Eagles-Browns Game Predictions: Three-And-Out
The Eagles host the Browns to kick off their regular season at 1 p.m. on Sunday. Here’s how we expect it to play out.
PLAYER I’LL BE WATCHING
Paunil: Carson Wentz.
Who won’t be watching him this weekend? He’s the first Eagles rookie quarterback to start a season opener since Davey O’Brien in 1939, and the first to play in the opening game since Randall Cunningham in 1985. I didn’t start covering the Birds quite that long ago, but I imagine Wentz’s debut is the most anticipated among rookie quarterbacks in Eagles history.
Because of the Birds’ favorable match-up on defense against the Browns’ offense, Wentz doesn’t need to be impressive on Sunday. And that’s a good thing, as he likely won’t be. His aggressiveness and inexperience could easily lead to multiple interceptions, and he’ll probably have early jitters all rookies encounter in their debut. Wentz has little chemistry with the rest of the first-team offense, but expect Doug Pederson to try to make things easy for his quarterback.
Wentz’s early throws will likely be swing passes, screens and other quick-hitters to get him into a rhythm. Although he hasn’t had many reps in Pederson’s system, Wentz will benefit from playing in a pro-style offense at North Dakota State featuring many similarities to the Eagles’ new scheme.
“It’s funny because, really, the offense I brought is very geared to his strengths,” Pederson said. “Play-action pass, movement [and] his ability to throw on the run, there wasn’t a lot of having to shift gears and favor his strengths. Everything I’ve done in the past really fits him and the type of quarterback he is.”
BLG: Dorial Green-Beckham
Josh took the obvious answer here, but I’m also interested to see how DGB does. The second-year pass catcher told me he expects to “play a lot” this weekend. He’s been spending time with the first team receivers in practice. DGB might not have such a huge role right away, though.
“Because we got him so late in training camp we’re still kind of giving him small doses of the playbook,” said Pederson. “We’re not giving him the whole thing yet. We are still putting him in on certain packages and certain routes and runs and mixing them up and just keeping it small for him. Until he can fully understand that, then we can give him more information each and every week.”
The Eagles desperately lack proven talent at receiver outside of Jordan Matthews. DGB has the chance to step up and make a name for himself in Philadelphia. It doesn’t hurt that his strengths match up nicely with Wentz’s aggressive mentality. Keep him an eye on him in the red zone. Not that he’ll be hard to miss at his size.
OVER/UNDER: 225 passing yards for Carson Wentz — Whaddya got?
Paunil: I’ll take the under.
The last few top-5 quarterbacks — Blake Bortles, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston — all didn’t make it to 225 passing yards in their debut, and I’m not even sure Wentz cracks 200. I expect Pederson to run the ball a lot, and with the Browns likely doing the same thing, viewers may be shocked by just how few plays the two teams run after three years of Chip Kelly in Philadelphia.
When it comes to touchdowns, however, I expect Wentz to fare better. He could easily throw a couple because of his two big targets in the red zone — Dorial Green-Beckham and Zach Ertz — and the Eagles’ three tight end sets may spell trouble for the Browns’ defense.
Once again, this receiving corps isn’t anything special. It’s hard to count on them being very productive. Even if Wentz looks great, he might have to deal with drops and targets who can’t get open on a regular basis. There isn’t really a consistent deep threat on this team so it’s hard to expect the rookie quarterback to pick up yards in big bunches even though he likes to push the ball down the field.
Paunil: Eagles 20, Browns 17.
It won’t be pretty, but I see the Eagles eking out a win in front of a fired up crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. The Birds probably won’t look very good, but the Browns don’t have much talent, particularly with Josh Gordon and two of their best pass-rushers — Armonty Bryant and Desmond Bryant — sidelined. I think Ryan Mathews will have a big game on the ground with the Eagles’ entire first-team offensive line on the field, which would really open things up for Wentz on play-action passes.
On the other side of the ball, I expect the Browns to get a couple of big plays off of Robert Griffin III’s legs and a screen pass or two. Still, I’ll be surprised if Cleveland consistently moves the ball on Jim Schwartz’s defense. The Eagles should be able to generate a good pass rush, and if they can’t prevent RGIII from escaping the pocket, that may not be the worst thing in the world.
When Schwartz used to game plan against Michael Vick, he wasn’t as concerned with keeping Vick inside the pocket as he was making sure Vick didn’t scramble to his left. Instead, Schwartz was fine with the left-handed quarterback being flushed out of the pocket to the right because Vick was much worse rolling out that way. It wouldn’t shock me if Schwartz is okay with the right-handed RGIII leaving the pocket to the left side of the offense.
BLG: Eagles 21, Browns 17.
Maybe Browns coach Hue Jackson will cook up a game plan that allows RGIII to catch the Eagles by surprise, but I don’t see it. Griffin could really struggle against a Philadelphia pass rush that projects to be fierce. The Eagles did a great job of rushing the quarterback in preseason. Yes, it was only preseason, but the Eagles have a legitimately talented defensive line. Brandon Graham has looked great this summer in his return to the 4-3 defense. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan should give the Browns’ interior offensive line fits. Though he might be elusive at times, Griffin is prone to taking sacks. He’s been taken down 101 times in 37 games played.
The Eagles’ defense should be able to hold up their end of the bargain so Wentz doesn’t have the carry the team to victory in his first career start. Speaking of the rookie quarterback, I expect him to flash some impressive talent at times. He also likely won’t be without rookie mistakes. Philadelphia’s coaching staff doesn’t plan to hold Wentz back so he’ll be allowed to be aggressive. That could result in big plays but it could also mean more turnovers.
Overall, I think Wentz makes a solid debut and the running game gets going enough to guide the Eagles to three touchdowns. The defense will then hold on for the win.