WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL**
RG Bobbie Williams vs. Eagles LT Corey Simon:** Two of the Eagles top three picks from the 2000 draft go at it in the trenches. This may be one of the game's few interesting matchups lasting the whole afternoon. While head coach Andy Reid scrambles to rest his linebackers and secondary in the second half, the Eagles' defensive line rotation figures to remain relatively intact.
But make no mistake. Reid isn't exactly treating this like Wild Card Weekend. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said Thursday backup tackles Sam Rayburn and Paul Greasmanis are going to see more time against the Bengals.
Simon, the sixth overall pick in that draft, knows what to expect from Williams, a second-round pick that didn't get the contract offer he wanted this season from Philadelphia and came to Cincinnati.
And vice versa.
"I'm doing him like the movie "Seven," said Williams of his phone calls to Simon this week. "I called him yesterday and said, 'Four days,' and hung up. I'm going to call him today and say, 'Three days,' and hang up."
Williams says Eagles left tackle Tra Thomas has also been talking to Simon.
"He's telling him, 'Big B is coming to town. That's all he's saying,'" Williams said. "It's a big game for our team. Of course I'd like to go out there and give it to them, who wouldn't? But the main thing is this is just another team that we're pumped up for."
The gradual adjustment that the 6-4, 340-pound man-mover Williams has made to his surroundings in the past two months is a reason the Bengals have run the ball well against some stout defenses. Most notably seemed to be his work against mammoth tackle Sam Adams, anchor of the Bill's third-ranked defense that allowed the Bengals 149 yards on the ground two weeks ago.
"He's done what it was predicted he'd do. Help build up the running game," said Bengals Pro Bowl right tackle Willie Anderson. "At the beginning of the year, Marvin (Lewis) challenged us to have good rushing games against division teams and high ranked defenses, and we have and he's one of the reasons."
The 6-2, 293-pound Simon doesn't have the numbers he had last year when his 7.5 sacks sent him to his first Pro Bowl. But he's a disruptive force and his 5.5 this season are part of Philly's league-high 47.
"He's kind of like a slippery guy," said Williams, who says he's got a pretty good book on the D-line because he's gone against them all in practice but Jevon Kearse. "He's got a good base. He likes to work his hands and then slide off you. In particular he thinks he can work back inside."
Williams knows Simon is a free agent at the end of the season and Bengals defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier is a Jim Johnson disciple.
"It would be a nice addition," Williams said. "I'll put a bug in his ear."
Kearse's 7.5 sacks won't be around Sunday, but 17 Eagles have at least half a sack this season. Tackle Darwin Walker probably is going to get some snaps at end, and left end Jerome McDougle, a first-rounder from '03, figures to come off the bench and play a lot. Right end Hugh Douglas, in his Philly reincarnation, may also get some extra work with his 80 career sacks now being spotted. **
WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh vs. Eagles CBs Sheldon Brown and Roderick Hood:** Pro Bowler Lito Shepperd isn't playing, but Brown is a second-round pick and Hood, an undrafted free agent, is the regular nickel corner who is a big-time special teams player. The 5-10 Brown, named NFC Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago for a sack and pick against Dallas, isn't the prototypical big Philly corner. But even with Pro Bowlers Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor gone, Jim Johnson said at the beginning of the season about Brown and Sheppard, "I feel those guys are probably the best cover corners that we've had."
Still, how long will Brown and Hood play? Word is the Eagles might use the game to see how the 6-2, 210-pound safetyish rookie Matt Ware plays against bigger receivers.
Chad Johnson is going to have to revise the plan he had against Sheppard, another of his legion of Sun Belt buddies.
"He's a Floridian and being a Floridian I expect the natural competitiveness to come out," Johnson said. "I'm going to talk him,, run by him, and tell him he has to stop me."
One of the reasons the Eagles always seem to have good corners is they always seem to have at least one great safety. This year they've got two Pro Bowlers in Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis, fast guys who dole out big hits on running backs and wideouts alike and give Johnson so much flexibility in his bottomless well of blitzes.
But, how long will the safeties play, too? One of them might play into the second half, but no one expects heavy lifting.
