There is a whole lot more to the Cincinnati Bengals than an 0-2 record, No. 1 overall draft pick Joe Burrow at quarterback, and a defense that allowed 215 rushing yards to Cleveland in Week 2. This is a team the Eagles have studied deeply all week, and they know the challenges the Bengals present on Sunday (1 PM kickoff, CBS) at Lincoln Financial Field. Let's consider what is ahead for the Eagles in what is as close to a "must-win" game as Week 3 can present.
1. A tough matchup for the Eagles will be in the secondary as the Bengals will fan out a host of extremely talented wide receivers with empty-backfield sets to provide Burrow a bevy of options. Veteran A.J. Green is the star and he's rounding into form after missing all of 2019 with an ankle injury. Targeted 22 times, Green has only eight receptions, but don't let those numbers fool you. He's 6-4, he leaps out of the building, and he made seven straight Pro Bowls to start his career before suffering injuries in 2018. Sounds like a good matchup for Darius "Big Play" Slay. How do the Eagles cover the rest of the Bengals, who include Tyler Boyd, a crafty and very good receiver with length at 6-2 who works primarily out of the slot. Rookie Tee Higgins is 6-4. Mike Thomas, who scored a touchdown against Cleveland, is 6-1. The Eagles don't have the tallest cornerbacks. This is going to be a challenge.
2. Cincinnati won't have defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, but the Bengals are expected to have tackle Mike Daniels back in the lineup after he missed the game against Cleveland with a groin injury and then didn't practice all week as his wife gave birth. Can the Eagles ride the running game to a win? Miles Sanders ran for 95 yards against Los Angeles and probably left another 20 yards on the field. If the Eagles can create the same kind of running lanes against the Bengals, Sanders could have a big game. The Eagles need to stay ahead of the chains and they need to finish their drives.
3. Burrow threw 61 passes against the Browns. Just saying. While running back Joe Mixon is trying to get untracked – he is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry – Cincinnati will spread the field and throw it all day. That's why it is so important that the Eagles put pressure on Burrow, who has been sacked six times in two games. And with defensive tackle Fletcher Cox questionable after practicing very little during the week as he deals with an abdominal injury, the Eagles understand the enormity of the defensive picture on Sunday.
4. More changes along the offensive line with Nate Herbig playing left guard and Matt Pryor starting at right guard. We're into the third iteration at guard for the Eagles three weeks into the season, so you understand a bit of what line coach Jeff Stoutland has gone through so early in 2020. On the positive side, Herbig has improved greatly in his two starts and played well, and Pryor has a chance to get extended playing time at a single position to take his game to the next level. It's important that players like Jack Driscoll, Jordan Mailata, Sua Opeta, and Jamon Brown continue to make progress. We've got a lot of football ahead here. Depth will continue to be tested.
5. Cincinnati will play a lot of man-to-man coverage in this game and the Bengals will have safety help over the top against DeSean Jackson, so how will the Eagles attack in the passing game? The Eagles used two tight ends on the field 80 percent of the time against Los Angeles and it makes sense to go with 12 personnel heavily again on Sunday. Carson Wentz will look to get Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert into some favorable matchups in the passing game. Yes, the Eagles are going to run the ball, but they've also got to get some "chunk" plays going in the passing game. Big plays rule the day in the NFL.
6. In two games, the Bengals have allowed 11 of 24 third-down conversions by opposing offenses. The Eagles need to keep it manageable and convert on third down and keep drives alive. Cincinnati has only two quarterback sacks in two games, so Wentz could have some time to get the ball down the field in the passing game.
7. Intangibles for Sunday? The turnover ratio is the statistic to watch as the Eagles enter the game at minus-5 after two weeks. Jim Schwartz's defense has not yet produced a takeaway. It's time against an offensive line that is taxed with all of the empty sets. Burrow takes a lot of hits. The Eagles are going to win on the back end by dominating on the front end at the line of scrimmage.
8. Watch out for the Bengals in the return game. Alex Erickson has a long punt return of 22 yards and kickoff return man Brandon Wilson is averaging 43.7 yards on three returns. I can't imagine Special Teams Coordinator Dave Fipp taking too many chances here, especially with Rudy Ford sidelined.
9. Cincinnati lost tight end C.J. Uzomah to injury last week, but second-year man Drew Sample is a target for Burrow as well. Sample, a second-round draft pick in 2019 chosen one spot before Miles Sanders, caught seven passes against Cleveland last week. In a galaxy of pass catchers that Cincinnati brings to the table, Sample is an X-factor here. The Eagles have given up too much to tight ends through two weeks, so shutting Sample down is an important task for the defense.
10. Finally, just know that the Eagles players and everybody misses the fans so much at Lincoln Financial Field. "It's all about the fans," defensive end Brandon Graham said this week. "I've always appreciated them, but when they're not there, you realize even more how much they mean to the energy of gameday. It's on us to bring that now, but I sure do miss having the stadium packed and all that love and noise. We just have to take it upon ourselves to get it done."