The Bengals are getting ready to take on the Eagles. This is a matchup of winless teams, but Philadelphia is by far the more surprising (0-2) team. We took this opportunity to try to get a better look at this Eagles’ team by talking with Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation.
Patrick Judis: Carson Wentz hasn’t gotten off to the best start in 2020. He already has over half (4) of his total interceptions from 2019 (7). Have you seen anything to explain these struggles, and what is your confidence level in him at this point moving forward?
Brandon Gowton: There’s no sugarcoating it: Wentz has been flat out terrible. He owns the league’s second worst passer rating through two games. Pro Football Focus has him as their lowest graded quarterback. Football Outsiders ranks him 34th out of 34 quarterbacks in DVOA.
His accuracy is awful. He’s tied (with Joe Burrow, actually) for the NFL lead in poor throws as determined by Pro Football Reference. There have been too many instances where Wentz has had a clean pocket to work with and he just hasn’t been able to deliver the ball to his intended target. His mechanics are awful; his footwork is a mess. Oh, and he’s also struggled with decision-making.
My confidence level isn’t very high. I do think he’ll rebound to some extent at some point because it’s just so hard to imagine he’ll continue to be THIS bad. We’ve obviously seen him play much better than this in the past so we know he’s capable of improving. But it’s also hard to envision a major rebound how he’s stubborn and doesn’t seem to be taking well to coaching. Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor — Bengals head coach Zac Taylor’s little brother — is known for being more of a buddy than a disciplinarian when it comes to his relationship with Wentz. I just don’t know that anyone really has the power to get on Wentz’s case and properly hold him accountable for struggling.
PJ: The Eagles defense wasn’t able to put the clamps on the Rams in Week 2. That isn’t that big of a deal, but when you combine that with giving up a big lead in Week 1 to Washington, it starts to raise some eyebrows. Are there legitimate concerns with areas of this defense?
BG: I thought the defense played relatively well in Week 1. They gave up 27 unanswered, yeah, but costly offensive turnovers were a big contributing factor there. Washington started all of their scoring drives in Philly’s territory. Now, the defense could’ve done a better job at forcing field goals and/or coming up with a turnover or two. They weren’t perfect. But they held Washington’s offense to 3.4 yards per play. For context, teams that averaged fewer than 3.5 yards per play in 2019 went 0-18 and lost by an average of 20 points. The Eagles ranked fourth in defensive DVOA after Week 1.
Week 2 was obviously a different story. The Eagles gave up 37 points and 449 yards of offense. The Rams were making it look way too easy as they scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to get out to a 21 to 3 lead. Philly’s linebackers were exposed. Their highly compensated defensive line couldn’t pressure Jared Goff. It was bad.
Jim Schwartz took blame for the defensive struggles by saying that his defensive game plan was too simple. He also said that they adjusted during the game and things got a little better but it was ultimately too little, too late.
I do have some level of confidence that the defense can be better than it was last week. For all the ire that Schwartz draws, his track record suggests he’s a good defensive coordinator. The Eagles entered the 2020 season with the sixth fewest points allowed (and THE fewest allowed at home) since Schwartz was hired in 2016. I think he’ll have his unit looking more respectable than they looked in Week 2.
PJ How much has Alshon Jeffery’s absence impacted this offense, and how has everyone else stepped up to try and fill in?
BG: I don’t think the Eagles are actually missing Jeffery all that much. (Anyone can feel free to dig this answer back up after he looks good when he returns in the near future.)
This isn’t to say that they’re so great without him; that’s obviously not the case. But Jeffery isn’t what he used to be. The 30-year-old is coming off his least productive and efficient season as a full-time starter. He just looked slow out there last year. And I don’t know how much better he’s really going to be after recovering from a serious foot injury (Lisfranc) that occurred in mid-December 2019.
Now, the Eagles could certainly use someone to fill Jeffery’s role as the X receiver. There’s no natural replacement there. 2020 first-round pick Jalen Reagor was lining up in that spot but he’s ideally more of a Z guy. Reagor is also now hurt and expected to miss up to seven weeks, so that’s a real bummer. The Eagles seemingly drafted J.J. Arcega-Whiteside at No. 57 overall in the 2019 NFL Draft with the intent of him being a Jeffery replacement. But JJAW has struggled to make an impact as a receiver; he’s primarily been used as a blocker.
DeSean Jackson, who turns 34 this season, is the Eagles’ best receiver. He looks like he can still be effective but the Eagles are also trying to manage his workload. Greg Ward has six receptions for 36 yards so far and his playing time as a slot receiver is limited since the Eagles frequently utilize two tight ends. 2020 fifth-round rookie John Hightower had a good camp but has just one reception for negative two yards on four targets.
TL;DR — The Eagles had one of the NFL’s worst receiving corps last year. It’s really not that much better right now.
PJ: Who is a player (or players) that you feel like doesn’t get enough national attention that you think Bengals fans should know going into the game?
BG: I thought 2019 undrafted rookie free agent signing Nate Herbig played pretty well in his second career start at right guard last week. He was opening some holes up in the run game. It looks like the Eagles might be moving Herbig to left guard with Isaac Seumalo going on injured reserve so it’ll be interesting to see if he can successfully handle that transition. If he can, that could be big for paving the way for Miles Sanders to have a big day against a vulnerable Bengals run defense.
PJ: What is your prediction for Sunday and who do you think plays the biggest part in the outcome for the Eagles?
BG: There are two reasons why I think the Eagles could win this game.
1) The Bengals won’t have an answer for Sanders. The Eagles can take pressure off a struggling Wentz by pounding the rock over and over.
2) The Eagles’ defensive line will come alive against a Bengals offensive line that has allowed the third most pressures through two games.
But I just can’t give the Eagles the benefit of the doubt right now. I’m too concerned about Wentz and I could see Burrow having enough success against this defense.
My prediction is that this game ends in a tie: 17 to 17. Feels like that would be the most frustrating outcome for the Birds. A win would have at least some fans believing the season is not entirely lost. A loss would go towards serving as a wake up call that changes need to be made. I have no idea what a tie accomplishes. So I’ll go with that.
It wouldn’t be the first time an Eagles and Bengals game ended in such fashion.
Thanks again to Brandon Gowton for taking the time out to answer our questions. Make sure you go check out more of his work and Eages coverage at Bleeding Green Nation.