The Browns did what good teams do in Week 10. They simply found a way to win.
It was not always pretty, due in large part to the weather at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the Browns executed when they had to and came out with a 10-7 victory that leaves them with a strong 6-3 record in 2020. As luck would have it, the 2020 NFL season boasts 15 teams with six wins or more through 10 weeks of the season, the first time that has happened in league history. Thus, the Browns need to continue their winning ways and must go 1-0 again this week against a Philadelphia Eagles team that is very dangerous despite their 3-5-1 record.
The Eagles have premier talent on both sides of the ball but have struggled to be consistent and are coming off of a 27-17 loss to the New York Giants. They are 0-2-1 against the AFC North thus far, with the lone tie coming against the Bengals, and the Browns will look to keep them winless in the inter-division battles. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz is struggling, and keeping him in difficult situations will be a critical part of this week's winning mix.
1. Force the Eagles into 3rd-and-5 or more
In this week's Matchup to Watch, I highlighted the talented, but under-utilized, Eagles running back Miles Sanders who trails only our Nick Chubb by with an average of 6 yards per carry this season. Containing Sanders and the Eagles early down passing game will go a long way toward the Browns defense turning in a dominating performance on Sunday.
The Eagles did not convert a single third down on nine attempts in last week's loss to the Giants and are just 10-for-42 (23.8 percent) on third downs over the last four games of the season combined. Drilling down even further shows a team that really struggles in third-and-long situations. Over the last four games, the Eagles are four-for-29 (13.7 percent) on third downs of 5 yards or more.
Putting the Eagles into a third-and-long situation places them in an obvious passing situation that will enable Browns DC Joe Woods to unleash his pass rush and blitz packages. Philadelphia has allowed a league-high 35 sacks this season, and Wentz has thrown a league-high 12 interceptions this season. If the Browns can generate pressure against Wentz, he will crumble. For the year, Wentz is completing just 40 percent of his passes for 4.7 yards per attempt with four interceptions and a quarterback rating of just 51 when under duress. The Browns must contain Wentz in the pocket in these situations, however, as he can be very dangerous with his legs.
Check out exclusive photos of the Browns preparing for their game against the Philadelphia Eagles
2. Force Wentz to hold the ball
Some games call for trying to get the ball out of a quarterback's hands quickly and playing with a generous cushion to prevent the big plays down the field. Others call for tight coverage on overmatched receivers, forcing a quarterback to hold onto the ball and take ill-advised shots down the field.
When it comes to stopping Wentz, the Browns will want to employ the latter strategy. With tight coverage, especially on his primary read, Wentz will be forced to hold the ball and try to make something happen, which has resulted in disaster for the Eagles this season. Not only will taking away the quick passing game give Olivier Vernon, Adrian Clayborn and Co. time to get to Wentz as discussed above, it will also create scenarios in which Wentz has been prone to poor decision-making in 2020. In fact, it is a large reason why he has five games with multiple interceptions this year, most in the league.
This year, when Wentz has been able to get the ball out quickly (under 2.5 seconds), he is completing 70.5 percent of his passes, has thrown five touchdowns and has a quarterback rating of 87.2. When defenses have been able to take away those quick options, Wentz has been horrendous. On plays in which he has to hold the ball for more than four seconds this year, Wentz is completing 31 percent of his passes, averaging 3.7 yards per attempt, has thrown four interceptions with only one touchdown and has a quarterback rating of 11.7, which is the worst in the NFL.
Eliminating the quick game also means tighter coverage that forces Wentz to try and push the ball at least 10 yards down the field. On such passes (out of 33 qualified quarterbacks), Wentz is completing 42 percent of his passes (29th), has thrown nine interceptions (most in the NFL) and has a quarterback rating of 65.3 (27th). It should be noted that the Eagles are 3-2 when they have zero turnovers, so putting Wentz in the situations where he turns it over is critical for the Browns.
3. Get out to a big lead early and follow our script
In their last four losses, the Eagles trailed at the half in each game and trailed by double-digits at some point in the first three quarters. The Browns are undefeated this year when leading after the first quarter, leading at halftime or leading after three quarters. In five of the team's six wins this season, the Browns were up at the half and handled their business to earn the win.
Getting the lead early will force the Eagles to abandon Sanders and their explosive rushing attack, thus putting the ball squarely into the hands of Wentz and the passing game. The Eagles receiving corps has been decimated by injuries and does not have a single receiver with more than 450 yards on the season. Travis Fulgham is the only pass-catcher, regardless of position, with even 300 yards this year.
An early lead will also enable the Browns to lean on their elite ground game that is the best in the NFL with both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the lineup. In the five games in which both Chubb and Hunt have played together, the Browns have rushed for an average of 209.8 yards per game, total offense is up 74 yards per game, scoring is up 6.3 points per game and the Browns have rushed for nine touchdowns. The Browns are also 4-1 in those contests, and the ability to lean on the ground game will help neutralize the excellent pass rush of the Eagles that has generated 31 sacks this year, third-most in the NFL.