September 26, 2020
The Eagles are on the brink of disaster. And no, that's not hyperbole. Despite it only being Week 3 of the NFL season, the Birds are in real trouble at 0-2 and a loss to the similarly 0-2 Bengals at home on Sunday would be a worst-case-scenario situation for Philly, which has matchups with the 49ers, Ravens and Steelers following what should've been a relatively easy start to the season.
As we've seen, their start has been anything but. They jumped out to a 17-0 lead over Washington in their opener before allowing them to run off 27 straight points. In Week 2, they were thoroughly beaten by the Rams, who are a tougher opponent sure, but not one the Eagles should've lost to by three scores.
Or maybe they should have. Maybe the Eagles are just as bad as they've looked. Maybe we were all wrong about this team — yes, I said "we," because even the most pessimistic fans thought the Birds would be better than this. But Sunday's game against the Bengals should tell us if the Eagles we've seen through two weeks are the Eagles we can expect to see the rest of the way.
With their backs against the wall and facing a team (with a rookie quarterback) that they should beat, a loss to the Bengals will really tell us all we need to know about this team.
We've already taken a look at some matchups to watch, broken down the latest injury news and rounded up close to 70 predictions from around the sports world — plus offered up some of our own. We've also provided a look at the odds for this week, which opened with the Eagles a 6.5-point favorite but have dropped since, leaving the Eagles a four-point consensus favorite at TheLines.com.
Now, let's take a look at some numbers to keep an eye on in Week 2 in the form of our five weekly over/unders...
[A quick reminder for those new to our over/unders: Unless it's explicitly stated, these are my own over/unders based on how I think the players will perform on Sunday — and the advice that follows is where I would put my money if I had to. They are not all actual numbers you can bet on, but we'll let you know when they are.]
That's the current consensus total being offered by TheLines.com, a number which has risen throughout the week, and is up two whole points in just the last two days alone. So far this season, despite the Eagles offensive struggles, both their games have hit the over. In fact, the first two games for Philly have averaged 50 total points, and the Bengals aren't far behind with a 47 point average.
Interestingly enough, despite the number inning higher and higher, five of our seven writers are taking the under, largely because they don't think Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense will present the same kind of test as Jared Goff and the Rams, and they're not entirely confident that the Eagles offense will suddenly get it together after losing another offensive lineman (Isaac Seumalo) and one of their top wideouts (rookie Jalen Reagor).
With the exception of a 2-0 score prediction, my final score of 20-19 was the lowest of the week among our writers, so I think you know where I'm leaning here.
Carson Wentz, now in his fifth NFL season, is better than Joe Burrow, who has only made two professional starts, right? Well, the numbers so far this season would suggest otherwise, as Burrow has put up pretty decent numbers for a rookie despite his team's 0-2 record — and they might've beaten the Chargers if not for a botched field goal in their opener. Let's look at the numbers...
So, which quarterback will have the better game on Sunday? It's really tough to tell. One is a rookie making just his third start. The other is now a veteran who continues to struggle with consistency, not just from game-to-game but from drive-to-drive as well.
The good news for the Eagles is that despite all the injuries and moving parts on along the offensive line, they should have a decent chance at keeping Wentz upright against this Bengals front. The bad news? Wentz seemed to have plenty of time last week against the Rams and still continued to make poor decisions and miss passes that should be routine for NFL quarterbacks — not to mention that we've seen Wentz make countless times in the past.
It's weird to say this, but the Eagles quarterback might be the bigger wildcard in this equation, not the rookie. The Eagles defense looked terrible in pretty much all aspects against the Rams — and could be without Fletcher Cox on Sunday. The feeling here is that both these quarterbacks outplay their season ratings on Sunday, but not by much, and Wentz gets outplayed for the third week in a row.
Speaking of quarterbacks...
Last week, Jalen Hurts was a surprise addition to the active game day roster and actually saw the field for a few plays, but was used exclusively as a decoy. Earlier that week, Pederson said they'd take the backup QB situation on a week-to-week basis, but it certainly feels like Hurts has supplanted Nate Sudfeld as the Eagles No. 2 despite no preseason games.
That begs the question: What's next for the Eagles second-round pick? We looked at that earlier this week in a What They're Saying, but the natural next step for this is to actually get the ball in Hurts' hands. If he's active, it's a safe bet that he's going to see the field for a few plays against this week. They set the traps last week by putting Hurts on film as a decoy — and a somewhat successful decoy at that — so will they take the leap to actually using him this week? Why not?
Miles Sanders has never carried the ball more than 20 times in a game. Last week against the Rams, Sanders tied a career high with 20 rushes, and there's a chance we could see even more from him on Sunday. With Wentz struggling and injuries creating some concern around pass protection, the Eagles would be wise to throw a heavy dose of Sanders at the Bengals. After all, Cincinnati is allowing five yards per carry this season (small sample size, we know).
Over at NBC Sports Philly, Dave Zangaro took a look at Sanders' workload last week (23 total touches in all) and wondered if that's sustainable for an entire season. It's a lot to ask of the young running back, but against a team like the Bengals, who gave up 215 yards on the ground to Cleveland last week, it might be the Eagles' best chance. Here's more from Dave:
Still, all the signs are there for this to be a huge game for Sanders. He’s healthy, coming off an impressive performance in Week 2, facing an awful run defense and the Eagles’ quarterback is struggling.
Can the run game be the recipe for this team?
“The short answer, yes,” Doug Pederson said this week. “A little more elaborate answer is yes because I think that opens up more of your play-action game. I think that opens up more of your quarterback movement game. The screen game comes off of that.
“So obviously when you can have success running the football it provides more opportunities for the rest of your offense.” [nbcsports.com]
Currently, the rest of that offense is struggling, but Sanders' performance in Week 2 (after the opening-drive fumble, that is) was one of the few bright spots for the team this season. The Eagles didn't have any worries about running Sanders 20 times against Aaron Donald and the Rams after the Penn State product missed the opener with a hamstring injury that kept him out almost the entire preseason. I can't imagine they'll be shy about using him this week.
This could be a huge game for the second-year back.
It might be easy to look at the stats and say the Eagles run defense has struggled this season, especially after they allowed 191 yards to the Rams last week. But it's not that simple. They're currently 23rd in rushing yards allowed, but are 32nd in the NFL in rushing attempts against, which is skewing that first number. When you look at their yards-per-attempt number, however, they look to be the same old Eagles, allowing just 3.6 YPA, good for seventh in the league. And that's after a few long runs allowed this season, including a 40-yarder from Darrell Henderson last week.
This week, they'll face a Cincinnati team that is currently one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, averaging just 3.7 YPA (28th). Joe Mixon is averaging just 3.3 YPA on 35 rushes so far this season and the Bengals as a team are averaging just 95 yards per game. This has to be the under, right?
Well, the Eagles could be without their best run stuffer in Fletcher Cox, who was injured in the loss to the Rams and missed practice this week. He's currently questionable, but the Eagles have a fine backup plan in Javon Hargrave. He's no Fletcher Cox, but the drop-off shouldn't be too big to suddenly allow the Bengals to run all over the defense.
Still, if the Eagles want to win this game, they better keep this number low.
The Eagles defense is still looking for its first turnover of the season. Last week, the team got its first, but that came on a big special teams play by T.J Edwards and K'Von Wallace.
The turnover deficiency is becoming a real problem for the Eagles, especially as the offense seems to have a turnover problem of its own. Against a rookie quarterback, the Eagles should be able to get some pressure and perhaps be able to force Burrow into making a bad throw. Or perhaps Brandon Graham gets around the edge for a strip sack. They feel long overdue for one, but the Bengals have only turned the ball over three times through their first two games, so it hasn't really been an issue for them so far this season.
I (again, hopefully correctly this time) think the Eagles will get one this week, but that's it.
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