It can’t get any worse for the Eagles, or can it? They are 0-2 as they host the Bengals on Sunday.
But Cincinnati is also 0-2, starts a rookie quarterback, and, unlike the Eagles, has pretty low expectations for this season. Here’s how the teams match up:
When the Eagles run
Miles Sanders returned Sunday after missing most of training camp and the season opener with a hamstring injury. After fumbling on his third touch, he played very well, rushing for 95 yards on 20 carries, and also catching three passes for 36 yards. Sanders had eight of the Eagles' 11 rushing first downs, which were their most since 2017.
Sanders still shows a tendency to want to take everything to the perimeter. But he’s proven to be an effective between-the-tackles runner, as has 5-foot-6 Boston Scott. Scott, whose size is offset by his ability to hide behind his blockers, had 19 yards on four carries Sunday after rushing for 35 yards on nine carries in Week 1.
The Eagles lost their third starter on the offensive line against the Rams when left guard Isaac Seumalo went down with a knee injury that’s going to sideline him for at least three games. But they still managed to do a good job of moving Aaron Donald and the Rams' defensive line off the ball, particularly in the second half.
The Eagles figure to run the ball a lot against a Bengals defense that gave up 185 yards a game on the ground the first two weeks. They were gashed for 215 yards on 35 carries by the Browns last week. The Browns' Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 210 of those 215 yards. Nine of the Browns' 35 runs (25.7%) gained 8 yards or more.
When the Eagles throw
Carson Wentz is off to the worst start of his career. He’s 33rd in the league in passing (64.4), 30th in yards per attempt (6.0), and 29th in completion percentage (58.5). He has thrown multiple interceptions in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. For just the second time since his rookie year, he failed to throw at least one touchdown pass last weekend . against the Rams.
The Eagles lost one of their top deep threats last week when rookie Jalen Reagor injured his thumb. He could be out for as long as a month and a half. They still have DeSean Jackson, but with three O-line starters out, finding enough time to throw deep to him could be difficult. Wentz was sacked a career-high eight times in Week 1. Against the Rams, the Eagles went to a short passing game. Just six of Wentz’s 43 passes traveled more than 11 yards in the air. He attempted just two passes of 20-plus yards after throwing seven the week before. The Eagles used 12-personnel (1RB, 2TE, 2WR) on 54 of 69 snaps last weekend, primarily with Reagor and Jackson as the two wideouts. Jackson had six catches, all of them in the second half. But just one of his receptions was longer than 9 yards. The loss of Reagor means the Eagles are going to have to rely even more heavily on two-tight end sets with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert going forward.
The Bengals have allowed just two TD passes in their first two games, but are 22nd in opponent yards per attempt (8.1) and have only two sacks. They have a solid pair of edge rushers in veteran left defensive end Carlos Dunlap (9 sacks last year) and right defensive end Sam Hubbard (8½ sacks in ’19). Their eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tacle, Geno Atkins, missed the first two games with a shoulder injury.
When the Bengals run
The Bengals are 26th in rushing (95.0 yards per game) and 28th in rush average (3.7) through two games. Just three of their 52 rushing attempts have gained 8 or more yards, and one of those was by quarterback Joe Burrow. They have a young line, including first-round rookie left tackle Jonah Williams, that has just two starters with more than nine career starts.
Their No. 1 running back, Joe Mixon, is coming off back-to-back 1,100-yard rushing seasons but is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. He was held to 46 yards on 16 carries by the Browns. The 6-1, 220-pound Mixon is an every-down back with a good combination of speed and power. He averaged 17.3 carries per game last year. Backup Giovani Bernard hasn’t had more than 60 carries in a season since 2017.
Jim Schwartz’s run defense usually is solid. The Eagles held Washington to 2.2 yards per carry in Week 1 but gave up 191 rushing yards to the Rams, which was the most they’ve allowed since 2016. The Rams had 11 rushing first downs, also the most the Eagles have given up since ’16. The Rams used a lot of stretch plays and jet motion and end-arounds on the Eagles. Bengals coach Zac Taylor previously worked for Rams coach Sean McVay, so they’re going to see many of the same concepts this week.
