usually been the objective voice that tells it like it is going into these moment-of-truth games whenever the Eagles seemed to be either on the brink of finding an answer, or on the eve of destruction.
So here are a few excerpts from Domo’s preview for this matchup:
“The Eagles’ run defense will face its biggest challenge of the season when it faces the Browns’ lethal 1-2 punch of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns are fourth in rushing (159.0 yards per game) and third in rush average (5.1 yards per carry). They are primarily a 12- and 22-personnel offense that is averaging 31 rushing attempts per game. Chubb missed four games with a knee injury but returned last week and had 126 of the Browns’ 231 rushing yards in a 10-7 win over Houston. The 5-foot-11, 227-pound Chubb is a power runner who has the league’s top yards-after-contact average (4.41), and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry overall. The 5-11, 216-pound Hunt is sixth in the league in rushing with 633 yards and a 4.7 yard-per-carry average. The Browns have run the ball on 66.5% of their first-down plays, and are second in first-down rush average (5.4). The best way to slow down the Browns’ ground game is to grab the lead and make them throw the ball. But that hasn’t happened very often. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has thrown 10 or fewer passes in the second half in five of their nine games. The Browns are first in runs of 10 yards or more (50). Hunt has 24 of them, and Chub has 17 on just 76 carries. The Eagles are 26th in run defense (133.0) and 15th in opponent rush average. Most of the rushing damage against them has been done by quarterbacks and wide receivers. They’ve held running backs to 3.4 yards per carry and have given up just 16 runs of 10-plus yards to running backs on 209 carries.”
“Baker Mayfield has been more game manager than franchise quarterback this season. He had 25 or fewer pass attempts in five of the Browns’ nine games as they have leaned heavily on their ground game, especially with the season-ending loss of Odell Beckham Jr. Mayfield is 24th in passing (90.0), 29th in completion percentage (61.3), and 26th in yards per attempt (6.8). He didn’t a touchdown pass – or an interception – in the last two games, and he’s been sacked only 12 times. Besides the loss of OBJ, their other top wideout, Jarvis Landry, has been playing with a rib injury and was targeted just three times last week. Hunt has a team-high four TD catches. The Browns use mostly 12- and 22-personnel groupings with tight ends Austin Hooper and fourth-round rookie Harrison Bryant. But they don’t throw to them much. Hooper, who signed a four-year, $42 million free- agent deal with the Browns in March, has been targeted only 35 times (23 catches) and is averaging just 9.4 yards per catch. The Eagles have one of the league’s top pass rushes. They’re tied for third with 31 sacks. But Mayfield has been under pressure on just 27.4% of his drop-backs. The Browns’ run game makes it tough for defenses to pin their ears back and go after the QB. The Eagles have only three interceptions, which is the second-fewest in the league. But they’ve allowed the seventh-fewest touchdown passes (13) and have given up the third-fewest pass plays of 20 yards or more (22).”
We all know the Eagles are struggling with their own run game and passing attack, so no need to beat a dead horse there, it’s just a simple fact that the Birds have got to get something cooking against a decent Browns defense.
The Browns are eighth in run defense (104.9) and seventh in opponent rush average (4.0). They’re 10th in opponent rush average on first down (3.9). They’ve given up just 21 runs of 10 or more yards, which is the fifth-fewest in the league.
On passing downs, offensive tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson will face a major challenge from the Browns’ Myles Garrett, who leads the league in sacks with 9½. He will line up all over. But the guess is he’ll focus on the 38-year-old Peters. Denzel Ward is one of the league’s better cornerbacks, but the rest of the Browns’ secondary is exploitable if Wentz gets time to throw.
Eagles LBs T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton, and Duke Riley vs. Browns RBs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt: Chubb and Hunt have been next to unstoppable this season. Now, the Eagles oft-maligned LBs need to play the game of their lives to give the Eagles any chance of winning.
Eagles WRs Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, and Greg Ward vs. Browns CBs Denzel Ward, Terrance Mitchell, and Kevin Johnson: Denzel Ward is one of the league’s better cover corners, but Mitchell and Johnson both are exploitable. Eagles need to be able to throw the ball and make the Browns play catch-up.
Domo’s Keys to the game—-
Seize the lead. “The Browns would love to control the football and run it 35-40 times Sunday. If the Eagles can jump ahead early and make the Browns play from behind, it will force them to throw the ball more and hand it to Chubb-Hunt less.”
Locating a third-down pulse. “The Eagles are 24th in third-down efficiency. They failed to convert a third down Sunday for the first time in 16 years. In the last three games, they’ve converted just 1-of-16 third downs of 7 yards or more. But they’re going up against a Browns defense that owns the league’s fourth-worst third-down success rate (48.7).”
Run-fits. “The key isn’t stopping Chubb and Hunt. That’s next to impossible. It’s slowing them down and not giving up any big runs. And that means their three linebackers need to stay in their gaps, and it means their front four needs to be a little more disciplined than usual in Jim Schwartz’s play-the-run-on-the-way-to-the-quarterback wide-9 scheme.”
Intangibles—-“These are the kinds of games the Eagles excel in. On the road. Coming off an ugly loss. Given up for dead. Bench-Carson talk getting louder. Nobody giving them a chance of stopping the Browns’ powerful run game or winning the game. Get out the dog mask, Ethel!”
Yes, it’s that kind of game…all hands on deck!…
Oh, in case you’re wondering, Domo calls it 24-14 in favor of THE Cleveland Browns…