Though the preseason game was vanilla, Eagles say they learned something about Browns

Brandon Graham gets a hold of the Browns' Brandon Weeden on Aug. 24. The Eagles said they learned some things from that matchup that they can use on Sunday. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Brandon Graham gets a hold of the Browns' Brandon Weeden on Aug. 24. The Eagles said they learned some things from that matchup that they can use on Sunday. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 08, 2012

The NFL culture already prompts coaches to conceal game plans and schemes like ATM pass codes, and the Eagles and Cleveland Browns encountered a scheduling anomaly this summer that added even more paranoia to the preparation for Sunday's opener.

The teams played a preseason game Aug. 24 at Cleveland. That created a situation in which coaching staffs from the same tree - Browns head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Brad Childress, and defensive coordinator Dick Jauron are former Eagles assistants - spent an entire preseason game operating with the most basic offensive and defensive schemes possible.

The Eagles even treated their second preseason game, against the Patriots, as they normally would their third preseason game and played their starters for only one quarter of the 27-10 victory over the Browns. Many of Cleveland's starters played in just the first half, and the fourth quarter was mostly reserved for players who aren't on either roster anymore.

"There was some starter-on-starter action; I think both sides probably were a little more vanilla because we're playing two weeks apart," Eagles guard Evan Mathis said. "You can't rely on it too much."

David Sims, an Eagles safety who was acquired from the Browns last week, remembers the same message in Cleveland that was said in Philadelphia: Don't show much. Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden said "not a ton" can be taken from that meeting, and Eagles safety Kurt Coleman said the teams excluded more than they included.

So it raises the question of what value, if any, the game provided.

"For me, it's more personnel," Weeden said. "Just the personnel while we were in there as [a first team], I think for me, that is what I took out of it more than anything."

Their opponent's tendencies were what many Eagles said they learned two weeks ago. Even if schemes were not shown, players were still playing at full speed. Eagles tight end Clay Harbor said things can be learned just by how a player reacts in a certain situation.

So even if the Browns did not reveal much, the Eagles still took notice of how Weeden responded to pressure from a certain side or what move might fool a defensive back.

This theory doesn't hold with players who were absent, though, and significant players were held out of the game two weeks ago. Quarterback Michael Vick and defensive end Jason Babin didn't play for the Eagles. Running back Trent Richardson, the Browns' first-round pick who is expected to be a central part of Cleveland's offense, did not play at all in the preseason.

"There is enough out there to know that this guy is a great football player and will be a great football player at this level," Reid said.

Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said the Browns' schemes are similar to the ones Richardson thrived in during his career at Alabama, so the Eagles have enough of a basis to prepare even without seeing him.

Too big a deal could sometimes be made about formations and personnel. The benefit for the Eagles could be everything that surrounds the game. Home-field advantage is as much about the home team's comfort and familiarity as it is crowd noise bothering the visiting team.

The Eagles essentially underwent a test ride of the Cleveland road trip. They're going to stay in the same hotel, change in the same locker room, and play on the same field.

"It's not going to be anything new," Coleman said. "We've already experienced their stadium. Obviously the crowd isn't the same, but the experience is going to be the same."

The details that can be gleaned are as minute as preferable spots to run to, how the grass is cut, and the condition of the field. Harbor said that if the games were at the same time, there is an advantage to know where the lights shine or where the sun is at a certain hour.

So even if the Eagles will see more sophisticated schemes and hear a louder crowd, they'll at least have a basic understanding of the players and the trip in their memories.

"You just know what to expect," Harbor said. "There are no surprises. Mentally, you can just focus on the game."


Contact Zach Berman at zberman@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ZBerm.

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