The Cincinnati Bengals' path to the postseason continues on with their Thursday night trip to Philadelphia to take on the 4-9 Eagles. The Eagles aren't as threateningly unpredictable as the Dallas Cowboys were last week (in the game that snapped Cincinnati's four-game win streak), but a short week can often catch teams off-guard and the Bengals need to be as prepared as possible.
The easiest, most clear-cut way the Bengals can reach the playoffs is by winning all three of their remaining games, so they must approach this contest as a must-win and play like their football lives depend on it. Here's a game plan for them to do just that.
Get to Nick Foles
Like the San Diego Chargers in Week 13, the Eagles are yet another Bengals opponent with a terrible pass-protecting offensive line. They've allowed 177 total pressures this season (sacks, hits and hurries, not counting sacks that are attributable to other reasons than protection) and is why Nick Foles is starting at quarterback in place of the concussed Michael Vick.
In five games and four starts, Foles has been sacked 14 times—the same amount of sacks Eli Manning has taken for the entire season—and he's thrown only four touchdowns to his three interceptions. Rookies are generally susceptible to pressure, especially ones like Foles who are starting unexpectedly, and with him behind that line and facing the Bengals' seriously strong pass-rushers, he's like a sitting duck this week.
The Bengals currently have 32 sacks on the season, led by Geno Atkins with 10.5 and Michael Johnson with 8.5. Johnson is currently questionable for Thursday's game with a toe injury, which means Robert Geathers or Wallace Gilberry could get the start or at least see increased playing time.
However, that's not really a downgrade—Gilberry himself has four sacks thus far and Geathers, three. And with that offensive line, it really won't matter who is playing defensive end—the pass-rushing talent of the Bengals defense shouldn't have much trouble getting to Foles and shutting down the Eagles passing attack.
Keep the Run Game Going
One of the keys to the Bengals' now-ended four-game win streak has been their run game. Out of seemingly nowhere (or rather, a switch to Trevor Robinson at center), the Bengals have been putting up well over 100 rushing yards per game. Over the last four weeks, their fewest rushing yards totaled 128, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis making up most of them.
He'll be the focus of Cincinnati's run game again this week, with fellow back Cedric Peerman listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. But as long as the blocking continues to be as strong as it's been in the past four weeks, it shouldn't matter that Peerman isn't around to spell him. (Brian Leonard and rookie Dan Herron will back him up.)
With 974 yards and five touchdowns off of 238 carries, Green-Ellis is having the best season of his professional career. He's had at least 89 rushing yards in each of his last four games after having only two games with 80 or more in the weeks prior. With Green-Ellis running well, the Bengals have been able to extend drives and rely less heavily on the passing game, which is useful both because of the late-season weather conditions are very run-friendly, and it also gives the Bengals a way to put up significant yards even when their top receiver, A.J. Green, is too well-covered to make a major impact (like last week against Dallas).
The Eagles defense hasn't been strong against either the run or the pass this year, making it possible for the Bengals to be successful with both approaches. However, the Eagles are slightly weaker when it comes to defending the run, giving up an average of 119.3 yards per game. Though Philadelphia ranks in the top 10 when it comes to rushing touchdowns allowed per game, that number jumps to 1.3 over their past three games, an average that puts it among the league's worst.
Keep the game on the ground, eat up playing time and let the defense get refreshed and ready to attack Foles—it's a simple formula, one that should bring the Bengals a victory, if executed properly.