Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Cleveland Browns: ITB Scouting Report
The Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1) travel to Cleveland for the first time since 2012 for a Sunday 1 p.m. game against the upstart Cleveland Browns (6-3) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
This game serves as a must-win for the reeling Eagles, who have games against the Seahawks, Packers, Saints, and Cardinals – all above .500 teams – looming.
The Browns feature dated schematics under head coach Kevin Stefanski, relying on a strong running game and fundamentally sound defense to compile wins in a highly-competitive AFC North, but they'll be missing their best defensive player, defensive end Myles Garrett.
The Eagles must slow a dynamic backfield and play mistake-free football, or Sunday could very well represent the start of a season-altering five-game skid that eliminates them from playoff contention.
Eagles Offense vs. Browns Defense
WR Jalen Reagor vs. CB Terrence Mitchell: Coming out of the bye week, the Eagles made a conscious effort to involve Reagor into the game plan. The rookie garnered seven pass targets, registering four receptions for 47 yards. While the production was underwhelming, it was encouraging to see the team get the ball to their explosive playmaker. With cornerback Greedy Williams on IR, Reagor should see a lot of Mitchell across from him. Mitchell is a fast reactor who lacks top-end speed and short-area quickness, so I anticipate opportunities for Carson Wentz to push the ball downfield.
RB Miles Sanders vs. LBs B.J. Goodson, Mack Wilson: Sanders needs more than 15 carries this week, but I mentioned him in this space for his receiving prowess. Sure, Sanders and Wentz lack cohesion in the passing game thus far – Sanders has endured some egregious drops as well – but the second-year runner thrived as a dual-threat in 2019. If the early game script calls for the short passing game to get Wentz into a rhythm like I anticipate, the Eagles will have a chance at a big-play if they can get Sanders in space.
Eagles Defense vs. Browns Offense
NCB Nickell Robey-Coleman vs. WR Jarvis Landry: With Odell Beckham on injured reserve, the Browns' passing game now goes through Landry. Robey-Coleman, who has navigated through inconsistent play, draws the shortest straw and will likely see a heavy dose of Landry. The Browns' slot receiver is a savvy, nuanced route-runner who is remarkably physical at the catch point. Robey-Coleman must stick in Landry’s hip to prevent short-to-intermediate damage and must be prepared to tackle in space.
LBs T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton vs. RBs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt: Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Daniel Jones managed to find running room last Sunday against a notoriously stout run defense, but gap discipline and misdirection continued to plague the Eagles. Edwards and Singleton are the Eagles' best linebacker pairing. They're generally reliable tacklers and swarm to the football, but the tandem struggles from an eye discipline, reactionary, and block-shedding standpoint. The Browns have some talent on the offensive line, including guards Joel Bitonio and Wyatt Teller and first-round left tackle Jedrick Wills. If they climb to the second level, Edwards and Singleton must disengage and prevent runs from leaking to the third level.
Second-year wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones handles the Browns’ return duties, yielding 338 yards on 16 kick returns and 35 yards on six punt returns. Peoples-Jones lacks the fluid change of direction but has enough explosive straight-line speed to alter field position.
The Eagles will be without special teams stalwarts Craig James (IR), while Rudy Ford (hamstring) has yet to practice. The decimated third phase bears watching.
Browns’ kicker Cody Parkey was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Wednesday, but head coach Kevin Stefanski believes Parkey could return as early as Saturday. If Parkey is unavailable, practice squad kicker Matt McCrane – who last kicked in a game in 2018 – will fill in.
Philadelphia has won five consecutive games against Cleveland, as well as seven of the last nine overall. The Eagles are 3-0 record at FirstEnergy Stadium and have won four straight road games against the Browns. The last time the Eagles traveled to Cleveland was Sept. 9, 2012.
Adam Amin (play-by-play), Mark Schlereth (analyst), Lindsay Czarniak (sideline)
Eagles TE Dallas Goedert: Though utilized as more of an in-line blocker in recent weeks, Goedert must be a crucial piece to the aerial attack against the Browns. Linebackers B.J. Goodson and Mack Wilson can be exploited on short-to-intermediate routes. Still, it behooves the Eagles to deploy Goedert vertically, much like they did in the opener against Washington. Browns safeties Karl Joseph, Ronnie Harrison and Andrew Sendejo are prototypical box safeties who can be exploited in coverage.
Browns WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: The Browns’ No. 4 wide receiver, Peoples-Jones embodies the typical size-speed matchup that plagues the Eagles’ secondary. At 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, Peoples-Jones has the length to win in the red zone and contested-catch situations. Despite failing to meet Michigan's expectations, the intriguing talent has explosive traits to match his hulking frame while also boasting respectable speed (4.48) and tremendous athleticism (44.5-inch vertical). We’ve seen Avonte Maddox struggle against big-bodied pass catchers, so look for the Browns to capitalize on this matchup. The second-year wide receiver played 16 snaps last week, reeling in a pair of receptions for 16 yards.
The Browns will be without Myles Garrett (illness). However, even without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the team has enough talent and depth in the trenches to present a challenge for a vulnerable Eagles’ offensive line.
LG Isaac Seumalo’s return comes at an opportune time, as the Eagles’ interior has been a M*A*S*H unit for much of the season. The O-line faces another prominent defensive tackle duo in Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi, in particular, possesses the burst and lateral quickness to be disruptive.
Their interior rotation also includes rookie Jordan Elliott, a prospect I liked coming out of Missouri. The athletic gap-shooter played 18 snaps last week.
In Garrett’s absence, Adrian Clayborn will line up opposite Oliver Vernon at defensive end, while rookie Porter Gustin, who played 11 snaps last Sunday, could feasibly see an uptick in snaps. Clayborn and Vernon are journeymens who've have their moments over the years, but their impact should be minimal against Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. The wild card to me here is the changeup rusher Gustin, an undersized rusher who typically wins with effort, tenacity, and a non-stop motor. This veteran-laden unit is a disciplined group, but outside of Garrett, the rest of the unit's pressure has been abysmal despite encountering frequent one-on-one matchups.
The Eagles enter a must-win matchup in Cleveland before embarking on a daunting stretch run that will ultimately determine their postseason aspirations. They should implement a vertical attack to exploit a largely one-dimensional Browns’ secondary, though the season-long offensive struggles suggest a more cautious approach.
However, the Browns boast the most formidable running back tandem in the NFL. If the running game propels the home team to an early lead, the Eagles have shown a tendency to abandon their rushing attack and go pass-heavy – which has often yielded questionable play-calling, protection breakdowns, and a plethora of turnovers in 2020.
Final score: Browns 23, Eagles 20
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com. For a full Eagles vs. Browns preview, listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast with Adam Caplan and Geoff Mosher: