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Domo: Eagles' 'D' even makes Dalton look good

CINCINNATI - This wasn't catch-me-if-you-can Russell Wilson, throwing bubble screens and quick hitches and eluding pass rushers until his receivers got open.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.Read more(Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

CINCINNATI - This wasn't catch-me-if-you-can Russell Wilson, throwing bubble screens and quick hitches and eluding pass rushers until his receivers got open.

This wasn't Aaron Rodgers, who killed the Eagles with a thousand paper cuts and seemed to get the ball out to his receivers before the pass rush even crossed the line of scrimmage.

This was Andy Dalton and the A.J. Green-less Bengals.

This was Dalton, who came into Sunday's game ranked 19th in the NFL in passing, who had a 69.7 passer rating and 55 percent completion rate in his last three starts, who had the fourth-lowest touchdown percentage in the league.

The Bengals quarterback should have been just what the doctor ordered for Jim Schwartz's defense after it got roughed up by Wilson and Rodgers the last two weeks. But Schwartz's defense turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Dalton.

Dalton completed 23 of 31 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns in a pathetically easy 32-14 win over an Eagles team that played like it wanted to be anywhere else but Paul Brown Stadium.

For the second straight week, the Eagles failed to register a quarterback sack. They have just six in their last six games.

Even without Green, the Bengals continually beat the Eagles' cornerbacks and safeties. Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll both had bad games. So did Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod.

Dalton had five completions of 20-plus yards, including a 50-yarder to rookie Cody Core against Carroll on a third-and-8 late in the first quarter and a 44-yarder to Brandon LaFell against McKelvin on a third-and-10 on the Bengals' first possession of the second half.

The Bengals scored points on their first six possessions. They converted seven of their first nine third-down opportunities. A week earlier, the Packers converted 10 of 14 third-down chances against the Eagles.

Dalton completed 10 of 12 third-down passes for 187 yards, a touchdown and seven first downs. In the last three games, Dalton, Rodgers and Wilson have a combined 137.3 third-down passer rating against the Eagles. That includes a 78.8 percent completion rate, 12.1 yards per attempt and 19 passing first downs in 33 third-down pass attempts.

"We couldn't get off the field on third down," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "At one point, we were one of the best teams in the league in getting off the field on third down."

He's right. They were. At one point, they were third in the league in third-down defense. But now they seem to be in free-fall.

Their biggest problem is their pass rush. They had 20 sacks in their first six games, but have just six in the last six games. Cox, who signed a 6-year, $102.6 million contract extension during the summer that made him one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the league, hasn't had a sack in the last eight games. Eight games!

Schwartz is not a big blitzer. He prefers to get pressure with a four-man rush and drop seven into coverage. For much of the season, that worked well.

In the first nine games, opposing quarterbacks had a collective 77.9 passer rating when the Eagles rushed four. They completed just 57.4 percent of their passes, averaged 6.3 yards per attempt, threw 10 touchdown passes and seven interceptions and were sacked 19 times on 256 pass plays.

But in the two losses to the Seahawks and Packers, Wilson and Rodgers had a combined 115.9 passer rating when the Eagles used a four-man rush, completing 68.3 percent of their passes and averaging 8.3 yards per attempt. On Sunday, it was more of the same.

"We're not getting to the quarterback the way we should," Cox said. "But when teams are having success dinking and dunking us, and they've seen previous teams dinking and dunking, it's a copycat league. They're going to do the same thing. They're going to get rid of the ball quick.

"And when they do go deep, they're going to use seven-man-protect and we're rushing them with four. So you do the math."

In not so many words, that sounds like Cox is suggesting that the Eagles need to blitz more. He doesn't seem to be alone.

After the game, head coach Doug Pederson, who has let Schwartz have free rein over the defense, said the Eagles may need to consider blitzing more than their current 20 percent frequency.

"It's disappointing," Pederson said. "Obviously we have to continue to put pressure on the quarterback. Sometimes it is hard with just four guys. And that's something we have to look at as a staff and make sure we're doing the right things there.

"The thing is, the third-down conversions are hurting us. Teams are staying on the field. We have to find a way to make a play and get them off the field.''

The Bengals had a 10-0 lead after the first quarter, a 19-0 lead at the half and a 29-0 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter.

A week earlier, the Packers scored on five of their six full possessions. That's pathetic.

"We've got to do a better job of getting the ball out (forcing turnovers)," middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "Credit the offenses we've played. They've done a good job of taking care of the ball and making good decisions with it. We just have to put a premium on getting the ball in our hands and setting our offense up.

"That's what defense is all about. Being aggressive and getting the ball back to your offense. We haven't been able to do that.''

The Eagles forced two turnovers, their first two fumble recoveries in six games. But both were in the fourth quarter when the game was long ago lost. They haven't had an interception in three games.

"We know what kind of team we have," Cox said. "Everybody holds each other accountable. That's the way we have to approach things moving forward.

"We've got four games left and we're going to find out what this team is made of. We got Washington coming to town next week. We know what they did to us earlier in the season."

@Pdomo Blog: