The Eagles (3-5-1) travel to face the Browns (6-3) in Cleveland on Sunday afternoon.
Here are five matchups to watch:
Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb vs. Eagles’ linebackers
After being the NFL’s top rushing defense in Jim Schwartz’s first four years, the Eagles are 26th this season. But they’ve been mostly OK against running backs. It’s everyone else running the ball that’s hurt them.
But as far as running backs go, the Eagles will face their toughest test of the season in Cleveland. Hunt and Chubb form the best 1-2 running back punch in the NFL and the Eagles know it.
“Yeah, it's our biggest challenge of the season in the run game,” Schwartz said. “And how well we stop the run is going to go a long way to how well we play in this game. They are an outstanding run team. Probably the best two running backs we face this year. Not just the best two on the team, but the best two overall. Great balance. Great power. They know what they want to do in the run game. Nothing sort of takes them out of it. There's not a whole lot you can do scheme-wise that forces them to do something else. They are going to run it. It doesn't matter what your look is and they are going to take that attitude of if you have an unblocked guy, the running back is going to try to run over them.”
Here’s a look at the rushing numbers for Hunt and Chubb this season:
Hunt: 9 games, 134 attempts, 633 yards (4.7), 3 TDs
Chubb: 5 games, 76 attempts, 461 yards (6.1), 5 TDs
The Eagles will go into this game without Nate Gerry, who is still on IR. So their linebackers will be Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley. We might also see some Shaun Bradley and even Davion Taylor because the Browns like bigger personnel.
If the Eagles have a chance to get these running backs on the ground, they have to do it. Chubb is averaging 4.41 yards after contact per attempt, per ProFootballFocus, which is the highest figure in the league among players with at least 20 attempts.
Browns’ OL vs. Eagles’ DL
Part of the reason the Browns’ running attack has been so good is because of their offensive line. Here’s a look at that line and where they rank at their position, according to PFF:
LT: Jedrick Wills Jr. (63rd)
LG: Joel Bitonio (5th)
C: JC Tretter (2nd)
RG: Wyatt Teller (1st)
RT: Jack Conklin (9th)
Judging by that, the weakest part of the Browns’ offensive line is their first-round left tackle. On the season, Wills has given up 3 sacks, 4 QB hits and 11 pressures. But in the last three games, he has given up just 1 pressure and he hasn’t given up a sack since Week 5. Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat will face Wills on Sunday.
The Eagles, meanwhile, have an expensive and highly touted defensive line that has mostly underperformed relative to expectations. This is a hard battle to win, but the Eagles need to win it.
Browns’ TEs vs. Eagles’ LBs and safeties
The Browns are three deep at tight end with Austin Hooper, Harrison Bryant and David Njoku, and all three play. Just take a look at last week’s snap counts against the Texans:
The Browns are sort of a throwback NFL team when it comes to personnel groupings. They have run the fewest snaps in the NFL out of 11 personnel (3 receivers) this season at 43%. On the other side of that, they are in packages with at least two tight ends for 46.8% of their offensive snaps. They have three tight ends they like and they use them all.
Those are the types of personnel packages that the Eagles like to combat with their base defense, which means three linebackers. The Browns will be happy with that tradeoff on Sunday.
The Eagles have to be especially aware of the Browns’ tight ends in the red zone. Of their 16 passing touchdowns this year, six have gone to tight ends.
This season the Eagles have given up 53 catches for 503 yards to opposing tight ends, which ranks them eighth worst in the NFL in both categories. And they’ve also given up six touchdowns to tight ends. Just three teams have given up more.
Lane Johnson vs. Myles Garrett
Update: Garrett is out for Sunday's game. He was placed on the COVID-19 list. But I'm leaving this year to show how much of a big deal this is.
Over the last few years, Johnson has dealt with some of the best pass rushers in the NFL and you can go ahead and put Garrett right near the top of the list.
“From what I see, I’d say outside of Aaron Donald, he’s the best defensive player in the league — one of them,” Johnson said. “He’s that talented.”
While Garrett and Olivier Vernon switch sides plenty, about 60% of Garrett’s snaps this season have come on the defensive left. If that holds true, Johnson will see a little more of him than Jason Peters on Sunday. Either way, they have to be ready for an absolute monster.
Garrett leads the NFL in sacks with 9 1/2 this season and has also forced a league-high four fumbles, so keep an eye on that this weekend against Carson Wentz, who is known to cough up the football.
Carson Wentz vs. Browns’ pass D
Wentz finally had a game without a turnover last week but he was otherwise completely unspectacular. That’s not good enough either. The Eagles have to hope Wentz can play at a high level, be aggressive in certain situations and not make careless decisions with the football. It’s about knowing when to be aggressive, not abandoning that aggressiveness completely.
The Browns have been tougher against the run than the pass this season, which means there might be some opportunity for Wentz to have a decent game. The Browns are the 21st-ranked pass defense in the league and the eighth-ranked rushing defense.
Keep an eye on old friend Andrew Sendejo, who became a starting safety for the Browns when second-round pick Grant Delpit suffered a season-ending injury. While their other safety, Ronnie Harrison, has played very well this season, Sendejo definitely has not. ProFootballFocus ranks Sendejo as the 85th-best safety in the NFL. To put that in perspective, Rodney McLeod is 18th and Jalen Mills is 26th on that list. The Eagles should try to find ways to exploit that weakness.
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