Pre-game notes: Eagles vs. Bengals

As we get ready for a Thursday night game, a few notes followed by what to watch for:

– Regarding Nick Foles, this game is flashing a pretty strong “REGRESSION” sign.  Each defense Foles has faced is ranked in the bottom third of the league for opposing QB Rating allowed.  Cincinnati isn’t great (ranking 15th and allowing an average rating of 84.7) but is significantly better than Tampa Bay (allowing an average rating of 92.4).  Don’t be surprised if Foles’ stat line looks much worse than last week.

– Barring a miraculous performance by the O-Line, Foles is going to face significant pressure and will take some hits tonight.  The Bengals lead the league in both sacks per game (3.2) and sack percentage (8.27%).  Tampa Bay averaged just 1.5 per game heading into last week and came away with 6.

– The Eagles DBs will face a stiff test with A.J. Green in town.  In my opinion, he and Calvin Johnson are the best WRs in the game right now.  It will be interesting to see how the Eagles cover him (expect A LOT of double-teams).  Look for the Eagles to do everything possible to prevent him from getting single coverage with a safety, as trusting Allen or Anderson 1-on-1 would likely be a disaster.  Theoretically, this should open things up for other Bengals underneath, as zone coverage will be a gamble (at least on Green’s side).  The Bengals should be able to use Green to pull coverage, opening up the space he vacates.

What to Watch For:

Can Foles avoid a turnover?  To date, he’s been pretty good at protecting the ball and not making high risk throws.  However, in the face of the toughest defense he has seen (and with a short week to prepare) he’s going to be under more pressure than he’s accustomed to.  If it’s tough to move the ball (as it should be), we’ll see if he starts pressing.  Last week he did not.

As a reminder, forget Foles’ stat line.  Watch for his ability to make progressions (watch his head when he drops back) and avoid high-risk throws.  Also, still looking for an accurate deep ball…

Short slants and RB-flats from the offense.  I’m a little surprised they haven’t tried to hit Brown through the air a few more times (though perhaps he can’t catch), but they’ll need a variety of check-downs and hot routes to take advantage against the pass rush.

Mychal Kendricks.  Last game he was shifted to WLB and played perhaps his best game of the year (certainly his best since the first month of the season).  On the weak-side, he can use his speed more effectively.  Specifically, watch him in coverage (mostly RBs out of the backfield and TEs coming across the formation) , as that’ll be a major responsibility of his if they keep him on that side.

Brandon Graham/Fletcher Cox.  Cincinnati has problems protecting Andy Dalton and ranks in the bottom third of the league in both sacks allowed per game and sack percentage allowed.  This should be an opportunity for both Graham and Cox to make an impact.  Ideally we’d see Trent Cole with a big game, but his play has slipped dramatically since last year.  Hard to tell what’s wrong; he just isn’t winning one-on-one battles like he used to (might be an undisclosed injury or just a decline in ability).

Play Action.  As I mentioned in the breakdown from the Bucs game, Tampa Bay didn’t run nearly as much PA as I expected them to given the Eagles problems  defending it.  The shift away from the Wide-9 should help fix that, but there wasn’t enough of it run last game to test that assumption.

Colt Anderson/Jamar Chaney. Chaney re-entered the starting line-up last game when Kendricks shifted to WLB.  Both Anderson and Chaney were terrible early this year when given playing time.  Neither was tested very much by the Bucs.  For Chaney, see how involved he is.  He has a bad habit of getting sucked up by the first blocker he encounters.  He isn’t quick enough to go around them, and hasn’t yet shown the strength or athleticism to get off them.

Colt Anderson has had serious issues in coverage.  Against the Bucs, his positive plays came exclusively against the run (and on blitzes rather than read-and-reacts).  I’m not expecting very much from either player, but if one of them can be at least serviceable (i.e. close to average) then it eliminates a big hole for the Eagles heading into next year.

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