By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
The last time the Eagles played the Cleveland Browns, things were very different. Carson Wentz was a rookie making his NFL debut. The Browns were on their way to being the second 0-16 team in league history. I was still in high school. The Eagles had never won a Super Bowl.
Now, the Browns are a winning team competing for their postseason birth since 2002. Meanwhile, the Eagles are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since that aforementioned 2016 season.
The Birds travel to Cleveland coming off of a demoralizing loss in a season full of them. With a record of 3-5-1, the Eagles still sit atop the NFC East but the Giants are right on their heels at 3-7. Tensions in the Eagles locker room might be the highest they’ve been since Chip Kelly and his stupid visor were still on the sideline.
Not great, folks! Meanwhile, the Browns are coming off of an ugly win against the Houston Texans. Cleveland is 6-3, currently just outside the playoffs in the AFC but firmly in the picture. The Eagles should expect the Browns best effort on Sunday, because they need this game to stay in the hunt.
I’d say the same about the Eagles, but that’s exactly what I said about last week’s game. Look how that turned out.
Eagles Offense vs. Browns Defense
What is even left to say about the Eagles offense. They are the epitome of constant underachieving and disappointment. I challenge you to remember back to the last time you were satisfied with the way the Eagles offense played. I’ll wait.
Carson Wentz played the most “meh” game you could imagine last Sunday. He didn’t turn the ball over, cue the mini celebration, but he also didn’t do anything particularly special to help the Eagles win.
Only 21 completions over 37 pass attempts and just 208 yards isn’t going to get it done. A 37.7 quarterback rating isn’t going to get it done. Third string tight end Richard Rodgers being the leading receiver isn’t going to get it done.
Looking back on that game, though, it would be hard to place most of the blame on Wentz. Doug Pederson has become a truly atrocious play-caller. The Eagles running backs were averaging almost eight yards a pop on the ground last week, and Pederson still called 40 pass plays compared to just 19 runs to a running back.
Why? I don’t know, I’ve just got to assume the running back room sneezed on Pederson's lunch or something at this point. There is no logical answer for the way Pederson runs this offense, very similar to there being no logical answer for why the Eagles have no offensive coordinator.
The Eagles are averaging less than 5.0 yards per pass play [4.96] and over 5.0 yards per running play [5.12].— Reuben Frank (@RoobNBCS) November 18, 2020
No NFL team has done that in 47 years [1973 Bills 4.09 and 5.10].
Oh, and the Eagles are bringing Jordan Howard back, because why not at this point? Howard played well in the first half of the 2019 season, but injuries derailed the remainder of his season. With Sanders the clear lead back now, this situation smells a lot like the 2020 version of Jay Ajayi.
Alshon Jeffery made his season debut last week! Oh, you don’t remember that? That would be because he didn’t have a catch and had only one target. Not a single Eagles receiver had more than seven targets, and Greg Ward led the team with five catches. Travis Fulgham had just one catch for eight yards.
The Eagles have got to get the ball in their best player’s hands. Spread the ball around, sure, but when Richard Rodgers is your leading receiver something isn’t right.
Send Reagor deep. Send Dallas Goedert on a crossing route over the middle. Throw a ball up to Travis Fulgham. Just do something creative, something that can give this passing attack some much needed life.
No, Doug, that does not mean Jalen Hurts zone reads with Carson Wentz at wide receiver.
Enough of my bitterness and pessimism, let’s take a look at the Browns defense. Cleveland’s defense resembles the Giants in a way, as they are much stronger against the run than they are against the pass.
Cleveland ranks eighth against the run in terms of rush yards allowed per game, while they rank 21st in pass yards allowed per game. Unfortunately, I think that leads to more of the same from Doug Pederson in terms of play-calling.
The Eagles have caught a huge break, as Browns stud defensive end Myles Garrett will be forced to miss this game after being placed on the COVID list. Garrett currently leads the league in sacks with 9.5, and I’m sure he would only add to that total against the Birds, as the Eagles offensive line is allowing the most sacks per game (3.9).
