Eagle-Eyed Bengals

The Bengals took the Giants into overtime before losing back in September and the Eagles went to the wire Sunday night before losing a slugfest to the Super Bowl champions. Cincinnati can make it tight again if it brings the same smashmouth mentality that allowed it to beat Jacksonville before the bye, although the chairman of the Bengals.com roundtable gives the solid edge to the Eagles.

"Yeah, they had a physical game and Cincinnati has had some rest," says The Guru, a former top football exec in the NFL. "But Philly is still in this thing at 5-4 and playing for survival. I like their defense against the inexperience of what the Bengals have at quarterback."

The Eye, an NFL scout that evaluates talent in both conferences, says the Bengals can win if they take advantage of some favorable matchups: "Run the ball on the Eagles' smallish defensive line and get their athletic wide receivers open against the blitz in the secondary. You want to keep the Eagles offense off the field because of all its variety and when you're out there you have to make sure the gimmicks with the motions and reverses don't catch you."

And if the Bengals are going to win they have to be smart because with Andy Reid calling the plays and Jim Johnson calling the defenses, the Eagles are one of the most well-coached teams in the league.

"They aren't going to sit there and pound you on either side of the ball," The Guru says. "They're going to use schemes and matchups and be aggressive."

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
RB Kenny Watson vs. Eagles CB Joselio Hanson
Watson

As much as quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Eagles' signature over the past decade has been the pressure packages of Johnson but it's nothing like what the Bengals see in the AFC North.

"When it comes to the number of blitzes," The Eye says, "they're probably slightly above average. But not even near Pittsburgh and Baltimore. Except when they do come, they really come and they're so successful at getting there it seems like they blitz all the time. Every time they make a big play, it comes off the blitz."

Johnson likes to blitz out of Philly's nickel package and he'll send Hanson out of the slot. He'll also send safeties and the other corners, which should be a pretty good matchup for Watson, the Bengals third-down back who struggled against the Steelers outside backers in the seven-sackage at the hands of the Steelers. Watson is 6-0, 220 pounds and the Philly corners are on the slight side. Hanson is 5-9, 185 pounds, Samuel is 5-10, 185, and Sheldon Brown is 5-10, 200.

Watson and everyone else picked up the blitz well against the Jaguars two weeks ago when Jacksonville blitzed more than it did all season and with different people in an effort to capitalize on the Bengals pass protection that now has allowed two more sacks (19) than all of last season.

"I think the Eagles gamble a little bit, but they're not careless in what they do," The Guru says. "Jim Johnson is a heck of a play-caller and it's because he's so experienced. Plus, he's got guys that have been with him for so long in that scheme, they understand it so well."

LT Levi Jones and LG Andrew Whitworth vs. Eagles RE Trent Cole and Eagles RG Brodrick Bunkley
Whitworth

Cole, the product of Xenia, Ohio and the University of Cincinnati, returns to town as one of the top pass rushers in football. He's got four sacks and his athleticism and speed off the edge is a formidable challenge for Jones. That is Jones' game as well, so if he plays as well as he has the past couple of weeks that would be an athletic wash.

If the Bengals are going to keep the 6-3, 270-pound Cole at bay, they have to run the ball. Bunkley is 6-2 and just 306 pounds compared to the 6-7, 340-pound Whitworth, and right guard Bobbie Williams' 340 pounds is lined up against Mike Patterson's 292 on first and second down.

"One misconception about Philly's defense is what they do against the run. They've been very inconsistent," The Guru says. "They gave up five yards a rush against the Giants and the Niners, but they gave the Steelers just 1.7 and the Cowboys 2.8. They've been all over the lot. They aren't very big. Certainly Cincinnati's offensive line has an advantage there. Their D-tackles are short and have good leverage, but they're not very big."

The Eye says Cole isn't as dominant against the run: "Trent's a great athlete. He's real explosive and has the hip snap, but it's not the same for him in the running game."

