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Eagles at Browns: Grabbing the lead will be critical for the Eagles Sunday

Falling behind isn't an option for the Eagles Sunday. The best way to shut down the Browns' lethal run game is by making them play catch up and throw the ball more than they want.

Can Carson Wentz and the Eagles straighten out their third down problems Sunday against the Browns?
Can Carson Wentz and the Eagles straighten out their third down problems Sunday against the Browns?Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Last week, the Eagles defense gave up a pair of game-opening touchdown drives to the Giants. Allowed them to march 85 yards on 8 plays for a score, then 75 yards on 13 plays for another. They were down, 14-3, three seconds into the second quarter.

If that happens Sunday, you can find something else to do with the rest of your afternoon because the game effectively will be over.

The only way the Eagles can beat the Browns is by playing from ahead. The only way they can stop the 18-wheeler that is the Browns’ run game is by taking away the keys. And the only way they can do that is by grabbing the lead and making the Browns play catch-up.

Unfortunately, the Eagles haven’t been very good at grabbing leads this season. They’ve been outscored, 52-33, on the first 2 possessions of games. They’ve been outscored, 59-45, in the first quarter and, 109-88, in the first half.

A look at some other pertinent numbers heading into Sunday’s game:

Personnel groupings

  1. The injuries to tight ends Dallas Goedert (missed 4 games, ankle) and Zach Ertz (will miss 4th today, ankle) have impacted the Eagles personnel groupings. Goedert and Ertz have played just 2 full games together this season. That, combined with the Eagles’ desire to play their young wide receivers, has resulted in the Eagles using a lot more 11-personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) and a lot less 12-personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR). They’ve used 12-personnel just 32.4% this season. That’s down from nearly 50% last year. In their first 3 games, they used 12-personnel on 54.% of their snaps (120-222). In their last 6 games, they’ve used 12-P just 19.6% of the time (73-373).

  1. Last year, Carson Wentz threw the ball very well with 12-personnel. Had a 91.9 passer rating with 13 touchdowns passes and just 2 interceptions. This year, his 12-personnel passer rating has nosedived to 56.0. Three TDs and 6 interceptions. A 53.9 completion percentage (63.0 last year). And a 5.2 yards-per-attempt average (6.4 last year).

The Browns and the run

  1. The Browns are fourth in the league in rushing (159.0 yards per game) and third in rush average (5.1). They are second in first-down rush average (5.4). Their 51.0 run-play percentage is the third-highest in the league, below only the Patriots (52.3) and the Ravens (51.8). But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to come out Sunday and immediately try and pound the ball against the Eagles. The Browns have run 128 plays in the first quarter this season. Sixty-seven of them have been pass plays, and 61 have been runs. In the second quarter, they’ve had 93 pass plays and just 68 runs. It’s been in the second half, when they’ve had the lead, that they’ve relied more heavily on the run. They’ve thrown the ball on 149-of-257 plays (58%) in the second half.

» READ MORE: Duce Staley’s running backs have been the Eagles’ most successful group, but even they have problems

  1. Kareem Hunt is sixth in the league in rushing with 633 yards. Nick Chubb, who missed 4 games with an MCL knee sprain, has 3 100-yard rushing performances in the 5 games he’s played. Both are excellent yards-after-contact runners. Chubb is first in the league in yards-after-contact average (4.41). Hunt is 14th (3.41).

  1. The Browns have a league-high 50 runs of 10 yards or more. Hunt has 24. Chubb has 17 on just 76 carries. The Eagles have allowed 33 runs of 10 yards or more, which is the seventh-most in the league. But they’ve given up just 16 to running backs. The other 17 have been by quarterbacks and wide receivers.

  2. The Eagles are 26th in the league in run defense. They are giving up 133.0 yards per game on the ground. That’s the lowest rating and highest opponent rush average in Jim Schwartz’s 5 years as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator.

  1. Nearly 41% of the rushing yards the Eagles have given up have been to quarterbacks and wide receivers. Opposing QBs are averaging 7.1 yards per carry against them. WRs are averaging 9.1 yards per carry. They’ve actually done a good job against RBs. They’re only averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

Third down problems

  1. The Eagles have converted just 10-of-42 third-down opportunities (23.8%) in their last 4 games. They had converted 34-of-74 (45.9) in their first 5 games. They’ve dropped to 24th in the league in third-down efficiency (39.7). That’s their lowest third-down conversion rate since 2016 (37.9).

  2. The Eagles have converted just 3-of-23 third downs of 7 yards or more in the last 4 games.

  3. The Eagles failed to convert a single third down opportunity in last week’s loss to the Giants. They were 0-for-9 on third down. Carson Wentz failed to complete a third-down pass attempt (0-for-7) for the first time in his career.

  4. Wentz has a 76.7 third-down passer rating, including a 54.4 completion percentage, 3 TDs and 2 interceptions.

  1. In the last 3 games, Wentz has averaged just 2.1 yards per pass attempt on third down. Of his 21 third-down pass attempts, just 5 have produced first downs.

Turnover drought

  1. The Eagles are tied for 21st in takeaways with 10. The Browns are 11th in giveaways (10).

  2. The Eagles have won just 2 turnover battles in their first 9 games (49ers and first Giants game). The Eagles won both of those games. They are 29th in turnover differential (minus-7). The Browns are sixth (plus-4).

» READ MORE: Eagles offensive line can’t cover for Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz anymore | Marcus Hayes

  1. The Eagles have intercepted just 3 passes this season. That’s the second-fewest in the league. They have just 6 in their last 18 games dating back to last season.

Other stuff

  1. Doug Pederson has gone for it on fourth down 17 times this season but has converted only 5 of them (29.4%). That’s the third-lowest fourth-down success rate in the league. They were 29th last year (33.3), 10th in 2018 (60.9), and third in 2017 (65.4).

  1. The Eagles’ average drive start in Sunday’s loss was their own 16.0-yard line. That’s their worst drive start in a game in Doug Pederson’s 5 seasons as head coach. The Eagles’ average drive start through 9 games is the 26.3-yard line. Their opponents’ is the 32.3. Their minus-6.0 drive start differential is the worst in Pederson’s 5 seasons. Their previous drive-start differentials: minus-0.5 in 2019, plus-0.6 in 2018, plus-1.8 in 2017 and plus-2.6 in 2016. The Eagles have started at their 40-yard line or better on just 12 of their 106 possessions.