Tonight, the Cleveland Browns play their third preseason game when they host the defending Super Bowl Champions, the Philadelphia Eagles. To help preview a few topics from the Eagles’ perspective, we reached out to Brandon Gowton from Bleeding Green Nation and exchanged five questions with him. (Dan Lalich took the lead this week — thanks, Dan!) Enjoy!
Dan: “Are there any fans who still aren’t sold on Wentz? He had an up and down rookie year, then looked fantastic last season prior to getting injured. Playing devil’s advocate, the injury thing is starting to become a trend. Any worries about that going forward?”
Brandon: “I can’t think of any Eagles fans that I know who aren’t sold on Wentz. Everyone is all-in after watching him come very close to winning the regular season NFL MVP award last year. He’s just the real deal. The perfect blend of intelligence, athletic ability, and toughness. The latter of those three attributes can lead to him being a little reckless at times, yes. But it also leads to him making some incredible plays that very few other quarterbacks in the league can pull off. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how he performs in Year 3 as he comes off his ACL/LCL surgery. The early indications are positive considering he’s looked healthy and sharp during offseason practices. I’m very excited to see what he has in store this year. This is his revenge tour after coming so close to finishing out a special 2017 season.”
Dan: “How big of a shock was Nick Foles in the playoffs last year? Prior to that stretch, how did fans in Philly feel about him, given the mixed results of his earlier run with the team? I assume now it’s just a matter of time until he gets a statue.”
Brandon: “The biggest Foles fans in the world can’t reasonably say they expected him to play as well as he did in the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl. After mightily struggling towards the end of December (46.9 completion rate, 48.2 passer rating, 4.1 yards per attempt in his final 49 attempts of the regular season), Foles went on to play like one of the best quarterbacks in post-season history. It’s often been said that Foles is a high variance quarterback and there is no greater example than that.
Foles had a number of believers heading into the playoffs. People pointed back to the 2013 season when he threw 27 touchdowns to only two interceptions. I was admittedly more skeptical considering the stats didn’t always reflect the true quality of Foles’ performance. Given his struggles at times, I don’t think I was totally off base, but I clearly doubted him too much.
There’s no question Foles will always be a legend in Philly. But his accomplishments must be remembered in the context of how Wentz left the team in great position to succeed without him. All Foles had to do was beat a listless Giants team that ended up with the No. 2 overall pick and an uninspiring Raiders squad to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. He didn’t even play well in one of those two games. From there, the Eagles had two straight home games before going on to play and defeat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Foles was able to do his part thanks to Wentz setting the stage very nicely for him.”
Dan: “After the Cavs won the championship in 2016, it felt like a weight was lifted off of the city of Cleveland. I wouldn’t say expectations went down for fans, but there was definitely a sense of “we got one, I can die happy now.” Is that true for Philadelphia fans, or is there a different vibe?”
Brandon: “100% true. This was one of my first tweets after watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl live from the stands in Minnesota:
Literally thought I might never live to see the Eagles win a Super Bowl. I just saw it in person and I still can’t believe it’s real.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) February 5, 2018
For all you Lord Of The Rings nerds out there, I recently compared the Eagles winning their first Lombardi Trophy to when Aragorn freed The Dead Men of Dunharrow after they fulfilled their promise to help him defend Minas Tirith. The city of Philadelphia can finally rest in peace.
With that said, the hunger to repeat is very much real. Or it should be, at least. The Eagles have a real window here to do something that’s only been done once before in the salary cap era. Repeating won’t be easy, of course, but it doesn’t seem impossible considering the Eagles arguably have one of the best quarterback/head coach/general manager triumvirates in the league.”
Dan: “What do you think are the strongest and weakest position groups on the Eagles?”
Brandon: “Assuming Wentz is at full health, the strongest position is quarterback. He was right in the mix for MVP last year. Then his backup won Super Bowl MVP. Third string quarterback Nate Sudfeld has had a strong preseason and looks like he could at least be a quality backup in this league. He’ll likely fill that role behind Wentz when Foles leaves after this season.
Putting QB aside, since I’ve talked about that a lot already, I’d say defensive end. Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Steven Means, and Josh Sweat is a deep lineup of pass rushers. The Eagles led the NFL in total pressures generated last season (per Pro Football Focus) and their pass rush rotation is a big reason why.
Some (such as maybe Mychal Kendricks) would point to linebacker as the weakest position, but my biggest concern is the defensive tackle spot right now. Fletcher Cox is an absolute beast but I don’t even know who’s going to be starting next to him. Usually it would be Timmy Jernigan but he’s going to start the season on the non-football injury list and it’s unclear if he’ll even play this year. Haloti Ngata and Destiny Vaeao aren’t difference makers. The fourth defensive tackle spot might be won by an undrafted rookie free agent. The Eagles were able to win the Super Bowl largely thanks in part to the strong play they got from the trenches. It’s disconcerting to see a weak spot on one of those units.”
Dan: “Who is one under-the-radar player you think Browns fans should be looking out for on Thursday?”
Brandon: “Shelton Gibson is having a great summer. The 2017 fifth-round pick has amassed seven catches for 167 yards (23.9 average) and two touchdowns through two preseason games so far. He’s a big-play threat who has the ability to simply run by opposing cornerbacks. He’s not just a one-tricky pony in that regard, though, as his route-running has improved and he can get open underneath. Gibson could prove to be pesky for the Browns to cover.”
Dan: “BONUS question — How many games do you realistically expect the Browns to win this year, and why is it 19?”
Brandon: “I’m going to go slightly under 19 and say … 4 or 5. It’s hard for me to expect a team that’s gone 1-31 over the last two years and has a very suspect coaching staff to take a massive leap this year. For the sake of Browns fans, I hope I’m wrong. I’m just having a tough time going over my projection after looking at their 2018 schedule.”
Thanks again to Brandon for taking the time to answer our questions.