RG Bobbie Williams vs. Eagles DL Darren Howard
Williams

When the Eagles go into their pass package, they basically use a front of four ends. The 6-3, 260-pound Darren Howard moves inside to tackle and he leads the team with six sacks. His speed and quickness is going to test Williams, a former Eagles draft pick.

When Williams left via free agency before the '04 season, he heard the knock that he wasn't as good a pass blocker as he was a run blocker, but he has made that one of the strengths of his game and has been part of the Bengals' two best pass-protecting units in history. Williams credits the technique taught him by offensive line coach Paul Alexander.

"I wanted to fine-tune that part of my game," Williams said. "Paul tried to let me be me and not take me out of my element. The footwork I do here is totally different from what I did in Philly. That was the main thing. Learning how my center set and how my tackle set and it fell into place. It's a better scheme for me. It has really helped me become a better pass blocker."

The Guru says, "The linemen get most of their sacks (19.5) of 28, so they're very good pass rushers that do what the scheme calls for and that's a lot of movement."

WR Chad Ocho Cinco vs. CB Asante Samuel
Ocho Cinco

Is this the week that The Ocho finally catches his first long ball in a matchup of the Bengals' most athletic receiver against the Eagles best corner? There will be chances. Ocho Cinco talked during the week about how the talent of the Philadelphia secondary allows the Eagles to get to the quarterback. For his part, he says he needs just two or three seconds to get in the clear.

"You can catch (Samuel) sitting on a route and get by him because he knows teams are trying to get the ball out early against them and sometimes he'll try to jump it," The Eye says. "He tried it against the Giants on a double move (against Plaxico Burress), he came flying up on him and got a pass interference."

While the Eagles don't give up the long ball (just five longer than 34 yards), you can make some hay. They've given up the NFL's ninth most pass plays of 20 yards or more.

TE Ben Utecht vs. Eagles WILL LB Omar Gaither
Utecht

Utecht hasn't been right since he took a shot in the chest on the first snap of Game 2 from Titans linebacker David Thornton. But he says the bye week has helped refresh him and it's the best he's felt since the opener.

And the Bengals could not only use another underneath weapon for an inexperienced quarterback against the Philly pressure, but they also need to keep Johnson on his heels with different formations and Utecht allows them to use something other than three wides on passing downs.

"They're very young at linebacker. The oldest is 25, but they're pretty athletic," The Guru says.

WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
Bengals MLB Dhani Jones vs. Eagles QB Donovan McNabb
Jones

This is what the Eagles are thinking when they see their former linebacker lined up against them:

"The fact that ex-Eagle Dhani Jones is the Bengals starting MLB tells you all you need to know about this unit," writes Paul Domowitch in The Philadelphia News. This isn't a group that's going to make a lot of big plays."

But Jones is in a different role here because of his experience and what he means to that young group. And he should be helpful against an offense he practiced against for three years. The problem is, like defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said this week, he doesn't know the new checks, and, like Jones said, Reid's offense has zero tendencies.

"They could throw the bomb on first-and-10, then come out empty backfield, or run and pass play-action," Zimmer said. "You don't know. Their big strength is that indiscriminate play calling."

But Jones should be helpful in recognizing formations and having a sense of what McNabb is going to do. McNabb was 10-4 against Zimmer's units in Dallas and he still remembers, "He threw a bomb on me on a Monday night after he ran around for about 13 seconds. The guy is a great quarterback who can still beat you with his legs."

McNabb has become a Hall of Fame candidate with a rocket arm that ignites Reid's West Coast offense by blowing holes in seams and zones with not so much wide receivers, but backs and tight ends.

"But he's never really been a consistent guy," The Guru says. "He can go out there and miss 10 in a row, overthrowing guys and everything else, and then just as easily hit 15 in a row like he's out there throwing darts. He's got some mechanical flaws with his footwork in his throwing motion that gets him in trouble sometimes, but you don't want him to get hot because he can light it up as well as anybody. Some teams dont rush him very much because they're afraid of his mobility and they prefer to make him throw against a lot of guys in coverage. When you see him in person, you're surprised at how thick of a guy he is. He's very strong. A tough guy to bring down."

