By Tony Grossi
Browns vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, 1 p.m., Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Record: 4-0 in preseason.
Last game: Beat N.Y. Jets, 28-10, Aug. 3, in Philadelphia.
Coach: Andy Reid, 136-90-1 (counting postseason), 14th year.
Series record: Browns lead, 31-16-1 (counting postseason).
Last meeting: Eagles won, 30-10, Dec. 15, 2008, in Philadelphia.
League rankings: (preseason) Offense was 7th overall (23rd rushing, 3rd passing), defense was 1st overall (3rd rushing, 1st passing) and turnover differential was plus-2.
Offensive overview: Reid’s offense stretches the field vertically, more so than any current practitioner of the West Coast system. He adjusted to that style after marrying QB Michael Vick’s strong arm with WR DeSean Jackson’s over-top speed. Reid will still do the horizontal passing game with WRs Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, TE Bret Celek and RB LeSean McCoy, however. It’s a lethal, varied attack, especially when you consider McCoy, whose 1,309 rushing yards were the most for a back ever under Reid. Two questions about this offense: Can Vick withstand the pounding his style of play generates and can veteran journeyman King Dunlap hold down the LT position in place of injured Jason Peters?
Defensive overview: Despite sporting one of the quickest and deepest defensive lines in the NFL – and co-leading the league in sacks last year – this unit was the source of disappointment last year while the team was dropping out of playoff contention. Offenses beat the famed “wide nine” defensive style by running successfully between the tackles. The wide nine puts a great deal of pressure on the linebackers to play off 300-pound guards and tackle the ball-carrier. They didn’t do it early on, and the season went down the drain. They upgraded starting spots in the offseason – trading for ex-Texan middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans and drafting strongside linebacker Mychal Kendricks in the second round. The only returning starter, Akeem Jordan, switched to weakside linebacker. The emphasis on up front pressure requires the cornerbacks to play press coverage, which led to the departure of ball-hawk Assante Samuel.
Special teams overview: Bobby April is one of the best ‘teams coordinators in the business. His mandate this year was to upgrade the return units, which weren’t good enough. He heads into the season with two rookie returners, nickel back Brandon Boykin on kickoffs and Damaris Johnson on punts. They don’t want to strain DeSean Jackson on punts, even though is a superior returner. Having two rookies raises the issue of ball security, which can only be alleviated under fire of the regular season. Kicker Alex Henery has not made anyone forget long-time specialist David Akers and punter Chas Henry was a surprise roster keeper when free agent pickup Matt McBriar proved unreliable as a holder; the Eagles missed a FG against the Browns in preseason because of a McBriar hold.
Players to watch:
1. QB Michael Vick: Spectacular with arm or feet? Yes. But he is prone to injury, suffering thumb and rib injuries in his only two preseason appearances. Plus, he’s 0-2 in his career v. the Browns, losing both times with Atlanta.
2.RB LeSean McCoy: The best ball-carrier Andy Reid’s ever had, his 17 rushing TDs and 20 overall were franchise records, earning him All-Pro honors and a new 5-year contract extension.
3. DE Trent Cole: A fifth-round gem uncovered by former GM Tom Heckert in 2005, he has averaged 10 sacks a year in seven NFL seasons.
Injury report: DE Jason Babin (calf strain) missed all of preseason but practiced Monday and probably will be listed as questionable. OT Jason Peters (Achilles) and DT Mike Patterson (cerebral malformation) are on reserve/non-football injury.
Small world: Former Browns coaches include defensive secondary coach Todd Bowles (2001-04) and offensive line coach Howard Mudd (1983-88) … Linebackers coach Mike Caldwell (1993-95) and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson (2000) played for the Browns … DE Phillip Hunt was an undrafted free agent with the Browns in 2009 and was cut … SS David Sims led the Browns in INTs in preseason, then was traded at the final cut for a conditional 2013 draft pick.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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