RB Rudi Johnson vs. Eagles MLB Jeremiah Trotter: Remember Trotter? After two seasons in Washington, he surfaced from the bench to replace the injured Mark Simoneau with 16 tackles against the Browns. Then they switched Simoneau to the weak side and put Trotter back in the middle for the last seven games in which the Eagles have climbed from 27th against the run to 15th. They've held teams to under 100 yards rushing in four of the last five games.
So now enter Johnson. It looks to be a defense up his alley. The harder the better. Here come the Eagles at No. 9. Four of his five 100-yard games have come against top 10 defenses.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL:**
CB Tory James vs. Eagles QB Jeff Blake:** Here we go again. The Bengals need a win bad, again, and there is old friend Blake, the kid who went from the waiver wire to Waikiki in 25 starts as the Bengals quarterback. Some of his 65 starts in Cincinnati were among the most exciting in club history with his best deep ball in the game. Others weren't. His inconsistency got him shipped out in favor of Akili Smith after 1999 and he hasn't let the Bengals forget it.
Even though the kid is now 34 and is on his fourth team in four years, he still loves making the Bengals pay. He's 3-0 against them and has yet to throw a pick against them with five touchdown passes and a 104.4 passer rating. He's been the No. 3 quarterback all year in Philly (his 14 passes have come in his first two Monday Night games thanks to Reid's class), but if Reid plays Koy Detmer instead of Blake against the Bengals as McNabb heats up the soup, what is he thinking?
Blake said Friday he'll be the No. 3 quarterback and go into the game in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals would love to have James break the interception skein. Their Pro Bowl corner has been stuck on seven since a Nov. 28 pick against Cleveland and needs two to tie Ken Riley's 28-year team season record. **
DTs John Thornton, Shaun Smith vs. Eagles LG Artis Hicks, RG Steve Sciullo:** Injuries have really muddled the interior of Philly's offensive line and there could be some more changes. Four different guys have started on the right and starter Jermane Mayberry won't. Three have started on the left and it's unclear who will be where.
But we know Thornton is back home. The North Philly native doesn't go home much any more ("Tough neighborhood"), but the last time he was there he noticed something different. They cut down all the trees so the cops could see.
With Tony Williams not expected back in free agency, one of the hot stove debates is finding a big, anchorish guy to team with the athletic, productive Thornton in the middle. But Lewis is looking for athletes, not anchors, and newcomers Shaun Smith and Terrance Martin are going to get auditions Sunday with Langston Moore on injured reserve with an ankle injury.
Smith, a South Carolina teammate of Moore, came off waivers from New Orleans a month ago and looks the part as a 6-2, 320-pounder. He's been active off the bench in the last two games and thinks he might start. He was also active in five games in New Orleans with 16 tackles, but said his time ran out when Willie Whitehead came off the physically unable to perform list.
"I'm a run-stopper getting better against the pass," said Smith, a college free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2003. "Langston and I don't mind competing. We root for each other."
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons vs. Eagles special teams coach John Harbaugh: It's Simmons, one of the league's bright and upcoming teams coaches, against Harbaugh, one the NFL's leading kick team gurus.
Twice in the last three seasons, the Eagles have won the Golden Goose as the top special teams in the league as determined by Rick "Goose," Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News. In the past five years, Harbaugh has produced 14 NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
They may not have gaudy numbers, but Harbaugh's guys create big plays with fundamentals, opportunism and the deadly long-range accuracy of kicker David Akers as his next 40-yard field goal breaks a NFL record of 40-plus in a season.
They have forced a league-high four teams turnovers with cornerback Rod Hood having a hand in three. It has to make the Bengals nervous that they've also blocked a punt, but the guy who did it, defensive Jevon Kearse isn't expected to play.
Simmons has the Bengals headed in the same type of direction. Nothing fancy, just plays. With four punt returns, rookie cornerback Keiwan Ratliff could be the first Bengal in 20 years to win the AFC title. Kicker Shayne Graham has a shot at Doug Pelfrey's season points record, and his own accuracy record he set last year with 88 percent. Cliff Russell has moved to eighth in AFC kick returns, and the club is ninth in NFL kick coverage despite short kickoffs against the league's top three teams in drive start.