The more things change, the more they stay the same. If you’re unsure how to feel about the Cincinnati Bengals after the team lost its Week 2 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, I get it. The excitement of watching a revitalized offensive attack couldn’t be enjoyed because the defense slunk back into its hapless 2019 shell. The one that allowed running lanes wide enough for a semi. The one that tackled more wind than running backs. The one that allowed nearly 400 yards of offense every game. It was rough last Thursday.
Considering the team spent over $100 million in free agency to bolster that defense, Week 2 was alarming. But there was a silver lining: Joe Burrow looks to be legit. His skill set has translated to the league nicely through two weeks. The offense moved the ball with ease and showed some competitive fire.
Week 3 presents a new challenge that will teach us a lot about who this 2020 Cincinnati team–and particularly its defense–is. The Philadelphia Eagles and Carson Wentz are struggling. Between blowing a 17-point lead in Week 1 and Wentz’s two interceptions in Week 2, it’s been a tough couple of weeks. They desperately need this game, as starting 0-3 is practically the kiss of death for a playoff-hopeful team. We saw Baker Mayfield have a bounce-back type game versus the soft Cincy defense, so the question is if defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo can put together a gameplay to stop the same thing from happening with Wentz.
Before we preview this matchup, let’s catch up on some Bengals news from the week.
Fred Johnson is still the starting RG
Despite struggling during Week 2, Fred Johnson remains the starting RG for Cincinnati. In a press conference Tuesday, Zac Taylor cited his reasoning and cut Johnson a break:
Zac Taylor made a great point about Fred Johnson starting on a short week
This week he’ll get a real practice in
— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 24, 2020
With it being a short week, it’s understandable that Johnson, who usually plays tackle, would be in the dark on some things as he transitioned to guard. However, he still posted a grade of 54.2 according to PFF. That poor play just can’t continue this week.
WR Auden Tate is unhappy
After his client was a healthy scratch during the Browns game last week, wide receiver Auden Tate’s agent gave reporters some information: Tate is frustrated with Taylor’s decision and with his overall usage in the offensive scheme. Deiric Jackson, who represents Tate, said that he would be in contact with the team and claimed his willingness to seek a trade if nothing changes.
Tate being inactive in that game was a bit of a head-scratcher, given the fact that Burrow threw the ball 61 times and Tate reportedly had a good camp rapport with the rookie QB. In 12 games last year, Tate had 40 catches for 575 yards and made some eye-popping plays. It’ll be interesting to follow that storyline this week.
TE CJ Uzomah has a torn achilles
After being carted off the field against the Browns, Zac Taylor confirmed CJ Uzomah has a torn Achilles and is out for the season. It’s a tough blow, as Uzomah was having a solid start to the season and is one of the team’s leaders. In fact, Burrow called him a “security blanket” in a presser this week. Moving forward, it will be Drew Sample show at tight end.
DT Geno Atkins is out again
Atkins will miss his third straight game and hasn’t even practiced this season. Jake Liscoe from the LockedOn Bengals podcast hit the nail on the head with his take regarding the situation; it feels ominously familiar…
Geno Atkins hasn't participated in practices since the beginning of September. The Bengals clearly expected he'd be back this week or they would have put him on the IR. After the Green injury saga last year, I'm just tired.
— Jake (@Jake_NFL) September 24, 2020
Now, for our weekly preview:
Bengals/Eagles talk coming just as soon as I pump in virtual boos…
Eagles pumped in the boos.
This team… pic.twitter.com/o7BeFJTZPV
— Barstool Philly (@BarstoolPhiIIy) September 20, 2020
Four things to know
1.) The Bengals have the lowest yards per passing attempt in the league. Before this past week’s TNF game, Burrow led the league in passing attempts at 97. He’s thrown for 509 yards, avoided turnovers, and completed nearly 62% of his passes. However, one figure looms: he’s averaging a league-low 5.2 yards per attempt. After being a staple of Burrow’s game at LSU, the deep ball has not been quite shown itself in the NFL, which could be due to a multitude of reasons. There’s a lackluster offensive line that forces the ball out of his hand quickly, a lack of chemistry with wide receivers following an abbreviated offseason with no preseason, and just general NFL inexperience. After all, he’s only played two NFL games. But one thing’s clear: it must get fixed. And Joe knows that. As a matter of fact, he said so in a press conference earlier this week, which moves us to the next point…
2.) Deep passes have been a point of emphasis this week. According to Joe Goodberry, who is a popular Bengals analyst on Twitter, Burrow has thrown it deep 11th most of all NFL QBs this year, but ranks 32nd out of 33 qualifying players in completion percentage on those passes. The Bengals only have one pass completion that’s gone for more than 20 yards. If there’s ever a game to get it figured out, this is the one to do it. The Philadelphia defense has allowed seven passing plays of 20+ yards this season. Once the deep passes start hitting, the Bengals will start winning.
