By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer
It’s rare that you see a situation in football where a game can be considered a “get right game” and also a must-win in week 3. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, that’s what the Eagles are faced with this week.
The Birds are looking to avoid the disaster that would be starting the season 0-3 as they welcome the winless Cincinnati Bengals to South Philadelphia.
Nothing about the first two games of the Eagles season has gone according to plan. Coaches, players, and management alike have got to be frustrated with how this team has looked to start the year.
At least one thing has remained constant for this team: injuries. The Eagles lost guard Isaac Seumalo and rookie receiver Jalen Reagor for at least the next three weeks as they were both placed on injured reserve after suffering injuries last Sunday.
How the Eagles manage to consistently be the most injury prone team in football year in and year out is just pure witchcraft at this point. That, or each and every medical staff the Eagles have brought in over the past few years are closet Cowboys fans.
Here’s to hoping, at the very least, that the Eagles can avoid any and all kinds of injury this weekend.
Let’s Talk About Carson Wentz
This week it’s pretty simple for Carson Wentz: get your head out of your you-know-what, and play like you’re fighting to keep your job. Does this mean that I think the Eagles would, or should, bench Wentz if he plays poorly yet again on Sunday?
Absolutely not. What I mean by that statement is Wentz should be using all of the doubt, criticism, and ugly game film he's put out to fuel him to turn this season around. If he doesn’t, the outside noise is just going to keep getting louder and more frequent.
The biggest reason for the Eagles’ quarterback struggles so far, in my opinion, is that he’s trying too hard to be a superhero. In Doug Pederson’s offense, the quarterback doesn’t need to be a superhero and force his way into making the big play. This offense is built to have long, methodical drives that take five-to-seven minutes off the clock and end with a red zone touchdown.
When Wentz plays the way the offense is designed to be run, he unsurprisingly plays so much better and with a sense of calm confidence. When he tries to make the big play, he holds onto the ball too long, takes ugly sacks where he inexplicably ducks his head into defenders much larger than himself, and forces the ball to J.J. Arcega-Whiteside in the end zone on a first down.
I’ll let Brian Baldinger break down the interception, because if I talk about it any longer I will no longer have a job.
.@eagles v @RamsNFL and the #Birds have a chance to take control of this game despite the rocky start. When you have a great chance to make a BIG PLAY; you have to execute. #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/DbAx3hBHjF— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 21, 2020
I’m not ready to jump off the Wentz Wagon like so many people on my Twitter feed are. If he continues to not play well this week, the cries for a certain second-round pick will be so loud it’ll be like there are actually fans in the stands.
Bottom line for Wentz: don’t force something that’s not there, hold onto the football, and trust the offense. Easier said than done, but still easier than being Superman when you're name isn't Clark Kent.
Eagles Offense vs. Bengals Defense
The Eagles offense looked good for approximately two drives last Sunday. One of those drives ended in a touchdown to cut an 18-point deficit to 12, while the other ended in the aforementioned dagger-to-the-heart interception in the end zone. Let’s not forget that the other Eagles touchdown was essentially gift-wrapped to the offense after a fumble by Cooper Kupp set the Birds up at the 11-yard line.
The Birds offensive line played well, as they didn’t give up a sack and paved the way for 121 rushing yards. Unsurprisingly, though, yet another offensive lineman was lost as the aforementioned Seumalo went down with an injury and will be out for a few weeks.
If you’re doing the math at home, that’s three starting offensive lineman the Eagles will be missing for at least the next couple of weeks. Not great!
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Eagles are thin at wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery is still recovering from his ankle injury while rookie receiver Jalen Reagor is projected to miss 6-8 weeks with a UCL tear in his thumb that needed surgery.
This means that the Eagles will trot out DeSean Jackson, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and rookie John Hightower. At this rate, Jordan Matthews and Shelton Gibson will be back in midnight green by next week.
Look for the Eagles to continue to force feed the football to tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert. They may just be the only guys I trust right now on this offense, and they have a favorable matchup against a less-than-stellar Bengals linebacking core.
Lets not forget about the only good draft pick Howie Roseman has had over the past two seasons, running back Miles Sanders. In his 2020 debut last week, Sanders accounted for 131 total yards and a touchdown. He needs to have at least 25 touches every week, but only if he holds onto the football. That's right, I didn't forget that fumble on the first drive of last week's game.
