Eagles-Browns: 3 matchups to watch
The Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1) travel to Cleveland for the first time since 2012 on Sunday to take on the Browns (6-3) at FirstEnergy Stadium.
With a daunting slate of games looming, the Eagles must hit the ground running to prevent another slow start. The Browns' offense centers around their dynamic running back tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. If they find their footing early, it could spell trouble.
The Eagles, who will face a five-game slate of playoff contenders beginning next week, must execute and resurrect a stagnant offense for any shot of a late-season run.
Let's get to it!
WR Jalen Reagor vs. CB Terrance Mitchell
I expect Denzel Ward, a rising star, to line up across from Travis Fulgham for much of the afternoon, leaving Reagor one-on-one against the Browns' speed deficient No. 2 cornerback, Terrance Mitchell.
Mitchell, who has started all nine games in placed on injured second-year cornerback Greedy Williams, has racked up 39 tackles, eight passes defended, and a forced fumble. The 28-year-old defender is a fast reactor, but his lack the long speed and short-area quickness often leads to big plays downfield.
The Eagles returned from the bye week intent on getting their first-round wide receiver involved in the offensive game plan, as Reagor led all Eagles pass-catchers in targets (7). That said, look for the team to pounce on a largely vulnerable Browns secondary by taking a couple of deep shots with Reagor.
The forecast calls for dreary weather throughout the game on Sunday, but it shouldn't affect the quarterback-friendly Reagor. When he isn't stretching the field, the explosive rookie also boasts the versatility to churn out yards after the catch on screens and jets sweeps. These play-calls would force a slow-footed Browns' defense to make plays in space.
TE Dallas Goedert vs. LBs B.J. Goodsen, Mack Wilson
Since returning from injury, Goedert has been noticeably absent from the offensive game plan. Due to the frequent shuffling across the offensive line, Goedert has been used as more of an in-line blocker. However, this week, the team must tap into Goedert's receiving prowess.
Given the weather condition and offensive ineptitude, the approach going in will probably be to lean on the ground game and get Carson Wentz into an early rhythm on short-to-intermediate throws.
Much like Reagor, who possesses the explosive traits to create on his own, Goedert can also do damage after the catch.
The third-year tight end should have little difficulty navigating the openings in zone when isolated against Goodsen and Wilson, but don't be surprised if Goedert breaks free and reels in a long reception. The Browns safeties, Karl Joseph, Ronnie Harrison Jr., and Andrew Sendejo are primarily box safeties who typically struggle when asked to cover ground in coverage.
LBs T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton vs. RBs Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt
Last week, Daniel Jones, Wayne Gallman, and Alfred Morris combined for 151 yards on the ground against the Eagles. Misdirection runs and dismal gap discipline continue to plague the defense.
Against the Browns, those issues must be resolved if the Eagles expect to embark on a postseason push. The Browns have implemented a ground-and-pound approach under head coach Kevin Stefanski, so if the home team jets out to an early lead, they are equipped to bleed the clock and force teams into abandoning their game script.
Furthermore, Hunt can hurt teams in space as a dual-threat. On Sunday, the 25-year-old yielded four pass targets, hauling in three for 28 yards.
As active as Edwards and Singleton have been since teaming up three weeks ago, some of their shortcomings surfaced against the Giants. Slow processing and the inability to consistently shed blocks as linemen climbed to the second level were the driving force behind several key runs. While the pair swarms to the football and share a tenacious, downhill mentality, they must play fundamentally sound football against this group -- or risk getting gashed by the NFL's most prolific running back tandem.