The Bengals have gaping opportunities for exploitation by the Eagles in the Cincinnati secondary, and there are offensive line weaknesses to exploit, too— if only the Birds' offense can be patient enough to expose and attack them.
Tonight will reveal to us who's zooming whom…
DT Geno Atkins (#97, 6-1, 300 lbs. out of Georgia, drafted 4th round in 2010) could end up neutralizing all of the possible advantages the Eagles may have in targeting the Bengals' backside defense.
"I think if you're Cincinnati, you've got to take that Eagles run game away and get it between that third-and-three and third-and-eight kind of look," says Mike Mayock, the analyst for Thursday night's telecast. "And that's where defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is at his best."
The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks per pass. The Eagles are the sixth worst in the league allowing sacks per pass. End of matchup.
You would think that Zimmer, the highly-regarded Bengals DC, would eat rookie quarterbacks alive. But his 6-8 record against them (and 0-2 in the playoffs) in his five seasons with the Bengals shows the volatility of the unknown factor. And like analyst Solomon Wilcots of The NFL Network and CBS says, there's just not a lot of tape for Zimmer to work off because Foles has played in just five games and four starts.
"Pressure up the middle, pressure in his face, flush him," Wilcots says. "Get him on the run. Make him change his launch point. I don’t know if he's that good on the run. See how accurate he is when he has to run for his life."
"This one comes down to the Bengals defensive line— relentless. Foles is a rookie. You have to hit him early. If you hit him early, confidence goes down, accuracy goes down, and the interception potential goes up. … They should be able to do what other teams have done against the Eagles. They don't lead the league in sacks for nothing."
The Eagles offensive line, staggered early in the season, has regrouped with the help of its starting guards, former Bengal Evan Mathis on the left and nine-year vet Jake Scott, picked up a month ago, on the right. But the Eagles are playing with their backup tackles.
"Look at it this way," Mayock says. "Foles was sacked six times last week. All the sacks were with four-man pressures. So they struggled with a very vanilla four-man front pressure protecting the quarterback. So when you start bringing all the different scheme looks that Zim brings to the table, if Philly can't establish a run game I think it's going to be a long night for them."
It doesn't look like Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (concussion) is going to play, but rookie Bryce Brown is just 143 yards shy of McCoy's rookie rushing record. The 6-0, 223-pound Brown, a seventh-rounder from Kansas State, ripped the Cowboys for 169 yards two weeks ago and went for 178 the week before that against Carolina before the Bucs stopped him. The Bengals figure to do much the same as Tampa Bay: make Foles beat them.
The Bengals aren't the Bucs at No. 1 vs. the run, but they are a very good 11th against the rush, and in the six games since Pittsburgh's Jonathan Dwyer gouged the Bengals for 122 yards on just 17 carries, they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher.
"I can't imagine Andy Reid is going to let Foles sit there in the pocket against this defensive line," Mayock says. "I see screens, bootlegs, draws, anything to get him out of pocket and change his launch point. It's going to come down to how the other players behind the line play. Everybody has to do their job with the checkdowns and make sure they hold it to two or three yards. Like Marvin Lewis says, 11 guys have to play defense."
And Mayock really likes one of those guys.
"Geno Atkins has turned into a beast. When I turn on the tape, I see John Randle," Mayock says of the Hall of Famer. "He's that quick, explosive three technique that is really special."
But if the Eagles can get any kind of penetration into the Bengals' secondary, look out…
Here is the common thread of the current complaint of the Bengals' fan base:
Unbelievable if you ask me. That's the end of the Bengals playoff run. At least it's been a good season though and a great building block for next year. The Bengals are going to be great next year if they can draft right."
"Well, you lose Johnathan Joseph to free agency, lose Hall to injury… Sign a corner in Clements who lost his step 3 years ago, have Pacman who's injury prone himself and is only good enough to be a # 3 corner at best, and trade McDonald, who's basically practice squad material, for Jennings, who wasn't good enough for Seattle. What else? Training camp fodder Brandon Ghee? In addition to Joseph, they also let Morgan Trent and Jonathan Wade walk. I think that the Bengals were the only NFL team to enter the season with only 4 CB's."
Philly should have no problem establishing the run, but at some point it's going to have to throw the ball. Already without DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek, time in the pocket will be even more vital to Foles' success than normal.
Kyle Cook, the Bengals' starting center, suffered a high-ankle sprain in the preseason and has yet to play one snap in the regular season. Left guard Travelle Wharton, the team's first free-agent signing, went down with a season-ending knee injury on the opening series of the preseason opener.
Instead of making excuses, the Bengals filled those voids and put together one of the top offensive lines in the NFL this season. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bengals have the fourth-best offensive line in the league, trailing only the 49ers, Patriots and Saints. Cincinnati's line is rated the second-best in pass protection and 16th in run blocking.
Cincinnati's defensive line is the best pass-rushing unit in the league, boasting an Adjusted Sack Rate of 8.7 percent (h/t Football Outsiders). That could be trouble against the Eagles' porous offensive line—a makeshift unit that's been held together by tape and glue all season.
See you again about an hour before kickoff Thursday night for Livefyre Game Commentary…