As a matter of fact, can everyone on the offense hold onto the football please? The Eagles have the most turnovers in the NFL (6) and the worst turnover differential (-5). Don’t turn the ball over and you have a much higher chance at winning the game. It’s simple, cliche, and we’re all tired of hearing analysts say it, but it’s been true since football’s inception.
As for the Bengals defense, they’re an unimpressive bunch that just got lit up by the Cleveland Browns. To say they’re below average would be an understatement.
The strength of Cincy’s defense is the defensive line, led by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, who have been mainstays on this team for about the last 37 years. They are far past their primes on contracts that they no longer earn. Atkins will be out with an injury for Sunday's game.
The back seven of this defense as a whole is tragic. If the Eagles don’t take advantage of this lineup there are much bigger problems than any of us originally anticipated. There is no reason Carson Wentz can’t throw for at least 300 yards against this secondary.
Eagles Defense vs. Bengals Offense
The Birds defense is coming off of a dreadful performance last Sunday that saw them get play-actioned to death by the Rams. Jared Goff completed his first 13 (thirteen!) passes of the game and the Rams scored 21 points in the first 18 minutes of the game.
Well, the good news is that it can’t get worse than that, right? Right? Someone please say right.
Jim Schwartz took the fall publicly in the media this week for his defense’s performance. While he is certainly to blame, the players are just as much at fault for the past six quarters and 40 seconds in which they have allowed 64 points. That’s nearly 11 points per quarter. I can confirm that is indeed bad. Piss poor is probably a better way to describe it.
The question on everyone’s mind is how does the Eagles defense turn it around, because Seth Joyner and Jeremiah Trotter aren’t walking into that locker room.
Ideally, the Eagles defensive line could turn the clock back to 2017 and get some pressure on the quarterback. The Birds had just one sack last week. Against a notoriously bad Bengals offensive line (six sacks allowed through two games), the Eagles will certainly have their opportunities.
In a related topic, does anyone know Fletcher Cox’s whereabouts?
One Eagles defender that has stood out to me in actually playing well is prized offseason addition Darius Slay. The former Detroit Lion cornerback has played well-worth his paycheck the first two weeks, as he has been as close to lockdown as we have seen from an Eagles corner since...Asante Samuel?
The Bengals offense is better than many projected so far. Rookie quarterback and first overall pick Joe Burrow looks like the real deal after a phenomenal showing last Thursday night in Cleveland. Burrow is a talented pocket passer who also excels at throwing on the run and scrambling to pick up a first down.
Now imagine how great it would be for him to be able to showcase those skills behind a competent offensive line. That’s life in the NFL for a team that had the worst record in the league a year ago.
The Bengals have a sneaky good trio of skill players to help out Burrow. Running back Joe Mixon is a solid runner and receiver out of the backfield, but he is also affected by Cincinnati's putrid line play.
Receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are a solid duo when they are on the field at the same time. Unfortunately for the Bengals, they haven’t had much time together in games because both are fairly injury prone. Speaking of injuries, Cincinnati suffered a huge loss to their offense when they lost tight end C.J. Uzomah for the year last Thursday.
All in all, the Bengals have a decent offense. If their offensive line plays well, the Eagles could be in for a tighter than expected game. That’s a fairly big “if” though.
My PredictionThis game will come down to which team takes advantage of opportunities that are sure to arise. For the Eagles, that opportunity would be Carson Wentz taking what the defense gives him and carving up the Bengals subpar secondary.
For the Bengals, their opportunity will be taking advantage of Jim Schwartz's classic bend-but-don’t-break defense. If the past two games were any indication, it has been prone to breaking.
I think this game will be closer than people expect. I think the Eagles will jump out to a sizable first half lead and head into the locker room up 17-3. In the second half, the Eagles offense will slow down, allowing the Bengals to come back and tie the game at 20 in the fourth quarter.
Why do I think this, you ask? Because Philadelphia teams are incapable of playing stress-free games.
With that being said, Carson Wentz, who will not turn the ball over in this game, leads the offense down the field for the go-ahead touchdown to Zach Ertz. The Eagles defense bends, but doesn’t break on the final drive as Burrow is sacked on the final play of the game in the red zone.
Eagles win, 27-20.
If the Eagles lose on Sunday, there will be changes made. Not just small adjustments, but some pretty significant changes to the coaching staff, roster, of likely both. Mark my words.
Time: 1:00 p.m.
Radio: 94.1 FM WIP
Online: NFL Gamepass