Brandon Graham has made sure to have his voice heard. He's talked to his teammates in the locker room and on the practice field, expressed to them his confidence, and conveyed a level of urgency as the Eagles prepare for Cincinnati on Sunday with the focus on breaking into the win column in 2020. The time is now, Graham says, for the season to turn in the right direction.
"I feel good," Graham said. "I'm not worried about the guys in the locker room. We've all talked – I brought the team up (on the practice field), and I let them know, 'Those two games, they're done with. We've got the Bengals, let's get it started now.'"
To do so, the Eagles must win at the line of scrimmage defensively and ratchet up the heat against talented rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, the NFL's No. 1 draft pick who is off to an impressive start with three touchdown passes and one interception in Cincinnati's two losses this season. Burrow isn't just any rookie QB. He won a National Championship last season at LSU and he's come into the league and earned a captain's designation for the Bengals, something few rookies do.
That franchise believes in Burrow.
The Eagles need to take away that shine on Sunday.
"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," Graham said. "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."
It is a rise-to-the-occasion moment for a defensive line expected and needed to be a strength of this football team, and as is the trademark of 2020, it comes with challenges. Star tackle Fletcher Cox has practiced only a small bit this week and Head Coach Doug Pederson terms him "day to day" with an abdominal injury that the Eagles want to be cautious with. End Derek Barnett and tackle Javon Hargrave are just now rounding into form after missing Training Camp and not seeing extended time on the practice field until the days before the Week 2 game against Los Angeles. Vinny Curry is on Injured Reserve.
This isn't easy at all.
But the reality is this: It's time for the defensive line to lead the way. Right now.
"A lot of times those guys have been winning their rushes, but the quarterback gets the ball out quick," Hargrave said. "Or, different things just happen and you're a second too late. I think we've got a real talented group and you're going to start to see it pick up soon."
Burrow has been sacked six times in two games and was hit a fair amount on other throws. Running back Joe Mixon, who gained more than 1,100 yards in each of the last two seasons, is averaging just 3.3 yards per pop through two weeks. The Bengals are still trying to find themselves up front, and yet they are a disputed pass-interference penalty (Week 1 against Chargers) and a close-loss-game (35-30 to Cleveland in Week 2) away from being unbeaten.
That's the margin for error in this league. So much is on the line for the Eagles on Sunday. Literally. The defensive line, heralded as the defense's engine by Cox, has just 2.5 quarterback sacks and last Sunday allowed 191 rushing yards to the Rams.
"We have a whole new opportunity this week and the only thing that matters is playing fast and getting a W," Barnett said. "Last week is in the past. We're 0-2, but moving forward, we still have everything we want still in front of us, and it's on us to go out and attack it this week."
That's the word that keeps coming up this week: Attack. From both the offense and the defense, that seems to be the mindset. The Eagles know they can't lay back and expect to win football games. Setting the tone up front defensively after last week's struggle is critical. So, here we are. At 0-2, Sunday has a must-win feel. The Eagles haven't been 0-3 since the first year of the Andy Reid era in 1999. Doug Pederson was the starting quarterback then. He's the head coach now. His track record suggests the Eagles are going to turn this thing around.
"Oh yeah," Graham said. "It's a long season. We know that. We also know that we have to go out and win this football game and that's what we're working to do. It starts up front with us. That's our responsibility. We gotta get after it and we will."