Eagles Browns Preview

September 8th, 2016 by Kyle Lutz | Filed under Eagles, Football, General, NFL.

eaglesvsbrowns

Location- Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
Weather- 84 and sunny
Time/Channel- 1:00 PM, CBS
Point Spread/Over-Under Line-  Eagles by 4, 41 O/U line

Injury Report

Eagles

Bryce Treggs (wide receiver)- questionable (knee)
Connor Wujciak (defensive tackle)- out (shoulder)

Cleveland

Rajion Neal (running back)- injury reserve (knees)
Marcus Burley (defensive back)- questionable (groin)
Tramon Williams (defensive back)- questionable (toe)

After the Eagles hired Doug Pederson in January to be their newest head coach, and traded starting quarterback Sam Bradford to Minnesota, the season’s back in full swing. The Eagles, after a disappointing 2015 season, are looking to redeem themselves and show the fan base that they’re an improved team.

Although they went undefeated (4-0) in the preseason, last year they allowed the fifth most points in the league, at 430, and the third most total yards (6,426). The good news is, following last season, after firing defensive coordinator Billy Davis, they hired former Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz to take his place. Davis’ 3-4 defensive alignment was faulty, while the Eagles believe that Schwartz’s 4-3 scheme will be very effective, and a much-needed upgrade. Defensive ends Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry should benefit from it.

Compared to last year, the Eagles’ offense is looking a lot different on paper. Sam Bradford’s been shipped to the Vikings, while running back DeMarco Murray’s off in Tennessee. GM Howie Roseman also shipped both corner Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso to Miami. Based on all the moves this off-season, it’s quite apparent that Roseman’s shedding as many players from the Chip Kelly era as possible.

In March, second-string quarterback Mark Sanchez was shipped to the defending-champion Broncos for a 2017 conditional 7th round draft pick, depending upon whether or not Sanchez makes the team’s roster or not (he was released by Denver, picked up by Dallas, and will be their backup).

AP Photo

Another huge move, which occurred on April 20th, was trading their 2016 first round, third round and fourth round picks, along with a 2017 first round pick and their 2018 second round pick to Cleveland. In return, they acquired this year’s second-overall pick, which culminated in drafting North Dakota State’s quarterback Carson Wentz.

Now, like with Donovan McNabb in 1999 (ironically, who was behind Doug Pederson on the depth chart), there’s a huge amount of pressure on Wentz to succeed and live up to his draft spot. After awhile, if he doesn’t succeed, fans will endlessly blame Howie Roseman for the failed experiment. However, unlike McNabb’s 1999 season, increasing pressure, Wentz is thrown into the fire right away, without time to improve his game.

In his lone preseason game, Wentz went 12-24, for 89 yards, no touchdown passes, and just a 41.8 quarterback rating. Despite the poor performance, he showed promise. For a 237 pound quarterback, he’s very fast, and can roll out of the pocket with ease. His first completion was a byproduct of him impressively maneuvering through two lineman and hitting Zach Ertz. He was strong under pressure; he can make strong, snap throws while on the go, though his accuracy needs improvement. Scouts have compared him to Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who’s a strong, accurate passer while maneuvering and on the run.

On the flip side, he threw a costly interception in the red zone, although his arm strength looks very promising.

For Cleveland, starting quarterback Robert Griffin III will face a familiar opponent, being a former starting quarterback in the NFC East with Washington. Griffin’s 3-2 in his career vs. Philadelphia, with 10 touchdown passes and a 98.2 quarterback rating. Last March, Griffin was released by Washington, after suffering a season-ending concussion during a game in last year’s preseason. He’ll be making his first start since December 28th of 2014. Despite his injury concerns, he’ll be behind a solid offensive line, with two Pro Bowlers; tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack.

(AP Photo/David Dermer)

After finishing dead last, with a 3-13 record, in the AFC North last year, Cleveland hired former Bengals’ offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to be their head coach. They also fired their general manager, Ray Farmer, and replaced him with former Jaguars’ senior VP Sashi Brown. Days later, they hired former Mets’ executive Paul DePodesta to be their new chief strategy officer.

