The Bengals want to write this game off and get on to Pittsburgh right away, but they know they can't. It seems like such an easy win on the surface that it's hard to blame them for looking ahead.
This is an Eagles team made up of backups led by a coach who epitomizes the expression "lame duck" (lame walrus?), and have nothing at stake any longer in regards to a postseason birth. It's surrounded by an angry fan base who have soured on Andy Reid and there seem to be more Eagles on their way out the door than in. Nothing is certain that wears green and stalks the sideline in Philadelphia these days.
Yet despite all that negativity and uncertainty, the backup-team trotted out by Andy Reid and his mates aren't all that bad. Close observers of Nick Foles can see his progression take leaps and bounds each week. The guy has a strong arm, throws surprisingly well when rolling left, and is establishing a report with his receivers. He still doesn't sense pressure well enough, still telegraphs his passes with his eyes too much and still has a long way to go, but the kid's got talent. Philly has slowly expanded the playbook with Foles and while the wrinkles in the offense remain fairly basic, one can see the complexity growing as he becomes more comfortable within the offense.
Nonetheless, the current Bengals defense should devour a rookie quarterback with only four starts under his belt.
Tony Romo played like a veteran and let the game come to him last week. The Bengals couldn't close it out efficiently and allowed the savvy old swashbuckler to checkmate them as time ticked down. Nick Foles, unlike Tony Romo, hasn't seen a front four like he will on Thursday night though. The Zim Clan is back to its true identity, but now appears to rush the passer even better than before. Michael Johnson is doubtful yet that doesn't discourage my enthusiasm toward the Bengals pass rush in this matchup. Mix in the fact that the Eagle offensive line is patch-worked thanks to injury, and you have yourself a regular old sack attack. Of course, I think that every week, but lately it's been mostly true.
Reid and company would like to further showcase the explosive newbie running back, Bryce Brown, to take some of the pressure from Foles. Brown is an exciting young man. He runs hard, has really nice open-field speed and scores touchdowns. However, he does have a knack for fumbling. Coaches can put up with a lot, but they can't put up with fumbling—at least not for long. Brown holds the ball away from his body, looking more like a discuss carrier than a football carrier. Like Jon Gruden said during a recent Monday Night Football game, if he continues to hold the ball like that, he will continue to fumble. Even if he doesn't, Tampa Bay showed last week that if a defense "sets the edge" and takes the corner away, he becomes rather powerless. Running off-tackle is what he does well. Limit that and he becomes just another guy.
As for the Philly defense, they too are hurt and depleted. They haven't been a real force since the Jim Johnson days, and they are currently a shell of that proud time. They are not without some quality young talent to build upon with likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and even DeMeco Ryans, and of course us Cincinnati folk love Trent Cole, but you won't see many other notable names in this game on the Eagle defense. The safeties look especially bad—particularly without Kurt Coleman. The vastly overpaid Nnamdi Asomugha still resides somewhere on the field, but he rarely makes plays anymore and he is nowhere near the shutdown corner he used to be. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is also no longer very good and either one of these guys should be roasted by A.J. Green on a regular basis. The Eagles secondary gives up chunk yards on blown coverages—mostly down the middle of the field—at least once a game. As long as there aren't any major pass-protection breakdowns, I don't see why the passing attack shouldn't have a great game.
There aren't many reasons why the Eagles should win this game but that isn't to say they can't. The young guys on their bench don't care about the misery Eagles fans feel in regards to all the injuries. They want to demonstrate to the next coach of the Philadelphia Eagles that they can play and should be one of the few pieces worth keeping when the rebuilding starts. They want to get paid too.
The Bengals have to take it very seriously. They need to come out as professionals and handle a lesser team on national television the way good teams do. They need to prove that they belong.
Bengals 35, Eagles 20