Sunday presents a unique situation for the Eagles.
They are 0-2 for the first time in Doug Pederson's tenure as a head coach and will look to avoid an 0-3 start for the first time since 1999 when Pederson was the starting quarterback for the Eagles.
The Eagles "host" (still no fans) the Cincinnati Bengals, a team that has not had a winning record since 2015. A team that has not won a playoff game since 1990, despite seven appearances since.
Yet, the Eagles haven't defeated the Bengals since 2000. The last time the Eagles tied a game was 2008 – against the Bengals.
It's hard to call a Week 3 game a "must-win" affair, but the odds are stacked against teams that start 0-3 out of the gate. The Bengals are also in search of their first win, but the expectations are much different in Cincinnati as it is ushering in the start of the Joe Burrow era, the No. 1 overall pick who had one of the most dominant seasons by a quarterback in college football history in 2019, guiding the LSU Tigers to the National Championship. And he's off to a record-setting start to his NFL career.
Kickoff is set for 1 PM on Sunday. Let's dig into the matchup with our Game Preview, presented by Unibet.
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro's Three Keys to Victory
1. After throwing only seven interceptions in each of the last three seasons, quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown four in two games and the offense has a total of six giveaways in an 0-2 start. Meanwhile, the Eagles' defense has not had a takeaway in the two losses and the only takeaway came on Cooper Kupp's fumble on a punt return last Sunday. That -5 in turnover ratio is 32nd in the NFL. That, of course, is a difficult formula to overcome. The giveaways must be minimized by Wentz and Co., and the defense has to start getting its hands on the football.
2. Jim Schwartz's defense has traditionally been very good in the red zone – ranking tied for 14th in 2019, first in 2018, 11th in 2017, and third in 2016 – but this defense is off to a rough start inside its own 20-yard line through two weeks. Washington (3-for-4) and Los Angeles (4-for-5) had their way, and the Eagles rank 30th in the league in red zone defensive efficiency. Cincinnati has converted only 40 percent of its trips into opposing red zones in an 0-2 beginning to 2020.
3. With rookie quarterback Joe Burrow (three touchdowns, one interception) at the helm, the Bengals are averaging 21.5 points per game. However, running back Joe Mixon, who gained over 1,100 yards in each of the last two seasons, is off to a slow start with 115 yards on 35 carries. An offensive line that has allowed six sacks and hasn't provided holes in the running game is getting the heat in Cincinnati, so the Eagles have a chance to win at the line of scrimmage on Sunday. Philadelphia allowed 191 rushing yards in the loss to Los Angeles, so returning to a dominating performance along the defensive front is imperative on Sunday.
Eagles Game Plan analyst Ike Reese on QB Carson Wentz's struggles: "It's the moments where he misses a throw or he misses a read that he feels like he has to come back and get it all on one play and he's forcing things. He just needs to take his time, allow the plays to develop for him, and take what the defenses are giving him. And when there's an opportunity to make a big play? Take you shot, make the big play. But you don't need to force things. That's what I've seen over the first two weeks, a guy trying too hard to make something happen as opposed to letting it develop itself."
Head Coach Doug Pederson on Bengals QB Joe Burrow: "He's taken some hits these first couple of weeks and really bounced up. I just think nothing – right now, nothing has really phased him. He's mentally tough. Physically tough. He's a good athlete. He throws a really good football, very accurate football, a catchable football. Those are all great things that he, being a young quarterback, can possess, obviously with a team that has the weapons and firepower that they have on offense."
Defensive end Brandon Graham on Burrow: "We've got to make sure we rush him good because he likes to run around back there. He's pretty fast, he's got a great arm, but I do know that the pressure will get to him when he's there. We need to make sure to disrupt him the whole game.
"You could see why he was No. 1. You could see why he won a championship. He looks out there like he's getting comfortable with the offense. They don't expect him to do too much. He looks good back there. We've got our hands full. We've got to make sure we don't take him lightly."
Eagles Game Plan analyst Greg Cosell on the Bengals' use of empty sets (when only the QB is in the backfield): "Burrow is clearly comfortable in these sets. It spreads the defense out. It forces them to declare their intentions before the snap of the ball. The defense can't do a lot of disguise from empty sets. This is something I think you will absolutely see."
• The Bengals have scored four touchdowns out of empty sets in 2020.
Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz said the game plan vs. the Rams was too simple. Should the Eagles blitz the No. 1 overall draft pick? Cosell says of Burrow: "He's poised. He's composed. He's comfortable in the pocket. You don't want to let him settle in and be that way the whole game."
After Miles Sanders churned out 95 rushing yards last week in his season debut, will the Eagles rely more on the ground game? Pederson says: "The short answer, yes. A little more elaborate answer is yes because I think that opens up more of your play-action game. I think that opens up more of your quarterback movement game. The screen game comes off of that. So obviously when you can have success running the football it provides more opportunities for the rest of your offense."
• The Bengals rank 30th, allowing 185 rushing yards per game through two weeks.
By the Numbers
• The 64 points allowed through the first two games are the most by an Eagles team since 1971.
• Burrow set an NFL rookie record with 37 completions in Week 2 against the Browns.
• The Eagles have turned the ball over a league-high six times through two weeks and have a league-worst -5 turnover differential.
• The Bengals' .731 all-time win percentage against the Eagles is the second best against any of their opponents.
• Special teams could be the difference in this one as Bengals kickoff returner Brandon Wilson is averaging a whopping 43.7 yards per return.
• The Bengals are struggling against the run, but have only allowed 32 receptions – second fewest in the league through two weeks.
Final Injury Report
• DT Geno Atkins (shoulder)
• DT Mike Daniels (groin)
• S Shawn Williams (calf)
• S Rudy Ford (groin)
• WR Alshon Jeffery (foot)
• WR Jalen Reagor (thumb)
• DT Fletcher Cox (abdomen)
What to watch?
