“You can make the case that except for quarterback, Eagles & Browns are essentially the same team!” or so said Cleveland personality Tony Grossi. It’s an interesting premise, but one without merit for a number of reasons.
A lot of people would start with the running backs or receivers here. But as so much of what a team accomplishes on offence is down to the offensive line, for me that’s the first point of call.
Browns tackle Joe Thomas is easily the Browns best and may be one that’s unknown to the casual fan. Thomas is perennial Pro Bowl player and one talked about every year in the run up to deadline day. Right guard John Greco has also impressed year. However behind these two the showings range from average (Spencer Durango) to the downright abysmal (Erving).
The Eagles offensive line suffered a huge blow when they saw Lane Johnson suspended for 10 games. He was replaced by Halapoulivaati Vaitai who, despite an underwhelming first start, has played pretty well. Brandon Brooks was acquired in free agency and has been impressive and Jason Peters, defying his age, consistently plays well. Center Jason Kelce can be one of the NFL’s best, especially when he gets to the second level. Whilst the Eagles were graded as the second best unit through week 11 (Pro Football Focus), stability has across the line been near non existent this year. Rookie Issac Seumalo has also played a lot as a rookie and it will be interesting to see how he improves over the off season.
The Browns have Isaiah Crowell as their work horse running back whereas the Eagles have been a ‘running back by committee’ team (whether through choice or because of injury).Whilst Ryan Matthews (427 yards), rookie Wendell Smallwood (309 yards) and ageless pocket rocket Darren Sproles (339 yards) have rushed for just over a thousand yards this year. As their starter Crowell has produced 605 yards but only Duke Johnson has helped take the load here, with 271 yards. For both teams the main carriers have an average of between 4.2 and 4.9 yards.
Here at least the comparison may be valid. It’s interesting to note that both teams use a very different look on passing downs. Much as the Eagles use Sproles (387) out of the backfield, the Browns use Johnson (410).
Looking at the wide receivers and the picture is somewhat different. For the Eagles their clear number one receiver is Jordan Matthews. The usually sure-handed Matthews has been respectable in both total yards (686) and average per catch (12.0). Behind him the struggles of Nelson Agholor have been well documented but Dorial Green-Beckham has been equally unimpressive. Paul Turner and Bryce Treggs weren’t on the team at the start of the season (though Turner was kept around on the practice squad) but both have 80 yards.
One of my favourite stories this season has been that of QB-turned-wide-receiver Terrelle Pryor. For any other team he would be a star. Even with the merry-go-round that is the Browns quarterback position he’s has 855 yards. At 6’5 he’s a mismatch for whoever covers him. Andrew Hawkins has been disappointing this year, adding only 257 yards. He was slowly replaced by Browns rookie Corey Coleman once he recovered from his hamstring. Even though Coleman’’s only played in six games he’s already added 308 yards to the team’s total. The Browns have the clear edge here.
Last year Gary Barnidge thrived in an increased role for the Browns. This year his production has dropped off significantly. A lot of this coincides directly with the emergence of Pryor, being kept in to block more and the Browns woes at quarterback, but Barnidge has seen his average per catch drop from 13.2 to 11.7 to and his number of targets reduce considerably.
The Eagles have Zach Ertz who is definitely a player on the rise despite blocking. This can be terrible at times (see his block on a Carson Wentz scramble against the Bengals last week). In Doug Pederson’s offence so far this year Ertz has been sorely underused. However he has the potential to be Wentz’s best receiver. Behind him they have the underrated Brent Celek, who provides a safe pair of hands. Also often is Trey Burton, a player on the rise who could start for several teams.
Danny Shelton has been pretty good throughout the season and he was the mid-season nose tackle of choice. Beyond that no-one has stood out consistently even though Carl Nassib has flashed potential as a rookie but not enough to displace the starters. As a 3-4 team (even though they frequently line up with four lineman) the Browns need more from their ends.
The Eagles are a different story. Having invested several high draft picks on the defensive line the Eagles are in a position of strength here with Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry. They also have depth, with the high motor Connor Barwin and even Marcus Smith III stepping up. Whilst the unit started strong they’ve dropped off in recent weeks, in part because of the issues at corner.
One of the rare trades in the season occurred when the Browns traded for Jamie Collins and he has improved the Browns defence and must be retained in the off season. Chris Kirksey has piled up the tackles this season and has been graded well by Pro Football Focus. When hunting down opposing quarterbacks, Browns rookie Emmanuel Ogbah has shown potential but hasn’t shown the same flashes against the run. Poor tackling as a whole has been an issue with this unit.
Over in Philadelphia linebacker was a distinct weakness in 2015. The situation hasn’t improved much in 2016 but the consistent shining star has been MLB. Outside of him the Eagles have seen disappointing play from Nigel Bradham after a bright start. Mychal Kendricks has improved after last year’s slump, but hasn’t lived up to the potential he showed at college. Late addition Stephen Tulloch hasn’t really seen the field.
The Eagles and Browns are mirror images when it comes to defensive backs. Watching the Browns defensive backs this year has been painful but their corners have provided reason for hope. The surprise star has been Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Calhoun was an undrafted free agent out of Minnesota who worked his way into the starting lineup and hasn’t looked back since. Slot corner Jamar Taylor has also stood out. Unfortunately for the Browns, Joe Haden’s play this year has been too inconsistent for him to be relied upon.
The Eagles, conversely, have seen impressive safety play with little support from the corners. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod form one of the better safety tandems in the league. Jenkins in particular excels both in coverage and against the run. The same can’t be said for corner. Jalen Mills has shown progress as a rookie that has defied his fifth round status, but he needs time to develop. Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll are stop gaps at corner.
As you can see the Eagles are clearly more talented in the majority of positions. The only place where the Browns have the edge is receiver. Terrelle Pryor has a legitimate chance to be a top 5 receiver and is a player the Eagles should definitely target should he become available in free agency.
Photos NJ.com and Clevelandbrowns.com