When the Bengals throw
Rookie Joe Burrow didn’t have the benefit of spring reps or a preseason, so he’s having to learn on the run. But he’s an exceptionally smart quarterback. He threw an NFL-high 97 passes in the Bengals' first two games, including 61 in last week’s loss to the Browns. Burrow has just one interception, but also is averaging a league-low 5.2 yards per attempt.
Burrow has an accurate arm, along with the mobility to extend plays to either pass or run. The Eagles will need to do a better job keeping him in the pocket than they did against Jared Goff. Burrow has some very good weapons, including wide receivers A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and rookie Tee Higgins. Mixon is a very good pass-catching back. The Bengals lost tight end C.J. Uzomah to a season-ending Achilles injury last week. But his replacement, Drew Sample, had seven catches.
The Bengals' size at wide receiver — Green and Higgins both are 6-4 and Boyd is 6-2 — could present problems for the Eagles. If Schwartz has Darius Slay travel with Green, their other outside corner, 5-9 Avonte Maddox, would be matched up against Boyd or Higgins. Slot corner Nickell Robey-Coleman is just 5-8.
The Eagles need better play from their defensive line than they got in Week 2. They sacked Goff just once and had just eight total quarterback pressures. But they may be without defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who has an oblique injury.
Jake Elliott has converted 3 of 4 fiekd goal attempts. His only miss was a 53-yarder in Week 1 that came up a yard short. Nine of Elliott’s 10 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. The lone return, by the Rams' Nsimba Webster, gained just 19 yards. So, if the Eagles want to keep the ball away from Bengals kick returner Brandon Wilson, who is averaging 43.7 yards per return, they should be able to do that.
Bengals kicker Randy Bullock is in his 12th NFL season. He has converted 86.7% of his FG attempts since 2016 (85 of 98).
Eagles punter Cam Johnston is off to an impressive start. He is first in the league in gross average (55.6) and second in net average (49.1). His long punts, coupled with the speed of gunner Rudy Ford, have made for a productive early-season combination. But Ford will miss Sunday’s game with a groin injury. The Eagles have allowed just 4.2 yards per punt return.
Reagor has been the Eagles' primary punt returner. Greg Ward will replace him in that role.
Bengals punter Kevin Huber is in his 12th NFL season, all with Cincinnati. He is second to Johnston in gross average (53.5) and seventh in net average (43.5). Three of his eight punts have been touchbacks. Opponents have had just one punt retirn in two games against the Bengals, but it was a 45-yarder by rookie Joe Reed in Week 1.
Burrow is a rookie. A smart rookie, but a rookie nonetheless, who didn’t have the benefit of any spring reps or preseason game action and still is trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL.
Eagles 38, Bengals 17
Bengals WRs A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins vs. Eagles CBs Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Nickell Robey-Coleman: Big size advantage for Bengals. Green, Boyd and Higgins all are 6-2 or taller. NRC is 5-8, and Maddox is 5-9. Look for a lot of back-shoulder fades and 50-50 balls. ADVANTAGE: Bengals
Eagles defensive line vs. Bengals offensive line: This is a matchup that the Eagles need to win convincingly, both against the run and the pass. DTs Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Javon Hargrave need to be difference makers. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Eagles WR DeSean Jackson vs. Bengals CBs Darius Phillips and William Jackson III: Jalen Reagor’s injury leaves Jackson as the Eagles' lone field-stretcher. Even with three O-line starters out, the Eagles are expected to take some deep shots against the Bengals. ADVANTAGE: Eagles
Keys to the game
Stop the run. The Rams rushed Sunday for nearly 200 yards, which made their play-action game unstoppable. The Eagles need to shut down Joe Mixon from the get-go.
Enough with the turnovers. The Eagles already have six giveaways, which their first two opponents turned into 24 points. Last year, the Eagles allowed just 57 points on 23 giveaways. Wentz, who had just seven interceptions last season, already has four.
Get heat on the kid QB. Burrow did a good job of getting the ball out quickly in his first two NFL games. That’s why the Eagles need a strong game from their interior rushers: Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Javon Hargrave.