Bengals vs. Eagles: 10 Keys to the Game for Philadelphia
Heading into the Week 15 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, only one team is in the running for a postseason spot. It's not the team that most would have picked at the beginning of the season either.
The Eagles, preseason NFC East favorites by many experts and Super Bowl favorites by a select few, have struggled to a 4-9 start, including an eight-game losing streak that ended last Sunday at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bengals, on the other hand, earned a wild-card berth in the AFC last season but few expected the team to challenge for a second consecutive postseason berth. Here they are though, with a 7-6 record and a decent chance at earning the final wild-card spot in the AFC.
The following 10 slides will take a look at today's game between the Eagles and the Bengals, in no particular order, from the Eagles' perspective.
1. Stop Geno Atkins
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has managed to play five games, four of them starts, without taking any really hard shots in the pocket.
His luck could be running out on Thursday night, as he will face a defensive tackle in Geno Atkins who is having an absolute monster season.
Atkins should be in the running for Defensive Player of the Year, even though he hasn't received as much hype as Von Miller, JJ Watt or Aldon Smith. But Atkins is as disruptive as any single player in the game right now, and he could be a big part of stopping Foles.
2. Contain A.J. Green
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Notice that I said contain A.J. Green. It's not possible to stop the Bengals' second-year wide receiver, who has already emerged as one of the best playmaking receivers in the National Football League.
Through 13 games, Green has 79 catches for 1,151 yards and 10 touchdowns. He and Andy Dalton have formed one of the best quarterback-to-wide receiver combinations in the league. Against an Eagles secondary that has allowed 19 touchdowns since its last interception (no joke), Green should have a field day.
After all, Larry Fitzgerald, Victor Cruz, Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones already torched the Eagles defense this season. Green will do the same.
3. Bounceback Game from Bryce Brown
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
In his first two career starts, rookie running back Bryce Brown rushed for 347 yards, quickly establishing himself as one of the more promising young running backs in the game. But Brown hit a roadblock against a dominant Buccaneers' run defense, carrying 12 times for just six yards last week.
The jury is still out on Brown, who needs to rebound with at least a solid performance against the Bengals (80 yards) to give the Eagles a legitimate chance of winning the game.
4. Efficiency from Nick Foles
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
The Eagles don't need 400 passing yards and three touchdowns from rookie Nick Foles to beat the Bengals. In fact, they should lean on the run game, particularly rookie Bryce Brown, to win.
Foles needs to complete over 60 percent of his passes without any turnovers. If he can do that, the Eagles have a very good chance of winning the game. But if he commits at least two turnovers or puts the Eagles into a hole, don't expect to see Philly climb out of it like it did last week when it trailed Tampa Bay by 11 points with four minutes remaining in the game.
5. An Interception... Just One
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Interception. The word has become foreign to the Philadelphia Eagles, who have just seven this season. Four of those came in the season opener against rookie Brandon Weeden. And none have come in the last seven games, since the team fired defensive coordinator Juan Castillo.
That's insane. That shouldn't even be possible in this day and age of the National Football League. Any sort of luck and the Eagles would have had at least one interception. That's what they need against Andy Dalton and the Bengals on Thursday night.
Just give the Eagles a ball that bounces into a defender's arms. Just one interception. Maybe it'll be enough to win.
6. Contain Jermaine Gresham
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham is hardly one of the best tight ends in the game. He's had his problems with drops this season and he's not a very good blocker.
But he's caught 55 passes for 636 yards and five touchdowns, very respectable receiving numbers, and he's playing a Philly defense that has struggled against any living, moving target on offense who has the capability of catching and running with the football.
Expect rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks to spend a lot of the day covering Gresham. If the Eagles can keep him under 50 yards receiving, it's a moral victory.
7. Respectable Turnout by Clay Harbor
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
For the first time since he was in sixth grade, Eagles tight end Brent Celek will miss a football game (and he likely wouldn't be missing this game if it were played on Sunday instead of Thursday). Celek suffered a concussion in the victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving after just one play.
Backup Clay Harbor played well, catching six passes, including a touchdown, in the 23-21 victory. He will need to turn in an equally impressive game against the Bengals. The Eagles can't afford to lose out on tight end production just because Celek is out of the starting lineup. This is Harbor's turn to shine.
8. Take Advantage of Late-Season Spoiler Role
Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images
For the Cincinnati Bengals, this is exactly the kind of game they would overlook on their schedule. They face the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in Week 16 and they end their season with a home game against the struggling Baltimore Ravens. With the AFC North completely up in the air still, it's going to be difficult to focus on Philadelphia when the next two games will likely decide the division.
The Eagles had the opportunity to play spoiler, likely ending the playoff hopes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, last week. They'll get to try to do the same against the Bengals this week (and possibly against the Washington Redskins in Week 16 and the New York Giants in Week 17).
9. Build on Emotional Win
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
There definitely was a lot of emotion for the Philadelphia Eagles last week. After all, they needed a walk-off come-from-behind touchdown to defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ending their eight-game losing streak in dramatic fashion.
This is a short week and the players are likely still ecstatic about finally winning a game after more than two months. Against an unfamiliar opponent, this could be the kind of game where the Eagles come out looking completely flat, especially Foles, who was the hero of last week's game.
10. Keep Andy Reid's Job?
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
I do not believe that there is any way that the Philadelphia Eagles bring back head coach Andy Reid for the final year of his contract. Following back-to-back extremely disappointing seasons, owner Jeffrey Lurie has no choice but to move on from the most successful head coach in franchise history.
However, in the slim likelihood that a late-season winning streak could save Reid's job, just like it did in 2011, a win against the Bengals is absolutely vital. A two-game winning streak to end the year is not going to impress anyone. A four-game winning streak, depending on the results of the games, has a very slim chance.