THIRD-DOWN TROUBLES (AGAIN)
A week after allowing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to convert 10 of 14 third-down opportunities in a 14-point loss, the Eagles defense once again had big-time trouble getting off the field in Sunday's 32-14 loss to the Bengals.
The Bengals, who came into the game ranked 22nd in the league in third-down efficiency, converted seven of their first nine third-down tries. That went a long way in helping them extend drives and score on their first six possessions.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, who was ranked 18th in third-down passing, completed 10 of 12 passes on third down for 187 yards and one touchdown. Seven of those 10 third-down completions resulted in first downs. Dalton had five completions Sunday of 20-plus yards. Four came on third-and-longs.
He found Brandon LaFell wide open in the middle of zone coverage for a 23-yard completion on a third-and-nine on the Bengals' second possession. Three plays later, on a third-and-eight, rookie wide receiver Cody Core got behind cornerback Nolan Carroll and hauled in a 50-yard pass from Dalton that set up a two-yard Jeremy Hill touchdown run.
On a third-and-11 on the Bengals' next possession, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz sent linebacker Nigel Bradham on a blitz. But wide receiver Tyler Boyd beat rookie corner Jalen Mills for a 21-yard catch and a first down. Making matters worse, defensive end Brandon Graham gave them another 15 yards when he was called for an inadvertent roughing the passer penalty.
One of the most costly third-down failures was a third-and-seven late in the first half. The Eagles were trailing 13-0, but had a chance to get the ball back and possibly get on the scoreboard if they could force the Bengals to punt.
Never happened. Dalton broke containment and completed a 10-yard pass to running back Rex Burkhead for a first down. The Bengals ended up driving 93 yards on 12 plays with Dalton hitting tight end Tyler Eifert for a 13-yard touchdown with seven seconds left in the half.
The last back-breaking third-and-long conversion by the Bengals was on their first possession of the second half. On a third-and-10 at their own 23, LaFell beat cornerback Leodis McKelvin for a 44-yard completion.
In their last three games, opposing quarterbacks (Dalton, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson) have a combined 137.3 third-down passer rating. They completed 78.8 of their third-down passes, averaged 12.1 yards per attempt.
NO PRESSURE (AGAIN)
For the second straight game, the Eagles didn't have a sack. They have just six in the last six games after collecting 20 in the first six games.
Sacks don't always tell the whole story, but the fact of the matter is, the Eagles haven't been getting much heat on the quarterback lately with their front four. Yes, teams are getting the ball out quickly. But even when they haven't, the pressure has been insufficient.
As we have mentioned numerous times, Jim Schwartz isn't a big blitzer. He's blitzed less than 20 percent of the time this season. But if his front four can't generate pressure, he may have to rethink that approach.
Defensive end Connor Barwin has been invisible. The same with Vinny Curry, who is in the first year of a five-year, $46.2 million deal that includes a $9 million cap number next season.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who signed a six-year, $106.2 million contract extension during the summer, hasn't had a sack in eight games. Yes, he's drawing a ton of double-teams. But that's why he's getting the big bucks.
A week after having what quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo called his best half of football of the season in the first half against Green Bay, Carson Wentz probably had his poorest performance of the season against the Bengals.
It certainly wasn't all his fault. Even with the Eagles using two- and three-tight end sets nearly 70 percent of the time Sunday, his protection wasn't very good. And he didn't have his best receiver, Jordan Matthews, who sat out the game with an ankle injury.
But this was really the first time you saw that rookie deer-in-the-headlights look from him. He had a half-dozen passes batted by a tall defensive line puts that does that to a lot of quarterbacks. He threw three interceptions, which easily could have, and probably should have, been five or six if the Bengals linebackers and DBs could catch. He missed some open receivers and forced some passes to covered ones. His feel for pressure in the pocket and his ability to slide away from it continue to be a work in progress.
Wentz attempted a season-high 60 passes, but 33 of them were in the fourth quarter after the Bengals already had a 29-7 lead. So forget about them. In the first three quarters, he was just 13-for-27 and averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. Completed just three of seven passes on third down in the first three quarters.
Since I'm aware a lot of Eagles fans are ultra-sensitive to any criticism of Wentz, I'm not suggesting in any way that he cost the Eagles the game Sunday. I'm not sure Tom Brady could have kept the Eagles in a game in which the Bengals essentially were scoring every time they had the ball. All I'm saying is he played like a rookie.
In his last eight starts, Wentz has a 70.1 passer rating. He's averaged just 6.0 yards per attempt and thrown just five TD passes and 10 interceptions.
Sometimes, a lot of times, you learn more about the value of a player when he's not in the game than when he is.
That's been the case with Jordan Matthews the last two weeks. Against the Packers last week, Wentz completed 13 of 17 passes for 147 yards in the first half. Then Matthews injured his ankle after making a terrific 20-yard catch on a back-shoulder fade from Wentz and things went kaput.
Wentz was 11-for-19 for 107 yards in the second half against the Packers. Without Matthews to lean on Sunday, he was just 13-for-27 in the first three quarters.
Matthews probably never will be mentioned in the same breath with the game's top wideouts. And yeah, he drops too many passes. But he and tight end Zach Ertz were Sam Bradford's go-to guys last year and they've been Wentz's go-to guys this year.
Matthews leads the Eagles in just about every pertinent receiving category. When he's not in there, well, an offense that already has its fair share of problems tends to look like the Cleveland Browns.
THE OFFENSIVE LINE
The Eagles' offensive line came up small Sunday. While Carson Wentz was only sacked once by the Bengals, he was hit nearly a dozen times and constantly pressured.
The Bengals own one of the league's worst run defenses. But the Eagles weren't able to exploit it. They averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. Their best run of the day was a 10-yard scramble by Wentz. Their running backs had just one carry that gained more than four yards.