The Bengals have got to get to him early before gets rolling. The Daily News' Major Domo notes in McNabb's last three games he's started 4-for-13 against the Giants, 3-for-13 against the Seahawks and 5-for-14 against the Falcons.

The Bengals need a good game out of right end Frostee Rucker dueling with McNabb on the edge in what is his third NFL start. Antwan Odom is likely out after injuring his shoulder in Wednesday's practice.

"They need to get more from Odom and (Robert) Geathers and the other edge guys on the pass rush," The Guru says, "but I think overall that defense has done a pretty decent job against good offenses."

Bengals DT Pat Sims vs. Eagles RB Brian Westbrook
Sims

"They've been pretty good against the run, but they have to have a good plan for Westbrook and know where he is before every snap," The Guru says. Dhani Jones says he's so good "he can do whatever he wants." And The Eye says, "Westbrook is so scary because of the how many different ways they use him."

Westbrook, as dangerous a receiver as runner who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year, is banged up. He was limited Friday with a knee problem in a week he admitted his high ankle sprain suffered in the third game is still bothering him. But the Eagles must keep giving him the ball because backup Correll Buckhalter has just 11 runs and catches combined in the last three games.

But he is still Westbrook.

"He's real dangerous on screens and defensive linemen have to put a premium on being able to diagnose it early enough," The Eye says. "If you don't, he's tough in space. You have to make sure the middle is clogged."

Sims has looked good in his first four games and is getting more and more snaps on first and second down. This will be a good test for him on the toughness meter because he began the week with a knee problem but had a full practice Friday and is probable.

The Eagles aren't exactly a power running team as evidenced by the civic disturbances caused by Reid calling two unsuccessful straight runs to Westbrook on third-and-one and fourth-and-one that sealed the loss to the Giants. The Eagles are just 4-for-11 converting third-and-one this season.

S Chinedum Ndukwe vs. Eagles WR DeSean Jackson
Ndukwe

There'll be a lot of heat if Jackson has a big day against these guys. The Bengals passed on Jackson back in April to take Jerome Simpson three picks later and he's got 37 more catches than Simpson and third-round pick Andre Caldwell combined. And how about this stat? Twelve of Jackson's 38 catches have been for 20-plus yards, second in the NFL to the 14 of the Packers' Greg Jennings. The Bengals' Chad Ocho Cinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh have combined for just six plus-20 and Houshmandzadeh has five of them.

Jackson is the Eagles' only real threat at receiver. At 5-10, 170, he's slight but has enough speed to turn games around.

"You can't put labels on guys. You can't just say because he's 170 pounds he's too small," The Guru says. "The two receivers I liked coming out the best this year were Jackson and Eddie Royal. Yeah, they're on the small side but every time you turned on tape they were making plays. That's what you have to go by. And if it takes them a while to adjust to being an NFL receiver, then at least they are doing something for you because they are returners."

The Eagles line up Jackson all over the place, but he doesn't usually line up in the slot. He's dangerous on reverses and on the first series of the Giants game he lined up as a quarterback, took a direct snap, and swept nine yards right for a touchdown.

"The safeties are going to have to be aware of where this guy is at all times," The Eye says. "He could run a reverse on you, and he may spread the field on you as the quarterback. Plus, you're going to have to give the corners help if he's going to run a bomb by you."

CB David Jones and S Kyries Hebert vs. Eagles PR DeSean Jackson
Jones

Jones and Hebert, who is the team's leading tackler, are under the microscope as the gunners trying to hem in Jackson. Jackson is ninth in the NFL in returns and is going against a unit that is 28th in punt coverage and been hampered by Kyle Larson's 33.3-yard net average, fourth worst in the league.

"He's extremely fast. He's special. He's a guy that tries to make you miss and he can," said long-snapper Brad St. Louis. "He so fast that he can outrun the angles even if you take the right one."

The Bengals need a big day from Larson directionally so Jackson doesn't have the entire field with which to work.

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