Browns cross paths with QB Wentz again
CLEVELAND — Before he ever soared — or, in the case of this season, sputtered — for the Eagles, quarterback Carson Wentz was connected to the Browns. They passed on the chance to draft him. Today (1 p.m., FOX), their paths cross again.
Wentz has been inconsistent, turnover prone and barely looked like himself for much of this season. Still, he’s got the Eagles (3-5-1) leading the pathetic NFC East and they won’t be an easy matchup for the Browns (6-3), who just may be a legitimate playoff contender.
Rewind to 2016. The Browns were desperate for a franchise quarterback, and their front office at the time was not enthralled with Wentz. So they traded the No. 2 overall pick and a fourth-round selection to the Eagles for five picks, including first-rounders in 2016 and 2017. Philly took Wentz, and never looked back.
“Heck, yeah, I’d do it all over again,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who has stood by his QB through thick and thin. “He’s the guy we wanted back then, he’s still the guy we want today. And I love everything about Carson Wentz, and he’s a great leader for our team and our city.”
Wentz’s stats in 2020 are alarming for a player of his stature.
His 12 interceptions lead the NFL. He’s 32nd in completion percentage (58.2). His 73.1 rating is a career worst and he’s been sacked a league-high 35 times.
One of the knocks on Wentz is that he holds the ball far too long, waiting to make a play. That’s risky behavior, but at least this week Wentz won’t have to worry about Browns defensive star and league sacks leader Myles Garrett, who will miss the game after testing positive for COVID-19.
Losing Garrett is a tough blow for the Browns, who are in playoff contention for the first time in years.
But despite what Wentz’s numbers may show, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski respects his ability as a playmaker.
“It is not hard to see what he is capable of,” Stefanski said. “This year, he is making plays. You go back previous years, he is making plays. He is a unique talent in his size and his ability to move. He can make every single throw, so he presents a very, very real challenge for our defense.”
The Browns are coming off an ugly-yet-impressive win over the Houston Texans. With 60 mph wind gusts making it nearly impossible to throw, Cleveland turned to Nick Chubb (126) and Kareem Hunt (104) and both went over 100 yards rushing in the 10-7 victory.
With rain in the forecast, the Browns figure to stay grounded with their Chubb-Hunt punching combination again.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield may have played at Oklahoma, “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain.” But he’s never experienced anything like the blustery conditions Cleveland faced in its past two home games.
“The two windiest games I have ever been a part of,” he said.
With gusts over 50 mph in both games, Mayfield went a combined 24 of 45 for 254 yards in a loss to Las Vegas and win over Houston, but he acknowledged missing some throws because he didn’t play the wind correctly. He needs to fix that.
“Just learning that on some of these throws, you really had to put some mustard behind them and try and judge the wind as best as possible,” he said.
The Browns will have starting right tackle Jack Conklin and kicker Cody Parkey on Sunday against Philadelphia after both were activated from the COVID-19 list. The team made the moves on Saturday, capping a rough few days as the Browns navigated around positive tests and protocols.
Fullback Andy Janovich and offensive lineman Chris Hubbard will also miss Sunday’s game. They remain on the COVID list after testing positive for the virus.
Conklin has stabilized Cleveland’s line this season after being signed as a free agent from Tennessee. The Browns need him against a Philadelphia defense that has recorded 31 sacks — third-most in the NFL — and figures to pressure quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Parkey’s been another bright spot for the Browns, who signed him after releasing Austin Seibert following the season opener. He’s 11 of 12 on field-goal tries, and Parkey made a 41-yarder in whipping winds last week to help the Browns beat the Houston Texans 10-7.
Cleveland’s running game is both unique and unmatched. Chubb finished second to Tennessee’s Derrick Henry for the rushing title a year ago, and Hunt led the NFL as a rookie with Kansas City in 2017.
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz knows his unit will be facing its most daunting challenge this season.
“They know what they want to do in the run game,” Schwartz said. “Nothing sort of takes them out of it. There’s not a whole lot you can do scheme-wise that forces them to do something else. They are going to run it.”