It’s not been a pleasant year for Eagles fans and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change in a hurry. The winter months are filled with extremely tough opponents, with the Cleveland Browns being the first in line to take their shot. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz isn’t taking the game lightly.
“Yeah, it’s our biggest challenge of the season in the run game.” He explained on Tuesday. 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.”
Running all over the world
He’s not wrong. The Browns may be a different team when Kareem Hunt is the lead rusher, but with Nick Chubb back in the shotgun and wreaking havoc, the duo looks primed to punish a run defense that has allowed an average of 148 rushing yards per game over its last 3 (27th in the NFL).
Chubb has only played in 5 games due to injuries, but has 461 yards and averages 6.1 yards per carry. Kareem Hunt has performed well in his absence, racking up 633 yards across 9 games and 141 through the air. The duo have combined for 11 total touchdowns so far.
What it means for the Eagles
All of this is bad news for the Eagles. The Browns, who lost Odell Beckham Jr. for the season, have had to massively adapt their offense. Receiving talent is light behind Jarvis Landry, who is still yet to catch a touchdown this season because of sub-par QB play, but the heart and soul of production is in the backfield. This has led to their young QB taking a backseat.
Stefanski hasn’t done a great job of getting his wideouts open, Mayfield hasn’t been great, but none of it matters when the team can run over anyone on any given Sunday. Against the Texans in a 10-7 win, Nick Chubb still put up 126 yards of rushing offense, while the Browns QB threw for 132 yards. He threw for 122 against Las Vegas.
Baker Mayfield is averaging just 27 passing attempts per matchup and has the 26th most passing yards in the league. With 15 TD and 7 INT, he’s still firing above a 60% clip. The difference between the Eagles and Browns is that one has recognized that feeding its strongest skill-position also takes the strain off of its QB and ailing receiving corps. It also massively opens up the play-action game, because teams have no choice but to key-in on the run and try to suffocate Nick Chubb. That’s a task that’s easier said than done.
“It’s going to take everybody, it’s not just the defensive linemen, it’s not just the linebackers; our corners are going to have to have an outstanding game defending the run.” Schwartz would go on to say. There’s some carryover to like San Francisco. There are some similarities in what the run game is. We have to do a good job on stopping that zone stretch and taking their power run games. They are a good contact-running team and like I said both of those guys, [Browns RB Kareem] Hunt and [Browns RB Nick] Chubb are both outstanding running backs and it’s going to be our biggest challenge of the year and we need to be up to that challenge.”
Schwartz knows what he has to do. Whether he has the linebackers to meet Nick Chubb in the hole and stop him in his tracks is highly debatable, but with Darius Slay likely smothering Jarvis Landry, there won’t be many options for Mayfield to throw to, so expect another heavy dose of one of the league’s most explosive backfields.
It’s almost like the Eagles could learn a thing or two. Instead of exposing a struggling QB who is playing without a flurry of offensive weapons, maybe ride one of the most explosive playmakers in the team who is averaging over 6 yards per carry….no. No. Sorry. That’s a silly idea. Carson Wentz throwing 37+ times per game despite a clear regression and six of the nine games so far ending within two scores? Much better.
Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire