Focusing on Cleveland amid an extraordinary set of circumstances …
Let’s make sure that we put this in perspective: The Eagles were intent – excited, even – to have Sam Bradford start the season at quarterback and see how far he could take them. Only a no-way-you-can-say-no offer altered the plans.
When the Vikings stepped up with a deal to send the Eagles a first- and a fourth-round draft pick in exchange for Bradford, the blueprint for the season went out the window. Instead of keeping rookie Carson Wentz on the sidelines, the Eagles elevated him to starter for Sunday’s opener, with Chase Daniel the backup. And away we go …
- Doug Pederson prepares for his first NFL regular season game and you can say he’s been handed quite a series of challenges very early in his tenure. Say this for Pederson: He doesn’t seem fazed by anything, he’s extremely likable and the players have his back. The Eagles went 4-0 in the preseason (I know, it doesn’t mean a thing) and Pederson worked the mechanics of the play calls and managed his timeouts well. It’s going to be a different set of circumstances with a rookie quarterback on Sunday, but the mental side of things is a huge plus for Wentz. So what are we looking for from Pederson: How he handles the play calling of the offense, the personnel packages he employs, his clock management, how he uses his timeouts and the discipline with which the Eagles play. And a win, of course.
- I met with quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo on Tuesday and this is the quote that stuck out the most when talking about Wentz: "The dedication and the accuracy and what he’s been doing since the spring will help him on Sunday. He is further along than most rookie quarterbacks in things like protection schemes. He came from a pro-style offense and he understands the things we’re asking him to do. He wasn’t able to be on the field a lot in the preseason, but he’s in the right place mentally and now we’ll get him up to speed physically for the Browns. This guy loves to play football. This guy is made to play football. You see his juice every day at practice."
- Really good test for the Eagles on defense from this standpoint: With the Wide 9 and the way the defensive ends get up the field, the Browns will likely try to get Robert Griffin III out on the perimeter with a series of bootlegs and rollouts off of the play-action game. The Eagles’ ends cannot give up containment.
- Note this: Cleveland has no cornerbacks taller than 6-feet tall (Traman Williams) and that means, what, exactly for Dorial Green-Beckham? How can the Eagles take advantage of his height (6-5)? Can you see Wentz and Green-Beckham teaming up for some jump balls? This is going to be a matchup-based offense, so if the Eagles think they can get after Cleveland’s cornerbacks with their size, they’re going to do it.
- Cleveland has some intriguing options in the passing game for RG3. Rookie wide receiver Corey Coleman has all the skills, including great speed, and converted quarterback Terrell Pryor has worked his way into becoming a starting wide receiver. Tight end Gary Barnidge thrived last year with DeFilippo as the offensive coordinator.
- I think Brandon Graham has to win, and win big, at left defensive end going against right tackle Austin Pasztor, a guard last year after playing for three seasons at tackle in Jacksonville. He’s 6-7 and 308 pounds and he’s got a Dennis Kelly-kind-of look to him. Graham will try to mix his moves and use both his power and speed here.
- The best player on Cleveland’s defense? Probably cornerback Joe Haden, a two-time Pro Bowl player who saw action in only five games last season. He’s really good when he’s healthy, so you can kind of see him trying to bait Wentz in this game. The Eagles need to be wary of Haden.
- There isn’t much in terms of "star" power with the Cleveland defense, but the scheme from Ray Horton is designed to give quarterbacks fits with the way he integrates his pressure packages. Horton, simply put, is going to blitz the kid. Now, the personnel is way different, but remember Horton and the things he did in Arizona (2011-2012) and in Tennessee (2014-2015). He’s aggressive, he takes chances and he lives for the big play for his defense.
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