Last year, Cleveland’s defense ranked third worst in yards per play (6.1), as well as third worst in rushing yards allowed (2055). The Eagles’ defense ranked dead last in the latter statistic.

Will the Eagles’ lineman be able to contest Robert Griffin’s speed? It’ll be interesting to see how Griffin fares in the pocket without Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon at his disposal. In early April, Gordon was suspended indefinitely by the NFL, for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Now, after appealing the decision, he’ll only miss the first four games of the year. Without him, Cleveland has one of the worse receiving corps in the league, with four rookies on their depth chart. The Eagles’ biggest test will be Griffin’s athleticism, and whether or not Griffin can regain his old form outside the pocket.

Defense

Defensively, the Browns’ only weapon is two-time Pro Bowl corner Joe Haden, who missed most of last year due to a concussion. His previous five years, he compiled 16 interceptions and 307 tackles. He’s the true definition of a shutdown corner, and will destroy the Eagles’ receivers in man-to-man coverage, unless Wentz can target different corners and safeties. He’ll have a tough time doing so, considering how poor the Eagles’ receivers were last year, especially rookie Nelson Agholor, who was very drop-happy. Despite averaging 12.3 yards per catch last year, he only accumulated 283 receiving yards and one TD. So far, he hasn’t been the deep threat the Eagles had hoped for, and hopefully his sophomore season is a vast improvement over last year.

For Philadelphia, they’ll be a huge improvement over last year. Byron Maxwell was signed as a shut-down corner, although he played in Seattle opposite Richard Sherman, when Maxwell was more fit as a zone corner. His disappointments and lack of success were a byproduct of that. As for another corner, last year, rookie Eric Rowe showed a lot of promise, though was inconsistent. Perhaps the Eagles didn’t give him enough time to grow and improve, as they moved him to New England yesterday. To put his limited success last year into perspective, (ironically) against New England last December, he was targeted 12 times by Tom Brady, and yet he allowed only four catches, deflected two pass attempts, and Brady had only a 44.4 passing rating vs. him. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses this season with the Patriots.

Kiko Alonso, coming over from Buffalo, early in the season suffered an ACL sprain and didn’t play 100% for the most of the season. Despite that, his coverage was extremely poor, and he was a nightmare vs. receivers going towards the middle of the field.

Key Match-ups

-Nelson Agholor vs. Joe Haden

Agholor needs to show and prove whether or not he’s worth being on the roster, let alone as a starter. Even though the Eagles’ offense runs a balanced attack, he’ll be a huge target, and I doubt he’ll succeed, considering Haden’s speed and resume. If Agholor can compile 90+ receiving yards, it’ll take a huge burden off of some of the other receivers. Three years ago, Pro Football Focus did research on the best corners, coverage wise, factoring in quarterback rating against and yards per snap. Haden ranked in the top 10, and had just a 72.5 quarterback rating against that year.

-Robert Griffin vs. Eagles’ defensive line

After the Jim Schwartz hire, and letting go of some of their defensive weaknesses, the Eagles are expected to be one of the NFL’s best defenses, especially at blitzing, in the league, despite all the disappointments last year. If Barwin, Vinny Curry and Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox can push through the line, it’ll lead to forced throws and panic by Griffin. Schwartz designing blitzes based around Griffin’s speed will be interesting.

Prediction

The Eagles have a much better, not to mention more well balanced, offense than Cleveland. The Eagles also have a sizable advantage on special teams, too, with Pro Bowler Darren Sproles manning punt returns. Wentz very well might have to throw short, behind the line passes, not only to find success but to make himself comfortable, not to mention to prevent interceptions from occurring. His third down, and red zone, statistics will be a huge note; if he can remain calm and not sail his throws.

With Wentz making his first career start, I foresee Ryan Mathews getting him acclimated, by taking a sizable amount of the snaps. With Cleveland ranking third worst vs. the run last year, and allowing 4.5 yards per carry, it’s not far fetched to believe he’ll accumulate 100+ yards.

I don’t see Griffin having a strong return, it’ll take several weeks — or more — to shake off the rust, and Wentz might not fare much better. It’ll definitely be a game of turnovers, and failed third-down conversions.

Eagles 21-10

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