Some fans are wishing the Bengals would tank for the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean they want to see the team lose but, they wouldn’t be upset if at the game’s end the Eagles have scored more points than Cincinnati. Others, and you can count me among them, want them to play for pride, as I am sure the players and coaching staff will, but wouldn’t mind a higher draft pick either. Win-win situation?
Both the Bengals and the Eagles are essentially out of the playoffs race, but Philly started their youth movement last summer and Cincinnati is in a whole different place. With this said, even if there’s not much to play for, there are a few other things to watch for on Sunday, including more of the young Bengals players and an Eagles squad led by a rookie quarterback and an impressive front seven.
Here are five Eagles players you should watch for tomorrow. Remember, this is not a list of Philadelphia’s five best players.
Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle:
The guys at ProFootballFocus.com and Bleacher Report NFL 1000 think that center Russell Bodine has improved a lot the past few weeks. I don’t know to which extent, as he was benched last Sunday, even though that was because of his inability to properly snap the football. He - and guards Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling, who haven’t been consistently playing great in 2016 - faces a really tough challenge in Cox, who is even more lethal now as a three-technique.
Jim Schwartz might be responsible for unlocking a lot of talent in the Eagles defensive line after a switch to a 4-3 defense, but Cox has always been there, one of the best interior linemen in the league for the last few years. He is very athletic, quick off the snap and has great hands. And the other guys around him make it tough for opposing offensive coordinators to double-team him on a consistent basis.
Andy Dalton needs time to throw, as he doesn’t have A.J. Green for at least one more week. Neutralizing Cox would go a long way in doing so.
Allen Barbre, offensive lineman:
Not only did the Eagles lose one of the best offensive tackles when Lane Johnson was suspended weeks ago, they also saw backup Halapoulivaati Vaitai go down with an injury in their game against the Seahawks. Philly has moved around its pieces and the veteran Barbre is now manning the right tackle position.
He was good in Week 12, but as a guard, he is better suited for the running game and it could be a nice opportunity for Carlos Dunlap to regain form. The Bengals’ defensive end hasn’t been getting to the quarterback as frequently as he surely wished he was. Much of what the Bengals’ defense does relies on him and Geno Atkins to get to the quarterback.
The Eagles should utilize quick throws and slants routes to neutralize Dunlap. They’ve been doing it all season long to help quarterback Carson Wentz, but that is also the same gameplan that the Giants trotted out successfully against Cincinnati on Monday Night Football.
Zach Ertz, tight end:
Ertz hasn’t been disappointing only fantasy owners, but Eagles fans, too. He now has 38 catches over 11 games this season for 363 yards and one touchdown, a year after going north of 800 yards. He has been targeted, but the results haven’t been there. Ertz is a poor blocker and that hurts him with an offensive line going through multiple injuries, but the lack of production has to be painful for the Eagles.
Alas, the Bengals have a reputation for turning average tight ends into All-Pro players for one day. We know their linebackers can’t cover in space and with Shawn Williams back to the safety position they have another suspect guy out there - he’s been good, just better closer to the line of scrimmage.
Nelson Agholor, wide receiver:
Jordan Matthews is the only reliable receiver the Eagles have and he’s not a lock to play. Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick played a solid game last week and will try to keep the trend going on Sunday, just because that would make Philly’s offense over reliant on their running game, which hasn’t been perfect, and will be missing starting back Ryan Mathews (who has already been ruled out).
Agholor has been a disappointment. I drafted him in my two fantasy leagues last season, I believed in him. He’s been going through a mental slump that saw him inactive on Monday against the Packers. He’s still good though, he just needs to turn a corner. Maybe paired up with Darqueze Dennard inside tomorrow... Hopefully the Bengals cornerback rises to the occasion when matched up against the young Eagles receiver.
Jordan Hicks, inside linebacker:
Watch Hicks play to see what it feels to have a good middle linebacker who can play in space and rarely misses a tackle. Or just hope the Bengals put Vontaze Burfict in that spot for the rest of the season. Hicks is a complete player who always is on top of the playbook, and has been forecast to be a coach when he retires.
The middle is where the Bengals can win or lose games right now. Both Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert need to be featured there, and it won’t only be up to Hicks to disrupt that part of their offense, but he will be key. Jeremy Hill will also have a hard time making him miss.