5 key matchups that will decide Birds vs. Browns in Week 11
The Eagles suffered an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants in week 10, but will look to rebound when they travel to Cleveland this week and battle the 6-3 Browns. They are underdogs in the matchup, getting around 3.5 points on the road depending on the sportsbook. With even tougher opponents on the horizon, a win in this contest would serve as a huge momentum boost as the Birds look to maintain their NFC East division lead. Below are five key matchups that will go a long way to determining the Eagles fate in week 11.
Eagles rush defense vs. Cleveland’s two-headed monster
The manner in which Cleveland has been racking up wins this year has been on the ground. They feature a terrifying two-headed monster at the running back position which consists of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, the former recently having returned from the injured reserve.
Both have been electric on the football field this year. In just five games, Chubb has a total of 461 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns (it could have easily been 6 had he not veered out of bounds to seal a victory last week). His yards per carry this season is an astounding 6.1. Meanwhile, Kareem Hunt had to pick up a lot of the ground game slack while Chubb was out with injury. He hasn’t disappointed, amassing 633 yards on the ground and 3 touchdowns with an additional 141 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air.
Chubb is Cleveland’s more traditional power runner while Hunt is utilized more as a change-of-pace back and has superior pass-catching skills. But the Eagles rush defense can’t fall asleep on either. Both are consistently fresh as they can spell each other at any time and have demonstrated big play ability. The Birds rank tenth in rush defense by the advanced analytics, suggesting they are equipped to handle a ferocious ground attack. The Browns trying to run the ball down a team’s throat is something they can absolutely count on and this the primary matchup to watch on Sunday.
Carson Wentz vs. Baker Mayfield: Who can rise above mediocrity?
Both of these quarterbacks have disappointed this season, but at least in the case of Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield, he hasn’t been poor enough to sink his team’s ship. This is one of those rare matchups where the winner of the quarterback duel won’t necessarily tip the scales in favor of his team winning. However, if Wentz gets the better of Mayfield, particularly in the turnover department, that would help the Eagles chances at victory immensely.
Carson Wentz is coming off his first turnover-free game and will look to continue that trend this week. His issue in week 10 was a matter of increasingly becoming gun-shy during the game and not throwing the ball downfield. He has all the weapons he needs in Travis Fulgham, Jalen Reagor, Dallas Goedert, and even the forgotten Alshon Jeffery who was activated last game for the first time this season. Now he needs to go out and prove he’s worthy to start for a team gunning for the playoffs.
While neither of these franchises quite trust their quarterbacks, of the two Wentz is the one with a much higher ceiling. The Eagles need this to be a ceiling game for Wentz to have a shot at a win on the road.
Eagles Offensive Line vs. Myles Garrett
If Carson Wentz has effective protection, it will give him a much easier path to helping the Birds achieve victory this Sunday. The Eagles offensive line was a mess for much of the beginning of the season, but has steadily gotten healthier and improved their play over the last few weeks. Even so, a defensive nuisance like Myles Garrett has the ability to disrupt even the stoutest of offensive lines.
This year, Myles Garrett is in the defensive player of year award discussion and for very good reason. Through nine games he has registered 9.5 sacks and four forced fumbles while anchoring a defense that is counted on each and every week to keep scoring at a minimum. His monstrous play has been a huge reason that the Browns can adopt a playstyle where they slowly control the clock and keep pace of play moving about as fast as a snail. If Myles Garrett consistently finds his way to the backfield on Sunday, the Birds have little chance of stringing positive plays together and taking down the Browns.
Miles Sanders (and company) vs. Cleveland’s Rush Defense
The ground game was just about the only bright spot for the Eagles during last week’s loss. Not only was Miles Sanders extremely efficient in his first game back from injury, but fellow running backs Boston Scott and Corey Clement both provided touchdowns to keep the Birds competitive. As a way to combat the pass rushing havoc that Myles Garrett is sure to bring, the Eagles should look to feed their running backs early and often in this contest.
That means Miles Sanders, the Eagles most reliable weapon, needs to thrive off a heavy workload. He has expressed a desire in the past to be an elite three-down running back and should have his chance this very Sunday. He’s got some serious competition for best running back of the game with both Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the opposing team, but if he manages to outplay that duo (with choice help from Scott and Clement) the Birds should absolutely be in this game to the end.
Cleveland’s rushing defense is entirely mediocre at 18th according to current DVOA metrics. Their overall pass defense sits at a similar mark, but I think utilizing Miles Sanders at a steady clip, rather than putting the ball in Wentz’s hands, is a surer path towards victory.
Coach Doug Pederson vs. his recent past
Fans from the City of Brotherly Love can be brutal, but in this case I think that calls for Pederson to relinquish head coaching duties are entirely warranted. He’s been given a tremendous amount of passes as he was the fearless coaching leader when the Birds last won a superbowl, but by now we’ve seen an increasingly large sample size of boneheaded mistakes.
Some of them are as simple as making logical decisions regarding when the offensive should attempt a PAT try versus a riskier two-point conversion. Mistakes of that variety have cost the Eagles precious points in key situations during multiple games this year. His decision making on fourth down has been similarly confounding. The Eagles are the team that goes for it on fourth down the most in the league this season but their conversion percentage is just 29.41%, good for 30th in the league. Coach Pederson needs to realize his team’s limitations and play a more conservative game for the Birds to be successful.
Of course, winning solves everything and if he can steer this ship in the right direction and navigate them towards a division title he may hold onto his job regardless. I’m not so sure that is what’s positive for the franchise, as winning the NFC East this year is akin to just having the smallest dumpster fire of the available teams. Even so, let’s hope Pederson coaches like his job is on the line and that translates to smart decisions.