All week I tried to find some reason to promote any chance that the Bengals would beat the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bengals have hung-in against NFC East teams (26-23 overtime loss to the Giants, 31-22 loss to the Cowboys); though in those games, the Bengals offense had Carson Palmer. Ryan "Crazy Legs" Fitzpatrick will start his fifth consecutive game and sixth of the season. For his part, while not dressing up as mini-Ocho, Fitzpatrick passed well early against the Jaguars with a good game plan that kept his progressions simple and his releases quick; he's rushed for 94 yards on 10 carries in the past two games. On the other hand, he's committed four turnovers (three picks and a lost fumble).
Key #1: Pass Protection Enables The Deep Pass. All season the Bengals offensive line has been worked on pass protection. By allowing 30 sacks by the line, Bengals quarterbacks have become shifty and nervous in the pocket. For that reason, the deep pass hasn't been there (no 40-yard receptions this season) and, as a result, Chad Johnson has been held in check on pace to have the worst statistical season on record.
On the other hand, the Eagles are notorious pass rushers with an aggressive blitzing scheme, ranked fourth in the NFL with 28 quarterback sacks. Because of this, Fitzpatrick and Chad Johnson are fairly confident that they'll get the deep pass back on track. In order for that to happen, Levi Jones, Andrew Whitworth, Eric Ghiaciuc, Bobbie Williams and Stacy Andrews will need to solidify their efforts. Guys like Kenny Watson, Daniel Coats and Reggie Kelly must have their best effort picking up the blitzers between the guards and on the edges.
The Bengals have played the top-three defensive sacking teams. And in each game, they've given up five sacks or more. Protect the quarterback.
Key #2: Run Must Be Effective. For as long as I can remember, the Bengals aren't the type of offense than can force an opposing defense out of the blitz. I cringe, cry and drink myself into a stuper when they attempt a screen pass and draw plays usually end up with yardage lost -- unless it's 3rd and 15 and the opposing defense has eight guys covering over-the-top.
The team's only alternative is making sure that Cedric Benson pounds positive yardage so that Ryan Fitzpatrick can take short drops, hitting five yard routes for first downs. If the Bengals are looking too often for the deep pass, especially on third and long, then the Bengals will effectively play themselves out of this game. Benson must keep the downs manageable by gaining yards every time he rushes the ball. And they have to call his number at least 25 times. Fitzpatrick isn't a do-it-yourself quarterback, needing the help of a balanced offense.
Key #3: Conservative Pass Defense, Pass Rush by Front Four . We went through Donovan McNabb's slow starts in his past three games. If the Bengals go aggressive, but fail to rush and hit McNabb, then he'll pick us apart pass-by-pass. When McNabb goes into passing funks, the Bengals can't allow him to get back on track by keeping the secondary isolated. In order for that to work, Robert Geathers will need to bring his 2006 game, and Frostee Rucker is playing in a game that presents his best (and perhaps last) opportunity. If the front four can rush McNabb, then we can work this game. On the other hand, you have to account and neutralize the Eagle's best all-around player in Brian Westbrook.