The Bengals travel to Philadelphia for a prime-time matchup with the reeling Eagles on Thursday, and they must come away with a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. A loss would not be the end of the world, but it’s something you wouldn't want to risk this time of the year.
Let’s take a look at the keys of the game for the Bengals.
No team has been more effective scoring touchdowns on its opening drive than Cincinnati. That ability to strike quickly will be doubly effective against an Eagles team that is against the ropes and starting a rookie quarterback.
There is no greater weapon on the road than scoring early.
If there is a common denominator in five of Cincinnati's six losses this season it's that the Bengals failed to close out the win. Last week’s game is a perfect example. Despite leading by nine in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati still ended up with the loss.
During the Bengals’ four-game win streak, they closed out the wins with strong play in the fourth quarter. They need to continue that on Thursday.
Nick Foles is expected to start at quarterback for the Eagles, and running back LeSean McCoy is out. As a result, the Bengals need to make the rookie QB beat them.
While rookies have traditionally fared well against Cincinnati, this is one case where the Bengals need to reverse the trend. Put pressure on him and force him into bad throws. That’s the combination for victory.
For three quarters against Dallas, the Bengals dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That trend reversed itself in the fourth quarter, and Cincinnati went down to defeat.
Philadelphia is a talented, if beaten, team and dominating the line of scrimmage is the best place to start. The Bengals need to take the Eagles pass-rushers out of the game and not allow the Philly offense to get comfortable.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was on his way to his best game of the season on Sunday against Dallas when the Bengals suddenly stopped handing him the ball.
Green-Ellis is not a bell-cow type of back, but he has shown to be very good when the defense is reading pass. Call the veteran’s number again and ride him to victory.
An old cliché but an important one. Teams that win the turnover battle generally win games, and that is especially true against a desperate underdog like Philadelphia. If the Bengals take care of the ball and force the Eagles into mistakes, victory could be surprisingly easy.
Josh Brown had a very successful debut with four field goals for the Bengals on Sunday, but nobody wants to see their kicker trot onto the field that many times unless it is for an extra point.
If the Bengals turn just one of those field goals into a touchdown, then they take a five-game win streak into the Philly game. They can’t afford to leave points on the board.
Ever since the Bengals fell to 3-5 on the season, they have played with the sort of abandon that not only wins football games, but wins them easily. They lost that drive in the fourth quarter against Dallas, and it cost them a win.
The playoffs are no guarantee, and the Bengals will need to win at least two of their last three games in order to squeak into the tournament. Cincy needs to re-channel that hunger that carried the team during the win streak.
Between penalties, dropped passes and substitution errors, the Bengals did themselves no favors in the second half against Dallas. All of those mistakes are mental in nature, and they cost teams wins.
The Bengals need to maintain their focus through all four quarters and do all of the little things that win games.
Win or lose, the Bengals will still need to beat Pittsburgh next week in order to make the playoffs. But that doesn’t mean Cincinnati can afford to take the week off.
This game has the feel of a classic trap game, with the young Bengals overlooking a weak opponent to the archrival next week. This is where coach Marvin Lewis and the veterans come in.
They need to take care of business against Philly before they can even worry about the other Pennsylvania team.