1 – The Browns OL vs the Eagles DL
When we previewed the Giants-Cowboys game earlier this week, a key matchup was the Cowboys’ OL vs the Giants’ DL. That’ll pretty much be a recurring theme throughout the entire season with the Eagles and Giants, as opposing teams are going to worry about their enormously talented defensive lines for the next 16 weeks (and possibly beyond). The first team the Eagles’ DL will test is Cleveland. Back in July, Adam Caplan was asked by one of his followers on Twitter to name his Top 5 OLs in the NFL. His answer:
Among the above teams he noted is the Browns, who are a very young and talented group. LT Joe Thomas is among the best in the game. He and 3 of his OL teammates all have something in common:
What do they all have in common? (Jeopardy music playing)…
They all started all 16 games last year. In fact, Thomas, Pinkston, and Mack played all 1087 snaps last season, a rarity in the NFL. It’s a young group with good continuity that will only get better. Pinkston is listed as a tackle above, but he played LG all of last year next to Joe Thomas, and will do so again this year. If the unit has a weak link, it would be Pinkston.
At RT, the Browns are starting rookie Mitchell Schwartz, the Browns’ 2nd round pick out of California. In the 3rd preseason game against Philly, Schwartz did a good job on Cullen Jenkins, who actually started at LDE instead of his typical DT spot. However, he struggled dealing with the speedy Phillip Hunt, and was owned by Brandon Graham. He’s going to have his hands full all day with Jason Babin.
2 – The Browns depleted linebacking corps vs. the Eagles rushing attack
The Browns have a laundry list of issues at LB:
- Chris Gocong: Tore his Achilles, put on injured reserved, done for the season. His replacement at WLB is Kaluka Maiava.
- Scott Fujita: Suspended by the NFL for 3 games for his role in the Saints’ bounty scandal. Fujita’s fight against the NFL is ongoing. He thinks he’ll play Week 1, althought that is doubtful. His temporary replacement at SLB would have been the next guy on this list.
- James Michael-Johnson: Was the projected starter when Gocong went down, until his sustained an oblique injury in the final preseason game. It appears that “JMJ” could miss the first 4 weeks of the season. His replacement would be Craig Robertson.
Add in that starting DT Phil Taylor is on the PUP list after having surgery for a torn pectoral in May, and it will be difficult for the Browns to stop LeSean McCoy and the Eagles rushing attack.
3 – The Browns secondary vs. the Eagles receiving corps
Joe Haden was the 7th overall pick in the 2010 draft, and in his first two years in the NFL he has transformed himself into one of the best CBs in the game. The NFL suspended Haden for 4 games, which he appealed, and there appears to be confusion over whether or not Haden will play or not.
If Haden is indeed not going to play, the Browns will be left with Sheldon Brown and Dimitri Patterson as their starting CBs. Brown is now 33 years old and very much on the downside of his career. It will be difficult for him to keep up with the speed of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. He’ll start regardless of Haden’s status. Patterson has bounced around the league as a journeyman reserve, and is on his 5th team in Cleveland, his 2nd year there.
The duo of Brown and Haden stands a chance of slowing down the Eagles receiving corps. The duo of Brown and Patterson would very likely be in for a long day.
4 – The Browns’ rushing attack vs. the Eagles front seven
As noted above, the Browns have a good, young offensive line. Behind that line at RB is rookie Trent Richardson, the 3rd overall pick in the 2012 draft. Richardson has surgery about 4 weeks ago to remove a loose piece of cartilage from his knee. On Monday he returned to practice, but his status remains up in the air for Sunday. If he can’t go, Montario Hardesty will see the bulk of the carries.
Take this for what it’s worth but here was the yardage Hardesty gained on his carries against the Eagles in the preseason game they played a couple weeks ago:
- 1st drive: -4, 6, 2, 6, 3, -2
- 2nd drive: 1
- 3rd drive: 0 (fumble, recovered by the Eagles)
- 4th drive: 0
- 5th drive: 4
The Browns’ starting receivers are Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi. Here were their numbers last season:
The Eagles ranked 16th against the rush in 2011, and they hope they vastly improved at least two LB spots with the acquisitions of SAM LB Mychal Kendricks through the draft and MIKE LB DeMeco Ryan in a trade with the Texans. Still, the run game is probably the Browns’ best chance in this one. If the Browns can’t mount a serious rushing attack against Philly, they could be in big trouble.
5 – The Browns special teams vs. Themselves
The Browns had two punts blocked this preseason, and one was by the Eagles in Week 3. Also, last year, according to Terry Pluto of the Clevelan Plain Dealer, the Browns had a number of other special teams malfunctions:
3 FG attempts blocked
20 special teams penalties last year
Allowed both a kick return and punt return to go for a TD
If you’re an Eagles fan, my recommendation would be to casually note to your friends before the kickoff that the Browns had all sort of special teams problems last year and during the preseason this year. If nothing goes wrong during the course of the game for their special teams, nobody will ever remember you said it. f it does, you can go, “Seeeeeeee?”
Eagles, big. This Browns team is already one of the worst teams in the NFL (maybe the worst), and they’re dealing with an assortment of injuries, suspensions, and rookies playing critical positions, including QB. 37-10.