What changes this week? Well, you certainly can't dramatically alter an approach, but you can make tweaks. You can also stay the course and hope for improvement and understand that every Sunday is a different battle. So the coaching staff is now working on beating a Bengals team that is 1-8, but that has had a week off after winning its first game of the season.
Challenges? Of course. The Bengals are enormously talented at wide receiver with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who have combined for 98 catches and seven touchddowns. An Eagles secondary that has performed well this season has a chance to play against a pair of premier receivers, a preview of sorts for what could come a couple of weeks later when Arizona -- which actually has three terrific pass catchers -- visits Lincoln Financial Field.
I would think the defensive approach would involve zone coverage and a reliance on the front four to stop the run and put pressure on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The key, then, is the front four. The front seven, actually.
It is a group that has been up and down this year. The pass rush has been pretty good. The four-man rush could certainly be improved as the Eagles have used the blitz a lot to generate pressure, and that is something the coaches need to look into just a bit. I am high on the idea of giving Chris Clemons some reps, of taking a look at Bryan Smith in practice, but the coaches know a lot more than me.
I just know the Eagles need to rev up the pass rush against Cincinnati. The Bengals have really struggled running the football all season. The Eagles are going to come after that offensive line. They have to be aggressive. As I look at the Bengals, I see a team that has talent on the outside and the expectation here is that the Bengals are going to try to get the ball down the field.
How has the secondary here played? Pretty well. Not air-tight, but I'm not sure that kind of defensive backfield exists in the league these days. The Eagles signed cornerback Asante Samuel to help take the football away, and the Eagles have 17 in nine games after recording 19 a year ago. Samuel is a good, aggressive cornerback who breaks well on the ball and who matches up against all sorts of receivers. With Cincy, Cleveland and Arizona ahead, not to mention three more division games, Samuel is going to play a huge part in the team's success down the stretch.
The other starting cornerback, Sheldon Brown, is as consistent as any in the league. He is just always going to be there for the Eagles. Brown has rarely been beaten this season, has played the run very well and is a few interceptions short of being recognized as one of the best in the league.
Lito Sheppard has given the Eagles depth as the team's nickel cornerback and made a huge play in the end zone against the Falcons. His opportunities have been limited. Sheppard doesn't get a lot of throws his way. He has played a reasonable amount, but not in the range of 60 percent as the coaching staff thought he might. The chances should come in the weeks ahead, though. The three-receiver sets are coming. Count on it.
Joselio Hanson had a good game the other night against the Giants with Sheppard nursing a groin injury and played very well. Hanson is an interesting guy. He is playing on a one-year contract as a restricted free agent and the Eagles are going to have to make a decision on him after the seaon, one of many the team will have to make once this season is finished.
Brian Dawkins and Quintin Mikell are the starting safeties and both have played well. Dawkins has moved around a lot and has made most of his plays behind the line of scrimmage, where the Eagles are utilizing his great blitz skills. Mikell is more of the cover safety of the two and he has played well. He is a solid guy. Not a spectacular safety, but good. Aggressive. A good tackler. The Eagles are OK here.
They have been OK, in fact, all around in the secondary. They have a young prospect in Quintin Demps to get on the field in some way, and they have Sean Considine, a valuable reserve who has made much of his impact as an excellent special-teams player.
Cincinnati begins a real week-to-week series of tests for the secondary. The players have a chance to vault up in the takeaway department with some good breaks and big plays.
NEWS AND NOTES AND THIS AND THAT
- Cincinnati has turned its running game over to Cedric Benson, the former Bears' first-round draft pick who is playing well for the Bengals. The Eagles can't sleep on this running game. The Bengals are rested up front. They have nothing to lose on Sunday, and that makes them a very dangerous team.
- So I'm looking at the Bengals roster on Bengals.com and Chad Johnson is actually Chad Ocho Cinco. My bad, Chad.
- Dhani Jones, our old friend, is starting and making a lot of tackles for the Bengals defense. And former Eagles draft pick Bobbie Williams is a starting offensive guard for the Bengals. I can't believe Williams is in his ninth NFL season. Time flies ...
- I'm not sure if I like Thursday night games. Makes it very hard to get the fantasty football lineup in order ...
- I may explore this just a little bit more later in the week, but seeing DeSean Jackson in the Wildcat formation on Sunday night was thrilling and could be just a start. What more can the Eagles do with Jackson? Would they ever use that Wildcat formation for three or four snaps a game? Would he ever hand off or throw a pass out of that formation? The kid has so much talent and is such a natural playmaker.
- I think the Bengals are going to try to blitz the heck out of the Eagles on Sunday. Donovan McNabb has to make quick decisions and get the ball to his receivers accurately.