Eagles vs. Browns: 5 Biggest Keys for Philadelphia

Randy JobstSenior Analyst ISeptember 7, 2012

Eagles vs. Browns: 5 Biggest Keys for Philadelphia

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    It's almost here. The Philadelphia Eagles regular season kicks off on Sunday as the travel to Cleveland to face off with the Browns. It's a huge game for the Eagles, even though they are facing a team they are expected to easily beat on the road. The Eagles have a brutal first half of the schedule, including games against the Ravens, Steelers, Giants, Lions and Falcons.

    This is a game the Eagles have to win because it gets a lot tougher from here on out. When you get handed a winnable game like this one to start the season off, you have to take advantage of it. The Eagles have the Ravens next week and the Giants in Week 4. A 1-3 start is very realistic if the Eagles drop Sunday's contest against the Browns.

    The Eagles are easily the more talented team. It will be just a matter of execution and discipline. Here are the five biggest keys for Philadelphia to start the season off on the right foot.

1. Get an Early Lead

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    I should just make this the No. 1 key for Philadelphia every game. This defense is predicated on getting a lead early and teeing off on the quarterback. The wide-9 is built to thrive in obvious passing downs. 

    Offenses can counter the high-octane pass rush with a solid running game.  It’s difficult to stick with the run when you fall behind very early. It gets harder as the lead grows.

    Obvious passing downs are the Eagles defense’s best friend. They can rotate their eight or nine active defensive linemen all day and let them pin their ears back and attack the quarterback.  The more the Eagles can do this, the better the defense will be. When this pass rush gets hot, they are unstoppable.

2. Michael Vick Plays Smart

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    The Eagles offense, and team in general, is night and day with Michael Vick under center. The Eagles went 7-3 last season in games that he started and finished. They went 1-5 when he either didn’t start or was knocked out of the game.

    With Vick it isn’t a matter of being undersized or taking off and making plays with his feet. Vick spends too much time in the pocket instead of just throwing the ball away or dumping it off to a back. The longer he spends in the pocket trying to turn nothing into something the more likely he is to take the shot that knocks him out of commission.

    Vick had 18 turnovers last season. You can attribute most of those to dumb quarterback play. He had a few plays where he rolled out and threw across his body to a receiver who wasn’t open on the other side of the field. Vick is a great athlete with a cannon for an arm. Sometimes it gets the best of him as his overconfidence hurts the team.

    Vick is leading an offense that should put up anywhere from 27-35 points against the Browns defense on Sunday. He doesn’t need to force throws when the play isn’t there. Eventually the big plays will be there, patience is the key for Vick on Sunday.

3. Contain the Run

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    The Browns were 28th in the NFL last season in rushing. On top of that Trent Richardson has yet to be a full participant in practice this week. Without Richardson, the Browns are probably the most inept rushing offense in the NFL. It’s a good test for the Eagles rushing defense that finished 16th in the NFL last season.

    If the Eagles struggle to contain the run on Sunday it could be a long season. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks were brought in to bolster a very mediocre run defense. This is their first test and it’s a very easy test.

    The running game is the one Achilles' heel of the Eagles that really stands out. If they get lit up on Sunday against the likes of Brandon Jackson and Montario Hardesty, you can bet Juan Castillo is going to feel a little pressure in the upcoming weeks.

    It’s also crucial for the Eagles to stuff the run because they are facing a rookie quarterback. You give a rookie an effective running game and you make life very easy for him. Very few rookie quarterbacks have early success in the NFL without that running game to lean on. Taking it away will make this game a breeze for Philly.

4. Run the Ball

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    What's the best way to protect the quarterback and create big plays in the passing game? The running game, of course. The Eagles have four solid backs in LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. Three should be active this week and all three should get their share of carries.

    Last year the Eagles gave carries to all three of their running backs (McCoy, Lewis and Ronnie Brown), and will look to do the same on Sunday.

    When you can run the ball consistently, you slow down the pass rush. The defensive front has to adjust to the running game and focus less on the pass rush off the snap. It also forces the safeties to come up, which is a risky move with a speedster like DeSean Jackson.

    The Eagles offense is predicated off of the yards after catch ability the wide receivers have. The running game is just an added bonus. The type of bonus that makes this offense impossible to slow down.

    The Browns were the 30th ranked run defense in the NFL last season. This is not only a key factor in the game, but an area the Eagles should have a lot of success in on Sunday. Don’t make it tough on your offense, Andy, run the ball!

5. Turnovers

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    Turnovers are the key in any football game. The Eagles were 2-0 last season when they had fewer turnovers than their opponent and 3-4 when they had more turnovers. It should come as no surprise that a team that only had fewer turnovers than their opponent twice during the whole season didn't make the playoffs.

    It starts and ends with Michael Vick. He had 18 turnovers last season in 13 games. He had just two starts when he didn't turn the ball over. The Eagles won both games by a combined score 54-14.

    The defense doesn't have to go up against a short field for the offense while the Eagles offense can finish out drives. That leads to more points for the Eagles and less for the opposition.

    The Eagles' scoring margin went up by five when they didn't turn the ball over. The NFL is a league of parity. An extra five points is a huge deal. That five-point difference would have been enough for the Eagles to win an extra three games last season.

    Red-zone woes are bad, but turnovers issues are season killers. If the Eagles can win the turnover battle against the Browns on Sunday, they should win even if they fail on the other four keys. That is how important turnovers are in the NFL.