It’s Week 3 of the NFL season, and the Eagles are still searching for their first victory.
Sunday’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals seems like a great chance to notch that. Or is it? Here’s what our Eagles writers think will happen in the 1 p.m. matchup.
Run the ball and stop the run.
Those words produce eyerolls in the hipper regions of NFL thought these days, but the Eagles don’t need to be cutting-edge this weekend. They need to win; any old way that can happen will be just fine. Look for style points later.
Run the ball — Cincinnati has given up an average of 185 yards on the ground through two games, 30th in the NFL, even worse than the Eagles. So take that some of that burden off Carson Wentz’s shoulders, which Doug Pederson is always talking about, and hand it to Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. Control the clock. Score touchdowns; don’t settle for field goals.
On defense, the Eagles aren’t facing an offensive line as good as what they faced Sunday against the Rams. Not even close. Get to rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who is really good and who can hurt you if you don’t get to him, but also make the Bengals one-dimensional, which has not been much of a problem thus far; running back Joe Mixon’s impressive talent has translated into 3.3 yards per carry, because he is getting hit pretty much at the same time he takes Burrow’s handoffs.
This game isn’t any sort of lock or gimme. Teams that are 0-2, both losses by double digits, don’t have locks or gimmes. Right now, we don’t know if Fletcher Cox (oblique) will play, which could be a very big deal. The Bengals haven’t been awful in their two losses; Burrow has given them a chance to win both times, and the games have come down to a few crucial plays. If the Eagles can’t make those few crucial plays this weekend, it is going to be a very long year and a very large reckoning for the people in charge.
Somehow, I think those plays get made.
Prediction: Eagles 26, Bengals 21
I’m not typically a believer in the theory that teams with their backs against the wall tend to play harder or more efficiently. While I agree that the 0-2 Eagles have more on the line than the 0-2 Bengals, who weren’t expected to compete for the postseason in Joe Burrow’s first season at quarterback, Sunday’s game will come down to the three pillars of football: scheme, personnel and execution.
The Eagles should have the advantage in all three categories. I emphasize should because Howie Roseman’s roster and Doug Pederson’s coaching have failed to live up to preseason expectations. At some point you are what your record says you are, and 0-3 would say that the Eagles aren’t good and aren’t likely playoff material.
But the Bengals should — there’s that word again — offer the opportunity to focus on the Eagles' perceived strength in the trenches. The offensive line is battered and will be without three starters, but last week’s improvement, and Cincinnati’s struggles against the run, give the Birds a decided advantage on the ground. This could be the first game Miles Sanders has more than 20 carries. The Bengals have been missing defensive tackle Geno Atkins in the middle, but even his presence can’t compensate for subpar linebackers.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' strength remains their front even if it hasn’t seemed that way so far. Fletcher Cox is questionable for Sunday, but the Bengals' O-line is among the worst in the NFL. Joe Mixon is averaging only 3.3 yards a carry, and Mixon isn’t a sub-4 running back. If the Eagles can keep the Bengals' run game in check, the third downs will be manageable and pressure more possible than it was Sunday. Burrow has shown poise so far, but he’s still a rookie, and has been reluctant to throw downfield.
The Eagles don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. They really have done much well to this point and look like a group without an identity on both sides of the ball. I don’t exactly feel confident in picking them. Reporting’s my game, not prognosticating — as many of you enjoy reveling in. But I see enough matchups that favor the Eagles, even if their long-running home-field advantage has been neutralized by the pandemic.
Prediction: Eagles 24, Bengals 16
Carson Wentz is struggling as badly as he has in his career.
His offensive line is missing three starters and counting.
One of his top pass-catching weapons, rookie Jalen Reagor, is going to miss at least a month and probably longer with a thumb injury.
Their top defensive lineman, tackle Fletcher Cox, is battling an oblique injury that could keep him out Sunday.
There is no shortage of reasons to believe the Eagles will lose to the Bengals and slip to 0-3.
And yet, I don’t think that will happen. Not only do I not think it will happen, but I also think the Eagles are going to win this game handily. And believe it or not, I had this as a loss in my preseason predictions.
The Bengals defense isn’t very good, particularly against the run. The Browns rushed for 215 yards against them last week. The Eagles should be able to do the same with Miles Sanders and Boston Scott.
Without Reagor, the Eagles are once again going to use a lot of 12-personnel, and Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert both should have big games against the Bengals.
Joe Burrow has thrown only one interception, but he also is averaging just 5.2 yards per attempt. With or without Cox, I think the Eagles will be able to get pressure on the rookie and force some mistakes.
My biggest concern is the Bengals' tall receiving corps. Three wideouts who are at least 6-foot-2. Two who are at least 6-4. The Bengals are going to go after 5-9 Avonte Maddox and 5-8 Nickell Robey Coleman with back-shoulder fades and 50-50 balls.
Prediction: Eagles 38, Bengals 17
The Eagles can’t lose this one, can they?
They certainly can’t afford to drop to 0-3 with a daunting stretch looming ahead if they hope to keep their season afloat, and I actually put some stock into a heightened sense of urgency mattering in these types of games.
I’m not bullish about picking the Eagles this week. The woes of the last two weeks have made it hard to figure out just how good this team is, but I think they’ll do enough to win Sunday. The inexplicable misses from Wentz and Co. will be cleaned up, the defensive line will finally flash some of the dominance expected before the season, and the Eagles will keep the season from submarining in September.
All that’s not to say there’s going to be a blowout or a comfortable win in which you’ll see Jalen Hurts taking garbage-time snaps in the fourth quarter while Burrow stews on the sideline. The Eagles haven’t given any reason to believe they’re actually miles better than the Bengals, although they’re much more talented on paper.
The Bengals have a porous offensive line and Burrow hasn’t been successful completing many deep passes, but his potential has been obvious so far. There’s a good chance that, at some point this season, Burrow will put everything together for a dominant performance. Maybe it will come because Bengals head coach Zac Taylor finally figures out exactly what situations Burrow thrives in (he’s been at his best in empty formations so far). If that happens this weekend, the Eagles' defensive secondary could be in trouble for the second week in a row.
The Bengals' run defense should have Sanders excited. Cincinnati has allowed 185 yards per game in the first two weeks of the season, including 215 rushing yards allowed to the Cleveland Browns last Thursday.
I think the Eagles give Sanders the true featured-back experience Sunday and he capitalizes for his second career game with more than 100 rushing yards. There’s no reason not to expect some offensive mistakes and possibly a coverage breakdown letting the Bengals hang around, but the Eagles will be the more desperate team and live to fight another week.
Prediction: Eagles 31, Bengals 28