Did you get the impression Friday night that the Philadelphia Eagles defense was playing at regular-season speed while the Cleveland Browns offense was caught going through the preseason motions?
“They’re playing fast right now and aggressive,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid about his defense after the game. “There were a couple of mistakes, but the mistakes were fast and furious and that’s what you want.”
The Eagles showed they possess excellent depth on their defensive line.
Philadelphia recorded four first-half sacks with only one coming from a starting defensive lineman. Their pressure meant trouble for the Browns’ offensive line, which, in turn, flustered their rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
Philadelphia employs the wide-9 technique, meaning the defensive ends line up wide of the opponent’s offensive tackles. It is the defensive end’s goal to stay wide and rush quarterback while at the same time overwhelming the offensive tackles with speed.
Tackles Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz had trouble with this pass rush. Not coincidently, the Detroit Lions use the wide-9 technique and the Browns had breakdowns in the preseason opener, too.
“The Eagles are very quick team, and that’s how they play,” Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “It is a part of their game plan and they use it to their advantage.”
“The Eagles defensive line is very quick and talented, so having good protection is key.”
No doubt Brandon Weeden had his struggles Friday night because of poor protection.
Still, he continues to stare down receivers. He has yet to fully sync with his top receivers in Josh Gordon and Greg Little. Yet those mistakes are expected from a rookie quarterback working with young receivers. There were also a few flashes of brilliance among the three. Gordon finished with three catches for 50 yards on four targets.
“I’m trying to go out there and make the plays I can,” Gordon said. “The fact that (Weeden and I) could connect a couple times, does help on the field.”
Still, it is hard to shake how overwhelmed the offensive line looked. This includes all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas. The last time Thomas had a bad game, Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace left a game with high ankle sprains.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur does not think it was the speed of the Eagles defensive line that caused the Browns’ offensive line so many problems.
“No. I don’t think it had anything to do with that,” Shurmur said. “We need to execute better, run the plays we call better and call better plays. That’s it. It’s real simple.”
There are still two weeks before the Browns play the Eagles again and this time the game counts. That’s two weeks to game plan for Philadelphia’s defense. In the preseason, teams don’t implement deep game plans and especially in this case, as they will play each other again real soon.
Turnovers and pre-snap penalties, especially, must be cleaned up. Those killed the Browns’ offense. Yet the one weakness to playing the wide-9 defense is defending the running game. Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson is expected to play in the opener, albeit in a limited role.
There are still two weeks to go to work on preparing more game-planned plays.
Are the Eagles a more talented team than the Browns? Yes. Did the Browns showcase numerous concerning issues Friday night? Yes. But I would expect a heighten intensity from the Browns’ first-team offense come Sept. 9.
Bottom line, the offensive needs to block better. Weeden’s sanity and his high ankles are counting on it.