This was rally-round-the-flag week down at NovaCare, with everyone vowing to knuckle down and stop taking penalties, messing up on execution, and handing opponents double-digit leads. Losing to the Giants and sliding to 3-5-1 has produced an air of urgency.
I have some problems with all this. Chief among them, there should have been an air of urgency ever since the final whistle blew on the Week 1 loss to Washington, in which the Eagles blew a 17-0 lead. How you put together the first half of the season the Eagles played and come out of the bye the way they did at the Giants, I can’t comprehend. Week after week, we hear that with this player returning, or with that mistake corrected, everything will just snap into place. These guys think they have the talent to contend. They just haven’t put it all together yet, but that will happen any day now.
There was a time – the stretch of games in October, from San Francisco to Pittsburgh and then Baltimore – when I could see glimmerings of what they were talking about, but it’s time to get real. This is a badly constructed team with a quarterback who has lost much of what made him special, while struggling to make up for the lack of healthy talent around him. This defense isn’t going to stop any decent offense unless Brandon Graham pretty much does it by himself.
All that said, the Browns are an odd 6-3 team, one with a negative point differential, thanks to blowout losses to the Ravens and Steelers. The Eagles also lost to those teams but played them better than the Browns did. Does that really mean much? Probably not. The Eagles say they don’t really get scorched by running backs, that their 26th ranking against the run is because of quarterbacks and wide receivers and whatnot. That’s sort of true, but a good offensive line can also blow gaping holes in their defense for a running back, as the Giants did on their first two drives last week. The Browns have a good offensive line.
If the Eagles find a way to win, maybe the whole world will look different moving forward, but I will be surprised.
Prediction: Browns 26, Eagles 20
Of the Eagles’ next five games against teams currently with winning marks, the Browns would seem to be the easiest. They’re 6-3, have a more-than-competent defense, and a potent, two-headed running attack. But they haven’t exactly scorched the NFL, either. They’re best win was against the 6-3 Colts, but their other five came against opponents with a combined 10-33-2 record. Cleveland’s three losses were to the 9-0 Steelers, 6-3 Ravens, and 6-3 Raiders by a combined score of 92-19.
The Eagles, of course, are much closer to the teams the Browns beat than the ones they lost to. But if they are to finally pull together 60 solid minutes, Sunday is winnable. They’ll likely need to contain running backs Kareem Hunt (633 yards, 4.7 yards a carry) and Nick Chubb (461 yards, 6.1 yards a carry) if they are to have any chance. The Browns use a fair amount of two-back personnel, and even employ a fullback at times, which should force the Eagles to stay in base with three linebackers. Advantage: Cleveland.
But if the Eagles’ run defense, and specifically the front four, can minimize the damage on the ground against a strong offensive line, more of the load will be placed on Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. And that should be a win for the Birds.
I don’t know what to make of the Eagles offense at this point. It’s been an unmitigated disaster for most of the season. Doug Pederson should have adopted a more balanced identity with Carson Wentz’s struggles, but he continues to resist. The Eagles are the only team in the NFL to average more yards per rush than per pass play, and yet only two teams throw the ball more. Guard Isaac Seumalo’s expected return should help the O-line, but will it make enough of a difference? There’s enough talent with Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Travis Fulgham, and Jalen Reagor to turn this thing around, but the Browns’ pass rush, led by Myles Garrett, could make life difficult for Wentz and Co. Right tackle Lane Johnson should see plenty of Garrett and is typically up for the challenge, but he’s not 100 percent.
I don’t see a high-scoring game. My Browns pick probably cements an Eagles win. But I just can’t justify selecting them against a winning team on the road, no matter the lack of fans.
Prediction: Browns 20, Eagles 17
I got burned last week by buying into the notion that the Eagles were capable of snapping out of a daze in order to start playing the football we expected of them before the season. This week, there will be no such belief.
The Eagles have shown no evidence this season that they’re capable of turning things around the way they’ve done the last few seasons. They’re one of the worst teams in the league by almost every metric, even if they’re getting healthier and are a solid team on paper.
The Browns aren’t quite as good as their record may suggest. They’re middle-of-the-pack both offensively and defensively according to Football Outsiders, and they have a negative point differential. They managed only 10 points against a putrid Houston defense, and there are ways the Eagles can win this game. But the Birds just lost to a Giants team that’s considerably worse than the Browns. There’s no reason to believe this is the week the offensive issues sort themselves out.
The Eagles have been successful against conventional runs, although they’ve struggled against quarterback and wide receiver running plays. They haven’t allowed a running back to surpass 100 yards all season, but this will be the toughest test of that run defense yet. Jim Schwartz’s group had some issues with run fits last Sunday against the Giants, if that continues this Sunday, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt will certainly continue their successful season.
I don’t think this game will be over by halftime because I don’t think the Browns are a dominant team, but I don’t expect this one to be close.
Prediction: Browns 31, Eagles 21
The Eagles know the formula to beat the Cleveland Browns Sunday. It’s just uncertain whether they’re capable of executing it.
They need to grab the lead and make the Browns play catch-up. They need to force them to abandon their lethal ground game and throw the ball.
All of which is easier said than done.
The Eagles have been outscored on their first two possessions this season, 52-33. They’ve been outscored in the first quarter, 59-45, and in the first half, 109-88. Carson Wentz has thrown just two first-quarter touchdown passes in nine games.
So, yeah, the grab-the-lead part is going to be an uphill battle.
If the Eagles can’t make the Browns throw the ball by grabbing a comfy lead, then they’re going to have stop their ground game. And who exactly do you like in that battle between Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and the Browns offensive line, and Eagles linebackers Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, and Duke Riley?
The Eagles are getting left guard Isaac Seumalo back Sunday. That’s a good thing. Sua Opeta was lowering Carson Wentz’s life expectancy.
Their offensive line will be as healthy as its been since Seumalo went down in Week 2. But Myles Garrett probably is going to spend a big chunk of the afternoon lining up on 38-year-old Jason Peters’ left shoulder. And that’s another matchup that could go south very quickly.
Bottom line, sure the Eagles can go up to Cleveland Sunday and beat the Browns and improve their record to 4-5-1. Will they? I’m not seeing it.
Prediction: Browns 24, Eagles 14