The Philadelphia Eagles (3-5-1) and the Cleveland Browns (6-3) are set to play each other this Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium. In order to preview this Week 11 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Dawgs By Nature. The commendable Chris Pokorny kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at his answers. (Also check out my side of the exchange over at DBN.)
1 - What’s your impression of Kevin Stefanski and his coaching staff so far?
The talent is better on the offensive side of the ball, so that is where the results are more evident. For one, Kevin Stefanski is typically sticking with the best formula for this offense: running the ball with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, maintaining a great balance to give both backs enough touches, and preventing Baker Mayfield from having to be a gunslinger unless the team falls behind. Mayfield used to have issues throwing the ball over the middle because of his height and the low trajectory of his passes, so Stefanski uses the playaction pass early and often to give Mayfield more time to throw, or move him outside the pocket where he doesn’t have those defenders in his line of sight. Having Bill Callahan as the offensive line coach is such a huge blessing too — but I’ll talk more about that later.
Defensively, I think defensive coordinator Joe Woods has kept things very vanilla this season because he doesn’t trust the team’s linebackers very much. The best “coaching” adjustment I saw on the defensive side of the ball came last week (following the Browns’ bye) against the Texans. All of the players on defense were so disciplined in making sure they didn’t let Deshaun Watson escape the pocket for a run — their consistency in containing him from getting away was impressive in a season full of defensive lapses.
2 - What’s the level of confidence in Baker Mayfield? Let’s put it on an arbitrary scale of 1 to 10.
How should I say this — my scale is based on the sense that Browns fans know Mayfield’s limitations by now, but believe in his leadership and still showing improvements entering the third year of his career. On your arbitrary scale, I will assume that 5 is the definition of “meh/average,” and anything worse than that means a disappointment. I would therefore label him a 6 right now, trending toward a 7. I know there are things he has to work on, and that there are some things that may never be his strong suit.
Kevin Stefanski is a great coach because he recognizes Mayfield’s skill set and is getting the most out of him, especially when he rolls out to the left to find an open receiver, or throwing crisp passes to the boundary. The more Mayfield’s passes stay away from the middle of the field (with respect to short to medium-range passes), the better — because that is where his passes get tipped, or he doesn’t see a robbing defender undercutting a route.
3 - What’s the level of confidence in former Eagles executive and current Browns GM Andrew Berry?
It’s funny because Andrew Berry was with the Browns for three years from 2016-2018 before leaving to the Eagles for one year, and now coming back to be the general manager. Fans have pretty high confidence in Berry right now — he doesn’t seem ego-driven, and after Cleveland has gone back-and-forth between “analytical” and “football” guys before, the Browns seem to be more in unison throughout the entire organization of utilizing analytics. Don’t ask me exactly what that means, lol, because obviously, there is still a lot of football involved — but the point is that philosophies in the building are all on the same page now as opposed to trying to force opposites to work together.
Berry is off to a nice start already in terms of savvy GM-moves: he acquired safety Ronnie Harrison from the Jaguars for a 5th round pick this season, and Harrison has graded out to be one of the top safeties in the NFL in 2020:
#Browns Safety, Ronnie Harrison, has been huge game-changer.— The Hottest Take Sports Podcast (@Hottest_TakePod) November 19, 2020
Harrison ranks 5th among Safeties with an Overall Grade of 79.1, per @PFF.
In his 4 starts with the @Browns:
5 Passes Deflected
1 Fumble Recovery
1 TD #NFL @Rharr_15 pic.twitter.com/1byLTbBJgh
Berry also extended the contract of Kareem Hunt, which was a great deal considering he was one of the league’s top running backs with the Chiefs a few years ago and still has plenty of mileage on his legs.
4 - What is the Browns’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
The Browns’ run blocking is their biggest strength, in combination with the rushing ability of Nick Chubb.
Starting right guard Wyatt Teller has been the stunning key to Cleveland’s success on the ground this season. When training camp started, fans assumed that right guard would be an open competition and the team’s weakest spot. Teller stunned coaches and fans when he showed up way bigger and stronger in camp, putting a big commitment to improving his strength this year.
According to Pro Football Focus, he is the most dominant guard in the NFL this season by a pretty big margin. Cleveland’s running game struggled for several weeks while he had a calf injury, but Teller returned to action last week and paved the way for both Chubb and Hunt to have 100+ yard rushing days.
5 - What is the Browns’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
I know you said the Eagles have the least athletic linebackers in the NFL, but heading into the season (and still now), it was evident to Browns fans that Cleveland has the worst group of linebackers in the NFL. Sure, you can cherry pick some good moments from certain linebackers, but as a whole, the group is underwhelming when it comes to tackling, coverage, communication, or making high-impact plays. Philadelphia can do well by having their receivers run shallow routes and then beat the linebackers in space.
6 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Browns season? First playoff berth since 2002 upcoming?!
I have my fingers crossed that a few of the players on the reserve/COVID-19 list will be able to play. Assuming they do, I will take the Browns to win, thanks to the commitment they’ll have to the running game and run defense not being the Eagles’ strength. The Browns’ defense has struggled with high-caliber quarterbacks this year, but I imagine they’ll welcome the sight of Carson Wentz, especially with Myles Garrett trying to attack Jason Peters to disrupt some plays.
I’m picking the Browns to win this game 28-20. As far as season expectations go, it’s a bit frustrating that right now, even with a 7-seed system and a 6-3 record, Cleveland would miss the playoffs. I’m hopeful that the Browns will be able to take advantage of facing the Jaguars, Jets, and Giants to help them get to 10 wins, which I think will be enough for the playoffs. I’ve been blogging for Dawgs By Nature since 2006, and haven’t covered one single playoff game yet.