The Bengals’ upcoming game against the Philadelphia Eagles has a weird feeling as there is nothing much left to play for at this point in the season. At 3-7-1, two and a half games behind the Ravens and Steelers, and with only five games left to play, the Bengals are essentially playing for pride at this point. If the Bengals are going to have any hope of recording their first win in over a month, the team is going to need to make sure they get the most out of two key units: the offensive and defensive lines. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Eagles can be a very dangerous team, as Marvin Lewis explained on Wednesday, due to the talent of their rookie quarterback.
“Offensively, they’re playing with the young quarterback, who’s done a good job this year, particularly early in the season, with protecting the football,” Lewis said. “He got off to a really good start, as their season started off 3-0. But he’s done a nice job. He’s got great presence in the pocket. He’s made some plays, particularly the last two games, moving in the pocket.”
That said, if there is one thing that rookie quarterbacks are notorious for, it’s making critical mistakes when under pressure. The Eagles’ offensive line has done a good job of keeping the pressure off Wentz this year (25 sacks - 16th in the NFL). Much of that strong play has come from center Jason Kelce, whom Lewis raved about during his press conference.
“Their center, who’s a UC kid, Kelce, is one of the better players in the league, in my opinion,” Lewis said. “He’s really athletic and does a great job on all levels of blocking — at the line of scrimmage and anything downfield. He plays hard and is an impressive guy to watch on tape.”
For what it’s worth, Kelce is ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 33rd best center in the league, far from one of the “better players in the league”. Though, this hasn’t been has best season. But, Lewis employs Russell Bodine... so, there’s that.
That said, Kelce and the rest of the Eagles’ offensive line might have a difficult task this week. The Bengals haven’t exactly been lighting up the league in terms of pass rush this year (21 sacks - 25th in the NFL). But, they do have two of the NFL’s premier pass rushers at their respective positions, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap. If those two can make an impact, the Bengals shouldn’t have any issue flustering Wentz.
On the other side of the ball, one of the Bengals’ biggest issues in 2016 has been the lackluster play of the offensive line. Despite consistently good performances from left tackle Andrew Whitworth, the Bengals have seen left guard Clint Boling, center Russell Bodine, and right guard Kevin Zeitler struggle to protect the quarterback from time to time. And, right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi has experienced major issues adjusting to his first year in a starting role.
Bodine was benched against the Ravens last week primarily due to errant snaps, so the lack of cohesion and consistency has clearly become a huge issue for the Bengals’ offensive line, resulting in the fourth most sacks this season (32). It’s the kind of struggle that makes quarterback Andy Dalton’s job significantly more difficult, although he isn’t the kind of player who will admit that.
“You can’t worry about that,” Dalton said. “You have to trust that your guys are going to execute everything that you’re doing. They’re thinking the same thing for me.”
Regardless of whether or not Dalton worries about the issues on the offensive line, it is an issue that the Bengals as a whole need to worry about. That is especially true this week as the Bengals’ offensive line goes up against a very talented Eagles pass rush.
“Defensively, the front group is Fletcher Cox, Connor Barwin — he still plays very, very physical and with great energy — and (Brandon) Graham,” Lewis said. “And (Jordan) Hicks, who’s a local kid as well, is a good player in there at middle linebacker. He’s a good, athletic guy. A young player and really fun to watch in there.”
With so much talent on the defensive line, the Eagles don’t focus much attention on complicated blitz packages, as the Bengals do.
“That’s more their style,” Dalton explained. “The nature of their defense is not as much blitzing and more trusting the guys up front to get to the quarterback.”
It seems to be an effective enough strategy, as the Eagles currently rank 11th in the NFL in total sacks (26). That’s why the Bengals’ offensive line is going to have to be on it’s ‘A-game’ this week. Dalton is one of the few remaining members of the Bengals’ offense who consistently produces well, but it’s going to be hard for him to do that if he has the Eagles applying pressure throughout the game.