Wake-Up Call: Eagles-Bengals Preview Q&A
In this week’s installment of Opposition Research, we talked to Cincinnati Enquirer Bengals beat reporter Jim Owczarski. We discussed the Bengals’ recent struggles, why they’ve failed to live up to preseason expectations, key matchups and who will win, among a few other topics.
What are the Bengals’ strengths?
“I don’t know that they have one strength they can rely on at this point now that A.J. Green is out for the foreseeable future with his hamstring injury. Andy Dalton, through seven games, had a passer rating over 100 and was arguably playing at a higher level than he was a year ago when he was a part of the MVP conversation before his injury. But the last four games for him has been his worse stretch since the middle of 2014. As of right now, I would say the strength is an improving defense. Over the last three games, they’re giving up about 18.7 points per game, which would be in the top-10 in the league. While their total ranks are not impressive, the defense has been better both in limiting touchdowns and creating turnovers.”
What are the Bengals’ weaknesses?
“At this point, two things. Offensively, they cannot score in the fourth quarter. It’s almost unexplainable. The Bengals have scored one touchdown and two field goals — 13 points — in the last six games in the fourth quarter. On defense, they’re improving, but in six out of the last eight games they’ve allowed a touchdown on their opponent’s opening drive so this team is trailing very early in games and they can’t score.”
Outside of Green, what other notable injuries are the Bengals dealing with?
“[Running back] Giovani Bernard is out for the season. This is their second game without him; he tore his ACL at the end of the game in Buffalo. Rex Burkhead is going to fill that hole. He had 48 total yards of offense last week, which isn’t eye-popping, but he kind of found a rhythm at the end of that game so he’s a player I’m sure the Eagles will pay attention to. Dalton has been on the injury report in the last three weeks with a right shoulder. He starts the week on the injury report and then at the end of the week he’s not on it. He says he’s fine, but he’s taken some hard hits. His throws haven’t looked very good — his accuracy is way down. The deep ball, which he’s usually so accurate on in the last year and a half, has sort of gone away from him. When you look at the eye test, he doesn’t seem right.”
How are the Bengals dealing with life without Green and Bernard?
“They’ve tried some different things, but [tight end] Tyler Eifert is seeing double coverage and the safety over the top. On the lone touchdown the Bengals scored against Baltimore, he was triple-covered in the end zone; Andy Dalton broke out of the pocket, started running and Tyler Eifert was able to break away and find some space. Tyler Eifert had five catches last week, but it was all in the second half and all when the Ravens had a double-digit lead and when he was in single coverage. I imagine you’d see the same type of game plan from the Eagles really blanketing him and keeping him out of those one-on-one situations.”
Before the season, a lot of people viewed the Bengals as a top-10 team. Why do you think they’ve failed to meet expectations so much at 3-7-1?
“That’s a great question, and it’s a question many members of the team and coaching staff have struggled to answer. This group has won a lot over the last five years — five straight playoff games — and there are only a handful of guys who know what it’s like to have a losing season or struggle in a season. It’s unexplainable in a lot of ways; injuries aren’t really a part of it. I think it’s a combination of elements: 1) The defense’s key elements got old really fast — [defensive end] Michael Johnson, [linebacker] Rey Maualuga, [linebacker] Karlos Dansby and others they counted on to play big roles this year just haven’t been very good. Offensively, they’re working in [wide receivers] Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd, but they aren’t Marvin Jones or Mohamed Sanu. Frankly, they’re just not as good or as deep at that position. They’re 1-4-1 in games lost by a possession, so they’re in games, but they’re not closing games.”
What’s a key matchup that could determine who wins?
“It may be too simple to say offensive line vs. defensive line, but the Bengals’ offensive line this year has not been very good. Andy Dalton has been hit a lot, he’s been sacked a lot and he’s had to run around quite a bit. At times, they’ve played very well; most of the time, not so much. I’m also looking forward to seeing [linebacker] Vontaze Burfict against Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles or Wendell Smallwood. Burfict is playing his best football of the year; he’s in shape, his legs are under him. He’s recognizing things and Doug Pederson was very complimentary about how he’s reading crossing routes, but teams threw at him early and they went after him early in the year. Tight ends really tore apart the Bengals, but it hasn’t happened as of late so I’m curious if Carson Wentz will stay away from him or go after him.”
Who do you think will win?
“Over at Cincinnati.com, I have 17-12 Eagles. I think that’s the MO of the Bengals team the last four weeks: close, relatively ugly and might even be driving down late with a chance to win the game before finding a way to not have that happen. I understand the Eagles are struggling, especially on the road, but I’ve seen too much whether it’s the defense with momentary lapses or the offense not being able to get out of their own way. Kicker Mike Nugent is also under a lot of fire here. Fans in Cincinnati are waiting to boo him; he’s missed three straights PATs and he’s missed field goals lately. He’s really struggled the last four weeks and honestly, I don’t know if he’ll make a kick that matter on Sunday. I think it will be close and ugly, but I think the Bengals will lose.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
All-22: What the film has to say about whether the Fletcher Cox criticism is warranted.
Three numbers that matter for this week’s game agains the Cincinnati Bengals.
Take a look at our picks for this week’s NFL games.
“I think it’s just the mental side of things and playing faster and faster each week.” Carson Wentz is still a work in progress as a starting rookie quarterback.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Despite being a work in progress, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo says Wentz is improving every day, writes Paul Domowitch of the Daily News.
“I see him every day,” DeFilippo said. “I see the improvement every day. I probably have a different perspective than most people.”
This season isn’t about numbers for Wentz. This season is about learning and growing and improving and gaining valuable playing experience that is going to help him next year and the year after and the year after that.
“I feel confident with where I’m at,” Wentz said this week. “Mentally, things are slowing down. A lot of (the improvement) is probably things you don’t see. Mentally grasping the concepts and progressions and protections and things like that. It’s just a matter of playing faster and faster each week.”
Wentz, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards at North Dakota State, has been reluctant to take off and run this season. Until Monday when he rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown against the Packers.
Vinny Curry’s production has decreased after he signed a big extension in the offseason, but he remains confident he can bounce back from his low sack total, pens Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com.
With an average of $9.45 million per year, Curry is the 10th-highest-paid defensive end in the NFL.
That contract has landed a big, giant bullseye on Curry’s back, and he knows it.
He also believes the effort is there. Just not the results.
“End of the day, that bullseye, anybody in their right mind that understands football will understand the opportunities I’m receiving, I’m making the best of them,” Curry said at his locker after practice on Thursday.
“I still ain’t complaining. I ain’t jumping up saying [I’m not playing enough], you know? It is what it is. They can say what they want, I know I’m out there busting my ass for the team.”
Doug Pederson will address the media for the final time this week at 10:40.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.