3.) The Eagles are badly dinged up. Injuries and the Eagles, a duo right up there with peanut butter and jelly or Oreos and milk. You can’t have one without the other–and this season’s no different. Rookie WR Jalen Raegor has been sent to the IR with a thumb injury. O-lineman Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard have suffered long-term injuries, and guard Isaac Seumalo landed on the IR with a knee injury. Defensive end Vinny Curry is also on the IR with a knee injury. Philly enters the game with a patchwork o-line and without the services of its first-round draft pick. Tough breaks all around for the 0-2 ball club.
4.) It’s a family affair. Zac Taylor’s brother, Press Taylor, is Philly’s QB coach. The two will be competing for bragging rights Sunday, and according to Zac, there’s no love lost. “I’ve got a ton of respect for my brother. He’s a hard worker (and) good football coach, but that means nothing this week,” Zac Taylor said. “We just want to go get a win.”
Three matchups to watch
1.) Bengals OL vs. Eagles DL: It’s probably safe to pencil the Cincy OL into this section every week. They’ll be up against the likes of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Javon Hargrave this time around. Can they open running lanes for Joe Mixon or allow Burrow a couple of extra seconds of protection? The Eagles have allowed 271 rushing yards and four rushing scores this season, so there’s definitely a vulnerability there. You have to think the Cincinnati offense will look to take advantage, but it will come down to the play of the offensive line.
2.) Carson Wentz vs Joe Burrow: Two QBs with a lot to prove are squaring off in this one. Both guys lead 0-2 teams that desperately want a win. Burrow, the #1 pick seeking his first career win, and Wentz, the former top pick fighting the seemingly endless battle of convincing Philly he is a worthwhile franchise QB. I think we’ll see some more deep shots from Burrow this week and I think we’ll see Wentz look to his tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert a lot. Whereas Burrow has protected the ball fairly well this season, excluding the silly interception in Week 1 and strip-sack in Week 2, Wentz has turned it over a ton. After only throwing seven interceptions all of last season, he’s thrown four in two games. The winner of this game may just be the QB who turns the ball over less.
3.) Miles Sanders vs. Bengals D: Last week Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb ran through the Cincy defense like a hot knife through butter, basically killing any chance the Bengals had to stay in the game. They won’t face a two-headed monster this week, but Philly does have quite a playmaker in second-year running back Miles Sanders. In his season debut last week, he went for 95 yards and one TD on 20 carries. If the Bengals want a chance to earn their first win of the Joe Burrow era, their defense is going to have to corral Sanders.
Two names to know
1.) WR Greg Ward
Last season, when Philadelphia was pulling guys off the street to suit up during its remarkable playoff push, Greg Ward emerged as a quite a playmaker for the Eagles. After spending most of 2019 on the practice squad, Ward started three of the team’s final seven games and recorded 254 receiving yards and one score.
In 2020, he remains a valuable asset in Philly’s dilapidated wide receiver room. So far this season, Ward has six catches for 36 yards on eight targets, but with Alshon Jeffery ruled out of Week 3 and first-round pick Jalen Raegor on the IR, Ward ought to be in line for a hefty target share if Wentz gets back on track.
2.) TE Drew Sample
After a rather disappointing rookie season, the former second-round pick enters Week 3 as the team’s starting tight end. It comes due to the unfortunate injury to CJ Uzomah, who will miss the rest of the season with a torn Achilles. In the limited action he saw last week, it was very clear Sample has a connection with Burrow, as the two connected on seven completions for 45 yards. Given a full game as the starter, it’s reasonable to assume Sample’s workload will increase. He’s got the draft pedigree and many inside the organization have praised his game, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him post some good numbers this week.
One way the Bengals can win
The key ingredient to a Bengals win in Week 3 is generating explosive plays on offense. Through two weeks, they’ve only had one 20+ yard pass and one 20+ yard run. Like I said before, if there was ever a week to get the deep ball going, it’s this one. The Eagles defense has allowed seven 20+ yard plays and 64 points in just two games. If the Bengals are to win this matchup, they must capitalize.
Burrow and AJ Green have yet to connect on a vertical pass despite numerous chances, and John Ross has largely been a non-factor. Getting those guys the ball in space and establishing that chemistry is going to be necessary. Chunk plays win games, and it’s gonna be fun to watch Burrow try to create them after a long week of preparation.
Kickoff is at 1:00 pm EST on CBS. See you there.