This Sunday, the Cleveland Browns open up the regular season on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles. To help preview the Week 1 contest, I reached out to Adam Hermann, one of the new co-managers from Bleeding Green Nation, and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “In a stunning turn of events, Carson Wentz became the Eagles' new starting quarterback to begin the season. Has he even had any time with the first-team offense this offseason? Would you have rather seen Chase Daniel get the start after the departure of Sam Bradford?”
Adam: “Wentz’s first reps with the first-team offense came Monday, just six days before Week 1. That on its own would be enough to make most people shelve him for at least a few weeks so he can learn the offense a bit more, and feel more comfortable with the first-team personnel. But Doug Pederson has made Wentz his starter, and now Wentz will essentially be learning on the fly after one week of practice and a handful of drives against third-string players in early August.
When I watched Wentz’s professional debut against the Buccaneers in the preseason, the thing that struck me about him was his athleticism. For such a big body, he’s extremely mobile, and he’s quick to boot. I think that’s part of what makes the Eagles so ready to make him their starting quarterback: while it was against third-stringers, he made free-rushing defensive linemen miss, and his roll-out ability extended at least a few plays. I think the team’s thinking is, if things go wrong on a play, this isn’t the kind of player who will freeze in the pocket and rack up the sacks. This is a player who can make a play. He reminds me a lot of Ben Roethlisberger, albeit with far less accuracy and, of course, an exponentially shorter track record.
There’s a tremendous amount of work to be done with his mechanics, from his footwork to his aim and ball speed, but I think starting Wentz is the right decision.”
Chris: “Right tackle Lane Johnson's status for Week 1 seems to be up-in-the-air as Philadelphia awaits news on his suspension -- but right now, he is penciled in to get the start. Could you tell us how the Eagles' offensive line would look/be shuffled is Johnson starts, versus if he ends up getting suspended? Either way, if there is an area of weakness on the line, where would it be?”
Adam: “As far as anyone can tell, as of Monday, Johnson and head coach Doug Pederson both expect Johnson to be good to go at right tackle against Cleveland on Sunday. At the end of the preseason, Allen Barbre moved from left guard to right tackle in Johnson’s place, while rookie Isaac Semualo and veteran Stefen Wisniewski rotated looks at left guard.
Looking at the line as it stands with Johnson in, an area of weakness would be the left side, specifically the B-gap between Barbre and veteran Jason Peters. Peters, 34, has had a hard time staying healthy over the past two years, and while he’s been one of the best tackles in the league during his time in Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine him not regressing even more this season. Barbre, meanwhile, is the weakest of the five starters from a pure talent perspective.
The team’s offensive line is likely a slightly-below-average group of players, for the time being. The problems come when starters head out. Their backups either aren’t very experienced (like Seumalo and Halipoulivaati Vaitai), or aren’t very good (like Wisniewski and Matt Tobin.)”
Chris: “What would you consider to be the Eagles' biggest weakness defensively?”
Adam: “The Eagles’ defense figures to be the better of the team’s units this year, but right now, the linebacker position isn’t terribly deep.
Jordan Hicks had an impressive rookie season before it was cut short with an injury, but he’s being asked to captain the entire linebacking corps this year as a 24-year-old. He seems up to the task, but it could backfire. Next to him, Mychal Kendricks, who used to be one of the Eagles’ most coveted young defenders, has earned the ire of defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz throughout the preseason. Kendricks has an instinctual approach to the position, rather than a cerebral one, and he can often over pursue on run plays. The athleticism is there, but he has to prove himself to Schwartz. Nigel Bradham, the team’s third starter, is a solid if not exceptional strong side linebacker who has previously thrived in Schwartz’s system, but still has to prove himself.
Behind those three, veteran Stephen Tulloch, 31, and waiver wire acquisition Kamu Grungier-Hill don’t inspire much confidence, so most of the heavy lifting will fall on the team’s three starters.”
Chris: “Chip Kelly has been replaced by Doug Pederson. This preseason, what type of offense did Pederson try to run in Philly?”
Adam: “Doug Pederson is a devoted disciple of Andy Reid and Mike Holmgren. In Kansas City, he ran a West Coast offense very much patterned after the early Donovan McNabb years in Philadelphia, which means more under-center snaps than the Eagles’ previous seasons with Chip Kelly’s tempo offense. In Kansas City, he had tons of talent at the running back position, and he liked to use Charcandrick West and Jamaal Charles as passing options out of the backfield. Expect more of the same with the age-less Darren Sproles this year.
Elsewhere, the Eagles have tons of talent at the tight end position, and Pederson puts it to good use. One wrinkle Pederson used quite a bit in the preseason, and will likely use more in the regular season, is deploying three-tight end sets, with Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton all on the field to block or catch. On the team’s first touchdown of the preseason, the three tight ends lined up on the right side of the line and blocked Ryan Mathews’ way into the end zone.
While their trade for Dorial Green-Beckham remedied their need for a red zone threat, the Eagles still don’t have a ton of talent at wide receiver, and Carson Wentz is still a rookie, so Pederson will be using plenty of his other weapons to move the ball.”
Chris: “For once, Browns fans are very humble heading into this season -- we think Cleveland will be one of the league's worst teams, primarily because of our defense. However, we look at Philadelphia as almost our NFC counterpart, and one who could be beaten in Week 1. Are Philadelphia fans shooting high or low with their expectations in 2016?”
Adam: “Great question. Before Saturday’s Sam Bradford trade, Eagles fans were largely looking at this season as a throw-away year, one in which they would enjoy watching the defense, not really care much about the offense because of Bradford’s lame-duck status, and look forward to an 8-8 finish in a weak division.
But with Carson Wentz’s time upon us, it feels fair to say Eagles fans are split on season expectations. There is definitely a camp out there expecting the Eagles to produce a (no offense) Browns-like season, fighting to stay out of the league basement by Week 14. There also, however, seems to be a camp with enough confidence in Wentz’s playmaking ability, and the team’s defense, to think the Eagles could win six or seven games to kick off the Pederson-Wentz era.
Personally, I think this is a six-win team. I’m higher on Wentz than some, and I think having big receivers like Dorial Green-Beckham and Jordan Matthews, along with a tight end like Zach Ertz, will let Wentz make more good plays than bad this year, although I would put his expected interceptions above 18.5. I also think the defense is very, very talented. Like the Seahawks did a few years back, if the Eagles want to become Super Bowl contenders in the next half-decade, they would do well to recognize that the bulk of their young talent is on the defensive side of the ball, and form an identity around that unit.”
Thanks again to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.