The defensive tackle situation for both teams will be critical to watch when the inactives are announced at 11:30 AM. The Eagles surrendered nearly 200 rushing yards last week to the Rams and the Bengals boast a very productive back in Joe Mixon, who posted over 1,100 yards in each of the past two seasons. The Bengals, meanwhile, rolled out the welcome carpet for the Browns in Week 2, allowing 215 yards on the ground. Daniels would certainly aid the depth after both he and Atkins missed the Browns matchup.
Behind Enemy Lines
For a different perspective of Sunday's matchup, we went Behind Enemy Lines with Geoff Hobson, senior reporter for the Cincinnati Bengals. You can follow his work @GeoffHobsonCIN on Twitter.
On Joe Burrow: "He's been great not only on the field, but off the field as well. He was elected captain. That doesn't happen very often where a rookie becomes your offensive captain. On the field, if the ref doesn't throw the flag in the opener, he's got a fourth-quarter comeback win after marching them down the field. Then, he put 30 points up on the board Thursday night after a 72-hour recovery period. He's been great. The concern around here is he's taking too many shots. He's been sacked a bit and they've had trouble getting the running game going. They're really trying to concentrate on protecting him."
On Burrow's style as a quarterback: "I don't know how great he's going to be. I know he's going to be a good one. He's kind of like a welterweight fighter back there. He's not your classic pocket passer in the sense like (Carson) Wentz back there, who stands up there, seven-step drop, ala Carson Palmer and just guns it. He's got a great pocket presence in the sense that he knows how to move from side to side and he makes really good snap decisions with people in his face. I think he's mobile. I think they can roll him out if they wanted to a little bit. He's a hard comp. I think he's got a style all of his own. He's very athletic. He's got a pocket presence, but I don't know if he's a pocket passer. I think he is a very good pocket passer, but he can get out of there and make something happen."
On Burrow's fast start without a traditional offseason: "Oh, no question. Now they've just got to stop the other team and give him a chance. As good as he is, you do have to do some basics and that's keeping them in games. You can't have a defense giving up 215 yards on the ground and you've got to get your own ground game going. As good as he is, he'll only take the next step if these guys take the next step."
On the Bengals' rushing attack: "I thought that they might use it a little bit more with a rookie quarterback and try to ease him in a little bit. They would probably like a little more balance, too. It was hard to be balanced the other night because they got down pretty quick. It's hard to rip them for not being balanced in that one. I think they'd like to give it to Joe Mixon a little more. This is one of those guys who gets better the more he touches it. I don't know if this is a product of not having preseason games, but when you talk about precision in the passing game, you need timing in the running game too. They don't seem to have the timing that they did at the end of last year when Joe was the number two rusher in the league over the last eight games of the year. He and Derrick Henry were running one-two. I haven't really seen that precision and rhythm from back then. I think it's something that they're going to concentrate on. They feel like it will help Burrow get even more acclimated."
On wide receiver A.J. Green: "I think he's trying to find his way a little bit. He had 13 targets the other night and only three catches. I think according to NFL.com that's only happened twice before in the last decade. It's pretty rare when A.J. gets 13 targets and doesn't have a big night. I think he and Burrow are still trying to get connected. That, to me, is a casualty of not being around. They've only been on the field barely a month. To me, that's where you can see the fallout of that. I also think A.J.'s trying to get back in. He hasn't played in almost two years, so I think he's trying to get back into sync. It's not going to take him too long to do that because he's shown flashes of being that guy. He just has to get hooked up with Burrow and get a few snaps under him."
On the loss of tight end C.J. Uzomah to an Achilles injury: "That is a tough loss. He's the most experienced tight end. He was having a really good year with eight catches. He was one of his more reliable targets. But I think you'll see Joe Burrow go to his tight end, the next man up, and that's Drew Sample. He was a second-round pick for them in 2019. They got a lot of hope in him. I think you'll see him, but Burrow's go-to guy on fourth down has been Tyler Boyd. Joe Burrow completed all five fourth-down attempts in Cleveland Thursday night and three of them went to Tyler Boyd and that's what Tyler Boyd does, he moves the chains. He's a slot receiver who has really come into his own. So, you'll see Joe go to A.J., go to Boyd, and go to Sample underneath."
On the offensive line: "I think it's better than people think. When your quarterback gets hit like that, they're going to get criticized. They know that. I just think they need reps together. I think they feel better about this line now than they did last year. Jonah Williams, he's their number one pick from 2019, he's finally playing. I think they like what he's doing. They're going with these two big guards now Michael Jordan at left guard and Fred Johnson at right guard. Very big men. I think they really like what they're going to do in the future for them. The numbers may not be there from Pro Football Focus, but they feel a lot better about this unit this year than they did last year."
On the defensive front four: "They've been paralyzed at defensive tackle before they even took a snap. They lost another tackle once camp got going. They haven't had their perennial Pro Bowler Geno Atkins at all this year. And Mike Daniels, a very good, solid veteran, who they picked up right before camp, he didn't play at all last game. They were down to their three, four, five backup D-tackles. They hope to have one of those guys back this week (Atkins is out). That's set a tough tone for them. They committed more than a 100 million dollars in salary in free agency on defense and they drafted two linebackers pretty high all with the sense that they were going to stop the run. They've got very talented pass rushers, but you don't know that because they're getting gashed. They've been getting gashed for the last three years in the ground game. Cleveland did it again the other night."
How do the Bengals win this game? "They obviously have to stop the run. They have to protect Burrow. They have to get Mixon going. If they get Mixon going, that's the key for them. Wentz is dangerous. Keep him off the field."