For the first time since 1999, the Eagles find themselves still without a win heading into Week 4 after Sunday’s ugly 23-23 tie with the Bengals.
How did they blow a golden opportunity for a victory against the Bengals? Glad you asked. Here are my five top reasons:
The Eagles committed 11 penalties, their most since Week 16 of the 2018 season. The costliest one was left guard Matt Pryor’s inexcusable false start that aborted Jake Elliott’s 59-yard field goal try with 19 seconds left in overtime. But there were others.
Earlier in overtime, right tackle Lane Johnson also was flagged for a false start immediately after Carson Wentz’s best pass of the day, a 30-yard completion to tight end Zach Ertz, gave the Eagles a first down at the Cincinnati 43. Two plays later, left guard Nate Herbig was called for a hold on Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader, which negated a 10-yard scramble by Wentz that would have given the Eagles a first down at the Cincinnati 32.
In the second quarter, Corey Clement was called for a dumb unnecessary-roughness penalty when he inexplicably jumped on the pile well after the whistle following an 19-yard punt return by the Bengals' Alex Erickson. The return and the penalty set up the first of Randy Bullock’s three field goals.
The Bengals' first touchdown drive late in the first half was aided by two Eagles penalties, a neutral-zone infraction by Brandon Graham, who otherwise played an outstanding game, and a pass-interference penalty in the end zone by safety Jalen Mills that set up Joe Burrow’s 1-yard TD pass to Tee Higgins. Safety Rodney McLeod also was flagged for a late hit on Higgins that aided another Bengals scoring drive.
Another tough day for Wentz
Yeah, I know. He lost tight end Dallas Goedert to an ankle injury in the first quarter and DeSean Jackson to a hamstring injury in the second quarter. He also was missing Jalen Reagor.
But you play the cards you’re dealt. On a day when Bengals rookieBurrow played like a poised veteran, Wentz again looked like a deer-in-headlights rookie, making poor decisions and bad throws.
He threw two more interceptions, one that gave the Bengals the ball in Eagles territory and set up a Bullock fourth-quarter field goal. He also overthrew a wide-open Miles Sanders on third-and-10 early in the fourth quarter. Sanders got a favorable matchup against rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither and had him beat by 3 yards. It would have been a touchdown. You don’t get many easy chances like that. You can’t afford to blow them.
The interception that set up Bullock’s field goal was just an awful throw to Ertz. It was supposed to be a back-shoulder fade. Instead, Wentz threw it inside, directly to the player covering the Eagles tight end, defensive back LeShaun Sims.
He almost had another pass intercepted in overtime when he underthrew rookie wide receiver John Hightower, who was open. And if he had led wide receiver Greg Ward a little better on that third-and-7 slant pass on the Eagles' last possession of overtime, we wouldn’t be sitting here today debating Doug Pederson’s decision to punt.
Through three games, Wentz is dead last in the league in passing with a 63.9 passer rating. He’s tied with the Vikings' Kirk Cousins for most interceptions. He’s last in yards per attempt (5.6) and 29th in completion percentage (.598).
The value of Goedert
Wentz lost two valuable pass-catching weapons in the first half when Goedert left with an ankle injury in the first quarter and Jackson went out in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
But Goedert’s loss also impacted the Eagles' run game. He is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Given that the Eagles are missing three starters on their offensive line, and a fourth, 38-year-old left tackle Jason Peters, appears to be running on fumes, they need Goedert’s in-line blocking skills even more than they need his receiving skills.
Case in point: the Eagles' first drive of the second half. Had a second-and-6 at the Cincinnati 30. Ran a jet sweep to Ward out of a two-tight end set with Zach Ertz and Goedert’s replacement, Richard Rodgers, lined up next to right tackle Johnson.
Bengals defensive end Carl Lawson, who was lined up on Johnson’s outside shoulder, blew up the play when he bolted into the backfield untouched and tackled Ward for a 6-yard loss. It appeared that Rodgers was responsible for Lawson and blew the assignment. Lawson also beat Rodgers and Ertz earlier in the game on a run by Sanders.
Sanders finished with 95 yards on 18 carries. But 64 of those yards came in the first half, including back-to-back 11- and 14-yard runs on the Eagles' first possession, before Goedert got hurt. Sanders had just 31 yards on 10 carries in the second half.
The Bengals converted just three of 13 third-down chances. But one of the three they did convert – a third-and-15 midway through the fourth quarter – was huge and prevented the Eagles from winning the game in regulation.
Graham made a terrific play on running back Joe Mixon, tackling him for a 5-yard loss on a first-down play at the Cincinnati 45-yard line. After a 20-yard completion to Higgins was reversed when replay showed he had stepped out of bounds before making the catch, the Eagles just needed a stop on third-and-15 to force a Cincinnati punt and get the ball back.
Jim Schwartz went to his picket-fence defense, rushing three and putting seven players across the field at the first-down sticks. Since Schwartz became the Eagles' defensive coordinator in 2016, his units had given up just four first downs on 85 previous third downs of 15 yards or longer.
This ended up being No. 5. Running back Giovanni Bernard took a short toss from Joe Burrow and ran 42 yards right through the middle of the Eagles defense.
Duke Riley, the lone linebacker on the field, was taken out by Bengals center Billy Price. Safeties Mills and Marcus Epps were effectively blocked by wide receiver Tyler Boyd and tight end Cethan Carter. From there, it was off to the races.
The Eagles managed to keep the Bengals out of the end zone, but Bullock’s third field goal gave Cincinnati a seven-point lead. Wentz’s 7-yard touchdown run with 21 seconds left ended up only tying the game rather than winning it.
Ty and Tee
Eagles cornerback Darius Slay spent much of the game traveling with Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. Slay did a good job on the seven-time Pro Bowler, holding him to five catches for 36 yards. But the rest of the Eagles' secondary struggled with the Bengals' other two wideouts, Boyd and Higgins. Boyd had 10 catches for 125 yards and Higgins had five catches, including two touchdowns.
Eight of Boyd’s 10 receptions produced first downs. Higgins' first touchdown catch came on what appeared to be a busted coverage. Mills was playing the run and Higgins slid past him and was wide-open.
Higgins' second scoring catch, a 4-yarder in the third quarter that gave the Bengals a 17-16 lead, came at the expense of cornerback Trevor Williams, who was subbing for injured Avonte Maddox, and linebacker Nate Gerry.
Higgins beat Williams, who was brought up from the practice squad on Saturday, on a crossing route. Gerry, as was the case in the Rams game last week, got caught paying too much attention to the run, and was late providing coverage help.