The Browns defense believes it can stack another quality performance together in Week 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Cleveland has played its best two defensive games of the season against its two previous opponents in the Las Vegas Raiders and Houston Texans, two teams that certainly don’t lack any offensive firepower but were limited to 23 combined points.
Many factors played into the low outputs. Sure, the windy conditions from both games made all passes a real challenge, but the Browns still found a way to stop the run and limit the short passing game against the Texans. Many Browns coaches and players also gave credit to the Week 9 bye week as an opportunity to get healthy and take a deep dive into what improvements can be made in the second half of the season.
“I felt like we were more consistent in terms of what we were doing,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said Thursday. “We have played a couple of games where the weather has been a factor. I think all those things – the self-scout, the guys getting better and the conditions – helped us to play the game last week.”
Now, the Browns are looking to stay consistent and shut down the Eagles, who have struggled to find production offensively but have dealt with injuries to key players across their offense — and some of those players could return to a full capacity Sunday.
Tight end Zach Ertz and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery have played in just seven combined games this season. Jeffery saw the field for the first time last week but didn’t catch a pass. Ertz was designated to return from injured reserve Monday and could be available for the first time in more than a month.
Running back Miles Sanders also missed three games due to injury, but when healthy, he’s proven to be one of the most efficient rushers in the league — he’s averaged 6 yards per carry this season, which ranks third among qualified players.
“They are a team that has fought through injuries, and they are getting a lot of guys back and a lot of their guys back this week,” Woods said. “To what level and to what extent, we do not know that right now. When you surround a quarterback of this caliber with more weapons, it definitely makes it a tougher situation for us defensively.”
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The defense’s biggest strength thus far in 2020 has been forcing turnovers, and that might be a big factor against quarterback Carson Wentz, who has thrown a league-high 12 interceptions. Wentz, who threw 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, is still a talented quarterback capable of winning games with both his arm and his legs — he has 206 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground in 2020 — and likely will be given a huge boost by the returns of some of his top receivers.
The Browns, however, will look to spoil those returns and force takeaways. They’re 5-1 in games with at least one takeaway, and they’ve been longing to add more to their 14 turnovers.
“I just feel like (Wentz) is trying to do as much as he can for the team in order for those guys to make plays,” Woods said. “At times, whether it is rush or whether they are covering their receivers well, he may probably have some throws that he wants back. I think that is where the inconsistencies come. When you watch him, he is really just trying to make plays for his team.”
The Browns aren’t making any preconceived notions about the Eagles’ 3-5-1 record, either. Many of those games didn’t feature several of the Eagles’ top offensive playmakers, and now, for the first time all season, Philadelphia might have a full arsenal of talent.
But the Browns defense is playing some of its best football. The confidence is high and the pieces seem to be coming together for more strong performances. Oh, and if there were any concerns about the weather, the current Cleveland forecast for Sunday is calling for rain and winds around 10 miles per hour.
No matter what the conditions are like and who’s playing, the Browns will feel ready to keep thriving.
“We are prepared for it,” Woods said. “We are going to have to play at our best to have a chance.”