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Eagles 2020 Opponent Preview: Cleveland Browns

Bleeding Green Nation’s 2020 Philadelphia Eagles opponent preview series continues today with their Week 11 enemy: the Cleveland Browns. (Previously: Week 8 preview.)

“This is the year the Browns are finally gonna be good again!” has been a thing for multiple offseasons now. Naturally, such optimistic expectations have never actually come to fruition. Cleveland is still looking for their first winning season since they went 10-6 back in 2007.

But maybe this is the year for real this time? If so, the Browns are going to need Baker Mayfield to break out of his sophomore slump that saw him finish with a 78.8 passer rating. The Browns are counting on former Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator and new head coach Kevin Stefanski to be the guy to get the No. 1 overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft back on track.

Investing resources in the offensive line should also help Cleveland’s cause. The Browns drafted Jedrick Wills at No. 10 overall this year in addition to signing Jack Conklin away from the Tennessee Titans. If the blockers can buy Mayfield time to throw, he obviously has some weapons to work with in Odell Beckham Jr. (who should be healthier this year), Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Austin Hooper, Kareem Hunt, and David Njoku.

Stefanski made an intriguing defensive coordinator hire by on-boarding former San Francisco 49ers defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator Joe Woods. Prior to his success in San Fran, Woods served as the Denver Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2017 (10th in DVOA) and 2018 (5th in DVOA). The Browns have some promising young talents for Woods to work with in Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward. Their defense might be able to join the offense in taking a step forward.

I’m suddenly finding myself thinking the Browns’ outlook might be brighter than I realized. Of course, I say that knowing it could be another year where the offseason hype doesn’t match the on-field performance. Everything really hinges on what happens with Mayfield. Does he get back to his rookie season promise or is he just the under-performer he was in 2019?

Looking at the Eagles’ schedule, the Browns matchup kind of falls into “trap game” territory. The Birds will (probably) be coming off a Week 10 win against the New York Giants and might fall victim to looking ahead to that tough three-game stretch against the Seattle Seahawks (Week 12), Green Bay Packers (Week 13), and New Orleans Saints (Week 14). The Eagles shouldn’t overlook their trip out to Cleveland.

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Read on for more Browns insight from our SB Nation colleagues over at Dawgs By Nature.

Notable free agency additions: QB Case Keenum, TE Austin Hooper, RT Jack Conklin, DT Andrew Billings, DE Adrian Clayborn, S Karl Joseph. The biggest addition was Jack Conklin, who immediately becomes the team’s starting right tackle. Austin Hooper also replaces David Njoku as the starting tight end, although Njoku is still with the club too. The rest of the team’s free agency additions helped improve depth at key positions.

Over/under 10 wins? Just under 10 wins, finishing with a record of 9-7. The offense could be one of the best in the NFL when they start clicking on all cylinders, but it’s also hard to build that chemistry right away in a pandemic offseason with a new head coach, new systems, etc. The defense has good depth on the defensive line and at cornerback, but lacks experience at linebacker.

Rookie I’m most excited about: Jedrick Wills. He was the 10th overall pick in this year’s draft and will be the Browns’ new left tackle. No more Greg Robinson? Thank you! Wills does have to make the big adjustment from playing right tackle in college to playing left tackle in the NFL, but new offensive line coach Bill Callahan is the right guy to coach up that transition.

Best position battle heading into training camp: I don’t know if it’s the best, but the biggest position battle is at right guard. Cleveland is set with four solid starters at left tackle, left guard, center, and right guard. When you have four solid linemen like that, you can afford for the fifth guy to play better because of the talent around him. We don’t know who that guy will be yet between Wyatt Teller, Drew Forbes, Chris Hubbard, or maybe some other dark horse candidate.

Biggest storyline heading into training camp: Trying to get Baker Mayfield back on track. Fans have not soured on him at all, he’s still our franchise quarterback who we love. However, he did not have a good sophomore season, and his level of chemistry with Odell Beckham was never quite there in 2019. The hope was that the duo could build that chemistry this offseason, but the pandemic has prevented that from happening yet. Seeing the work that new head coach Kevin Stefanski did with Kirk Cousins last year, a big goal is to fine-tune Mayfield’s craft again, let him work out of playaction, and get the ball to Beckham more.

Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: There has been a lot of buzz about all of the team’s offensive talent, or signing Myles Garrett to a record-breaking contract extension. General manager Andrew Berry has addressed as many holes as he could in one offseason. The big one left, though, is at linebacker. It’s easy to forget that former starters Joe Schobert and Christian Kirksey were not re-signed, and not much was done to replace them other than hoping some young players can develop into gems.

Notable injuries heading into training camp: There aren’t any that we’re aware of yet. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry both had offseason surgery. The last we heard, Beckham was 100% and ready to go, while Landry was on track but might be limited to begin training camp.

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