|Well, That Went Well|
The first and most obvious of which is that Cleveland might just be a truly terrible football team, rather than just one that played a really bad game. The Browns did not get a first down until the second quarter. They didn't throw the ball past the first down yardsticks for the same amount of time. They called one of the dumber and least plausible fake punts you'll ever see, with no punter on the field to even give the defense anything to distract them with. Instead of letting QB Robert Griffin do the single thing that he might still do at an NFL level -- throw the deep ball on fly patterns to big and fast WRs that aren't very experienced at running routes, but are, well, big and fast, against suspect CBs -- they went sideways and slow developing, putting maximum pressure on an overmatched offensive line, in a road game against a loud crowd. Having seen this game, it wouldn't surprise me if the Browns go winless, and honestly, you couldn't have asked for a more welcoming opponent. Plus, the Browns auto-ejected out of the game with a gift safety when things were still tight in the third quarter. We should all find opportunities in life to be so abundant.
Oh, and the terrible team... also made sure to provide locker room material by slagging rookie Eagles QB Carson Wentz in the run-up to the game, because GM Paul DePodesta hasn't figured out that football guys play on emotion, unlike, well, baseball guys. But I digress.
The second point is that as easy as this was, it should have probably been easier. K Caleb Sturgis missed a makeable figgie in the first half, which would have helped. Wentz wasn't perfect in the red zone, and the WRs dropped a few balls, which is probably going to be a recurring problem. The Browns' D was a gift drive from the refs, but still something the defense should have managed. Despite being better than the Browns all over the field, at home, with a resounding opening drive, this was still a game in the third quarter. The Eagles aren't operating with a massive amount of wiggle room. They will need to be sharper than this, and soon, to play meaningful football when it gets colder.
Third... it was kind of refreshing to see a sanely managed football game. No speed outs to burn the defense. No poorly designed run plays, ran over and over again. No staredowns of the running back in the flat, as if the QB was daring the defense to jump the route for a pick six. If there's a single person in the fan base who misses Nero Kelly, they are either liars, masochists, or secret fans of the other NFC lEast franchises. HC Doug Pederson did not overwhelm with this game plan, but he also didn't outsmart himself, and the speed in which the defense was rushing Griffin at the end of the game was rarely seen in the Kelly Era, no matter what the score was.
Fourth, speaking of that pass rush, it was downright encouraging to see the defense look the way it did, for most of the game. As much as time of possession is an idiot stat -- it's number of plays defended, rather than how long you are standing on a field, that should concern you -- there's just something strong to be said about the fact that the unit looked like it had a clue. Defensive backs had swagger, defensive linemen shot gaps, linebackers didn't trail basic plays over and over again. Cleveland dropped a lot of catchable balls and is a terrible offensive unit, but it wasn't all them. This may be, for the first time in a long time, a defense that won't make you just think the worst is about to happen, every series.
Fifth and final, there's just no getting around the fact that Wentz looked absurdly good for his circumstances. If he had done this for all of August in a busy pre-season, sure, no surprise... but the dude only played in one game, and didn't look this good in that action. If you didn't know it was his first start, or that his last competitive game was in Southern Canada against future oil rig workers, you'd have never guessed it from his play or his stat line. 22 of 37 for 278, 2 touchdowns, no picks, just one carry for two yards, no lost fumbles, with enough drops and out of game conditions to cost him the 300 yard day that he should have had. One play in particular, where Wentz had to handle a live ball from a bad snap, but simply picked the damn thing up without panic and nearly made the play, was striking in its poise. In the two-minute drill before the first half, he showed more command and control of the situation than many Eagle QBs of my lifetime, and it was, well, his first freaking time doing it. He moved to extend plays, not to be jittery. He took too many hits, but didn't seem to court danger. He didn't look like a guy that was a time bomb of Waiting To Get Hurt. He seemed like he wanted to be there, and loves to play the game. It's all wildly appealing.
He reminded me, in a lot of ways, of... well, lots of players you'd want to QB your team in the long run of a franchise. Aaron Rodgers, but bigger. Andrew Luck, but with less turnover issues. Ben Roethlisberger, but with more willingness to get the ball out of his hands quickly. John Elway, in terms of just mow much heat the ball had on stick throws.
All of which is plainly and criminally irresponsible for a kid who did nothing more than beat a really bad team at home in his first start.
But your eyes tell you what your eyes tell you, and what your heart wants to hear.
With all of the unreasonableness of hope that being a sports fan can have.
Next week is Chicago, at night, on MNF, with the whole country wanting to see if he's for real. Against a team that's coming off a loss, who are better than the team they just beat.