The Eagles offensive game plan this week should be to focus on balance. Doug doesn’t want to get ripped by the media for not running the ball, so I offer him a simple solution: run the ball. Clearly making Wentz chuck the rock 40 times a game for a passing attack that ranks 27th in the league isn’t working.
Maybe try out that tenth ranked rushing game and the Eagles will have more success on offense. I’m no offensive guru, but I see a trend toward success. My advice is to follow it.
By the way, the last time I can remember being satisfied with an Eagles offensive performance was the Thursday night game against the Packers last September. Isn't that just sad?
Eagles Defense vs. Browns Offense
The Eagles defense played fairly awful last Sunday in New Jersey. They allowed Daniel Jones, a quarterback with three career wins, to go 21/28 with over 300 total yards and a quarterback rating of 91.4.
The Birds once again struggled to stop the Giants rushing attack. They even allowed a 28-yard rushing touchdown to Jones on the exact same play that he took for an 80-yard gain in the first matchup. Those are some real nice adjustments you made there, Jim Schwartz.
Jim Schwartz on Daniel Jones' TD: "First game it was a little bit of a surprise. They ran out of a formation we hadn't seen before, but it was embarrassing in this game because they ran out of the exact same formation and we fit it wrong."— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) November 17, 2020
The Eagles pass rush continued to be one of the lone bright spots on defense, recording three more sacks of Jones. Derek Barnett even had a sack! I truly forget that he is still on this team sometimes.
Go figure that the first time I ever praise the Eagles pass defense in one of these articles they go and make me look like a dang fool. Heading into last week they ranked fourth against the pass, and with the way Darius Slay had been playing I figured it was a good time to give the defensive backs the praise they deserved.
Never doing that again.
The Browns offense has a very prominent strength: running the football. Must be nice.
The Browns total offense actually ranks in the bottom half of the league, yet they are third in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Spearheaded by one of the top running back duos in the league, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the Eagles defense will have their work cut out for them on Sunday. Especially if they play the way they did last week.
The Browns offensive splits between rushing and passing are very similar to the Eagles offense, except more extreme. They rank 30th in passing yards per game behind a mediocre quarterback in Baker Mayfield.
You’d think the disparity in effectiveness in rushing and passing would be more of an issue for the Browns. Yet, they find themselves with a 6-3 record. See what happens when you play to your strength Doug?
Outside of the stout rushing attack, the Browns have some decent playmakers at the skill positions. Even with the loss of Odell Beckham Jr., his good pal Jarvis Landry is a great route runner and is just as sure-handed a catcher as anyone in the league. Tight ends Austin Hooper and David Njoku form a solid duo in the red zone and the middle of the field between the 20s.
The problem, of course, is actually getting the ball to them. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has struggled once again this season, ranking just 26th in the league in passing yards.
If the Eagles can limit the Browns damage on the ground, they will have a much better chance at winning this game. If they don’t, its going to get ugly.
Is there any way to justify having confidence in the Eagles to win a football game right now? I don’t think so. Every game they’ve played this season, even in games they’ve won, they’ve looked bad. They have a smooth 0-9 record in games that have been enjoyable to watch.
The Eagles will greatly benefit with Myles Garrett being sidelined for this game due to COVID-19. They should take advantage of this and run the ball consistently. With that, they will be able to open the play action, which is where Wentz is at his best.
I think that the Eagles will be able to limit the Browns rushing attack, at least somewhat. If they are able to put pressure on Baker Mayfield, he will become flustered. They need to get to him early and often, and that will set the tone for the rest of the game.
With all this being said, I cannot possibly justify picking the Eagles to emerge victorious in this game, or any game for that matter. Not until they prove they can be a competent football team. I don’t see it happening any time soon.
Browns win, 23-15.
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass