There aren’t really many other places to go but up for the Philadelphia Eagles, who face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, FOX) following an embarrassing loss to the New York Giants in Week 10.
Despite the poor showing, they still are holding onto first place by a game in the NFC East over the Giants despite their 3-5-1 record. With New York on a bye, a half-game can be picked up or lost in Cleveland.
This isn’t your parents’ Browns team that the Eagles are visiting, though.
At 6-3, they already have as many wins as last year, paced by an offense that first-year head coach Kevin Stefanski has gotten the most out of.
While quarterback Baker Mayfield struggles with inconsistencies, Cleveland’s ground attack is one of the most potent in football behind the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
In a combined 14 games, the two have already eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark to spark the NFL’s fourth-best ground game.
Last week against the Houston Texans in blustery conditions, both Chubb and Hunt each received 19 carries, the former posting 126 yards and a touchdown, the latter adding 104 yards in a 10-7 victory.
It’s bad news for the Eagles, who were gashed open for 157 rushing yards in Week 10 against a Giants ground attack that isn’t nearly as threatening as Cleveland’s unit.
“It’s our biggest challenge of the season in the run game,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. “And how well we stop the run is going to go a long way to how well we play in this game.”
“They’re both downhill runners,” Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham added. “Both really good yards-after-contact guys. We have to make sure we wrap them up. We have to make sure we go out and play team football, team defense.”
Putting too much focus on the run could open the door for Mayfield to get back on track. The Browns passer has passed for 132 yards or fewer in three of his last four starts and still has the likes of Jarvis Landry to work with following Odell Beckham Jr.’s season-ending injury.
Mayfield’s opposite number, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, hasn’t instilled much confidence lately, either. He’s in the midst of his worst season as a pro and was mediocre, at best, against the Giants last week.
His inability to will the Eagles to a win against a previously 2-7 side led to questions about his habits in practice — a report from NFL Network’s Mike Silva revealing that Wentz’s slopiness during workouts and run-throughs at team facilities is bleeding into his play on Sundays.
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson shot that down immediately.
“Practice is where we perfect our craft,” Pederson said. “I don’t understand where that’s coming from, and we’re going to continue to coach and make sure we hold everyone accountable.”
“Are my practices perfect? No,” Wentz said. “That’s why it’s practice. But as far as sloppy practice habits and those things? For one, you guys are out there every day, and then you guys are asked to leave (after warm-ups and individual drills). So the media’s not even out there, so I don’t know where that’s coming from. But it is what it is. I know I’m not perfect, that’s why it’s practice, and I’ve got to be better all the time. But I’m always out there working, and I know everybody else is, so I haven’t seen any of that from myself or really from anybody. We’re out there busting our tails every day. Do mistakes happen? Absolutely. But is that something that I’ve seen or worried about from anybody else? No, I’m not.”
While Wentz’s performance in Week 10 didn’t inspire much confidence, the Eagles have historically been rusty coming out of their bye weeks under Pederson.
It’s also worth noting that Sunday at MetLife Stadium was the first real acclimation period Wentz had with a strengthened group of wide receivers, including the returning Alshon Jeffery.
That connection should see some more attention in Cleveland, but should the passing game struggle, expect to see a healthy dose of Miles Sanders and Boston Scott yet again after their strong showings against the Giants.