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Eagle Scout: Bengals match well vs. Eagles

A year ago, the Eagles hit their low point in a Thursday night game After losing to the Patriots on Sunday evening, they traveled west a few days later and were whacked by the Seahawks, 31-14, on Dec. 1.

With an injury to Brent Celek, Clay Harbor will be put into a starting position. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
With an injury to Brent Celek, Clay Harbor will be put into a starting position. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

A year ago, the Eagles hit their low point in a Thursday night game

After losing to the Patriots on Sunday evening, they traveled west a few days later and were whacked by the Seahawks, 31-14, on Dec. 1.

This year, they don't have to board a plane, although the NFL decided to no longer schedule Thursday night games that require visiting teams to travel three time zones.

The 4-9 Eagles host the 7-6 Bengals on Thursday and will once again have the opportunity to play spoiler. The Birds upset Tampa Bay, 23-21, on Sunday and will face a Cincinnati team coming off a last-second loss to the Cowboys.

If that isn't enough to entice, another showing of the Nick Foles Experience - does the rookie have what it takes to be the quarterback of the future? - should be enough reason to watch.

Here's how the teams match up:

When the Eagles run

The Eagles didn't do much running Sunday, except from sideline to sideline. Bryce Brown came back to earth some after gaining 347 yards on 43 carries in his first two starts. He was held to just 6 yards on 12 carries against the Buccaneers' top-ranked run defense. With LeSean McCoy still out with a concussion, the rookie will have the opportunity to wipe away that performance. The Eagles likely will need the Brown from the Panthers and Cowboys games to offset a ferocious Bengals pass rush. That won't be easy. Cincinnati ranks 11th in rushing yards allowed per game (105.5) and 14th in yards allowed per run (4.2). Bengals linebackers Rey Maualuga, Vontaze Burfict, and Manny Lawson all like to play downhill.

Edge: EVEN

When the Eagles pass

Foles accounted for nearly 400 yards through the air against Tampa Bay and had his best game yet as a starter. The Buccaneers' pass defense is ranked last in the league in yards allowed, but the rookie quarterback was cool under constant pressure in the pocket. He should have his hands full against a Bengals pass defense that has allowed only 6.21 yards per attempt and a pass rush that is among the best in the NFL. Cincinnati leads the league with 42 sacks and features perhaps the best defensive tackle in Geno Atkins. The third-year player leads all tackles with 101/2 sacks. Atkins has also forced three fumbles. Guard Evan Mathis, who is expected to play despite an ankle injury, and center Dallas Reynolds will be most responsible for blocking Atkins.

The Bengals are also strong on the edges with defensive ends Michael Johnson (81/2 sacks) and Carlos Dunlap (41/2). Eagles tackles Dennis Kelly and King Dunlap struggled Sunday after two solid games. Receivers Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant each went over 100 yards receiving last week, but Cincinnati's Terence Newman and Leon Hall are significant upgrades over Tampa Bay's cornerbacks. The Eagles could have an advantage at tight end even with Brent Celek sidelined with a concussion. Maualuga and Burfict play on most passing downs and are a liability in coverage. The Bengals are 28th in the league against tight ends on the pass, according to Football Outsiders. Clay Harbor did a nice job jumping in for Celek on Sunday, with six catches for 52 yards and a touchdown.


When the Bengals run

Cincinnati's BenJarvus Green-Ellis, signed as a free agent during the offseason, is a workmanlike, between-the-tackles runner. He has logged 238 of 298 carries for Cincinnati running backs. He is averaging 4.1 yards a carry and is 26 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. The Eagles did not allow a 100-yard rusher until Doug Martin ran for 128 on Sunday. The end of the wide-nine alignment did not necessarily aid the Eagles' run defense against the Buccaneers, but it did limit the type of big runs that had burned the Birds in the past. DeMeco Ryans remains their best run-stopping linebacker, but the switch from the strong side to the weak side appears to have helped rookie Mychal Kendricks. Safety Colt Anderson will start again in place of the injured Kurt Coleman (chest bruise). He made a few strong tackles in the run game on Sunday.

Edge: EVEN

When the Bengals pass

The Eagles must account for A.J. Green (79 catches for 1,151 yards and 10 TDs). The second-year receiver is big (6-foot-4, 207 pounds) and quick and will test the Eagles secondary. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, coming off his best game in weeks, will likely see a lot of Green. Otherwise, quarterback Andy Dalton will carve up Nnamdi Asomugha. The veteran cornerback has been brutally bad over the last several weeks. Dalton continues his maturation process. Now in his second season, Dalton has improved in every statistical category. He has a 90.3 passer rating and has thrown 25 TDs against 14 interceptions. He has been excellent inside the red zone (101.9 rating, 18 TDs, 0 interceptions). The Eagles defense, despite all its faults, is ranked eighth in the league inside the 20.

The Birds will have to pay extra attention to Jermaine Gresham (55 catches for 636 yards and five TDs) as well. Kendricks is no longer lined up opposite the tight end, but he will have pass-cover responsibilities in the nickel. Safety Nate Allen will also be charged with covering the 6-5, 260-pound Gresham. Up front, the Bengals are led by right tackle Andre Smith, who should see a lot of defensive end Brandon Graham. If there's a weak link on the Cincinnati line, it is center Trevor Robinson.


Special teams

For all of his improvement as a punt returner, Damaris Johnson still has ball-security issues. He had his second muffed punt on Sunday, and it was costly. Still, he is averaging 12.3 yards a return and is always a potential threat to take one the distance. The Bengals are ninth in the league in punt coverage. Punter Kevin Huber is sixth in net punting (41.9). The consecutive-field-goals streak of Eagles kicker Alex Henery stopped at 22 when he missed a 58-yard attempt before the half on Sunday. He then missed a 31-yarder in the third quarter. The Bengals recently signed kicker Josh Brown to fill in for injured Mike Nugent (calf).



The Eagles have forced only 10 turnovers this season, tied for last with the Colts. Their minus-19 turnover ratio is second-to-last in the NFL. The Bengals have a giveaway net difference of zero. . . . Cincinnati's offense is 25th in the league on third down (35.1 percent). The Eagles are 16th (39.2). . . . Green is sixth among receivers with 55 receptions for a first down. . . . Dalton has completed only 49.1 percent of his passes on third down.

Edge: EVEN