The Eagles start the regular season with a home game against the Cleveland Browns at Lincoln Financial Field this Sunday and there is plenty to be excited for. A new Head Coach, new Coordinators, new systems and a new franchise quarterback. The Browns may have ended last year with a 3-13 record, but that doesn’t mean that this game will be a walk in the park. Here are this weeks keys to the game.
Establish the running game:
With Carson Wentz making his regular season debut much sooner than originally anticipated, he’s going to need a strong supporting cast if the Offense is to be successful and that all starts with the backfield.
The Eagles struggled massively on the ground last year, but that’s expected to change under Doug Pederson. The hybrid West-Coast Offense thrives on the running game and in preseason, that much was clear. What we saw in the limited snaps of Ryan Mathews was explosive while Kenjon Barner was able to show just how powerful he can be.
With the swiss-army knife of Darren Sproles at hand along with the contrasting styles of Mathews and Barner, the backfield should be primed for a big day at the Linc. But if they’re to have one, they will need to become multi-dimensonal and catching out of the backfield will be crucial.
The Eagles will want to keep things short and simple for Carson Wentz to ease him into a rhythm early on, so those screen passes, read options and enough rotation and plays to keep the Defense on their toes will be crucial. If the Eagles can provide Wentz with a safety blanket on the ground, then he can really start to do what he does best, attack through the air.
Blitz, blitz, blitz:
Jim Schwartz’s Defense is ruthless. It’s fitting that the same word can be used to describe the Eagles defensive line. With the Browns missing Josh Gordon, RGIII will be looking for the likes of Corey Coleman and Gary Barnidge to make things happen. It’s up to the Eagles Defense to ensure that the Browns stay quiet.
The Browns rushing attack is largely unknown. Both Duke Johnson Jr and Isaiah Crowell have the ability to cause problems..and that’s without factoring in the mobility of RGIII. Jim Schwartz’s mentality will be needed straight away in order to keep the Browns on chains.
In preseason, the Eagles were able to shut down opposing running games with ease, picking up some big tackles for a loss and impressive 3rd & 4th downs tops along the way. If they can force RGIII into throwing under pressure, taking away the ground threats..then life will become much easier for a cornerback corps with plenty of question marks and for a Safety tandem looking to enjoy a huge year.
Red zone efficiency:
The Eagles had a red zone QBR rating of 63.8 last season, ranking 31st in the league. Alex Smith on the other hand had a red zone rating of 96.9. With more dimensions to the Offense, the Eagles should be much more successful in the red zone, but they will need to be if they’re to come away with a win in week one.
With Dorial Green-Beckham and his trademark redzone fade routes that saw him catch a preseason TD on top of the two caught last season along with a 2-pt conversion, the Eagles will have much more in the way of weaponry than last season. Carson Wentz is extremely athletic for a 6’5 quarterback, which is already enough to give the Browns a headache without the idea of a committee of running backs and DGB.
The Eagles were dreadful inside the 20 last year and if they can start the year going in the opposite direction, it will be a huge step forward.
As much as establishing a rhythm is for a quarterback as raw as Carson Wentz, the elephant in the room is that this is the Browns..and he may not face an easier opponent this season. Their Defense ranked 29th in passing TD’s allowed last year, 29th overall and 27th in total yardage. Ray Horton is the new man in town which could spell problems for Wentz, but trusting his cannon and slinging it downfield will be crucial.
The Eagles receivers will be under the microscope in week one after an offseason saw the unit become significantly younger and more dynamic. Problems with drops and inconsistencies still loom large, but with a fresh page turned in the Eagles history books..the motivation to start the year strong against a weak secondary will be high..and if they can do so, the Eagles Offense will be very difficult to stop.
The bottom line:
The Eagles Offensive line was an area of concern at the end of 2015..and despite a flurry of offseason additions, it still is. The pending suspension of Lane Johnson, the degenerative injury of Jason Peters and some early preseason pass-blocking struggles didn’t paint the unit in the best light.
Where the Line is strong however, is run blocking. The new zonal-blocking scheme plays to the strengths of the linemen and it showed in preseason. Pass protection however was another issue entirely.
Protecting Carson Wentz and giving him time against a team that promises to bring plenty of blitzes will be pivotal to the success of the Offense and the confidence of the second overall pick. The line will be tested straight out of the gate against the Browns..but if they can pass-block as well as they can open up holes for the running back and move the pocket, the Browns will find difficulty in troubling the rookie quarterback.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports