BENGALS DT GENO ATKINS VS. EAGLES QB NICK FOLES
In the City of Brotherly Love, the bloodlust surrounding Eagles head coach Andy Reid and the soap opera featuring Foles and Michael Vick has supplanted Thursday's game (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12 and NFL Network) against the Bengals.
Foles, a third-round pick out of Arizona, is coming off a scorching game in Tampa Bay, lighting the Bucs for an Eagles rookie-record 381 yards passing and a winning two-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin that gave the Eagles their first win since September.
The Bucs bottled up the run, holding Philly to 29 yards on 16 carries and dared the rookie to beat them. He did, but Tampa Bay has the worst pass defense in the NFL while Cincinnati has the 10th best.
"I think if you're Cincinnati, you've got to take that run game away and get it between that third-and-three and third-and-eight kind of look," says Mike Mayock, the analyst for Thursday night's telecast. "And that's where Mike Zimmer is at his best."
The Bengals lead the NFL in sacks per pass. The Eagles are the sixth worst in the league allowing sacks per pass. End of matchup.
You would think that Zimmer, the highly-regarded Bengals defensive coordinator, would eat rookie quarterbacks alive. But his 6-8 record against them (and 0-2 in the playoffs) in his five seasons with the Bengals shows the volatility of the unknown factor. And like analyst Solomon Wilcots of The NFL Network and CBS says, there's just not a lot of tape because Foles has played in just five games and four starts.
What we do know is that the kid is what stands between the Bengals and a shot at the Steelers with a playoff berth on the line in Pittsburgh on Dec. 23.
We also know is Foles is tall (6-6), had good pocket presence last week, and has a strong arm with a decent 80.3 passer rating to go with a 61.4 completion percentage. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham says the Eagles have to get Foles out of the pocket, but at 243 pounds his 10-yard touchdown run last week didn't set any land-speed records.
"Pressure up the middle, pressure in his face, flush him," Wilcots says. "Get him on the run. Make him change his launch point. I don't know if he's that good on the run. See how accurate he is when he has to run for his life.
"This one comes down to the Bengals defensive line; relentless. He's a rookie. You have to hit him early. If you hit him early, confidence goes down, accuracy goes down, and the interception potential goes up. ... They should be able to do what other teams have done against the Eagles. They don't lead the league in sacks for nothing."
The Eagles offensive line, staggered early in the season, has regrouped with the help of its starting guards, former Bengal Evan Mathis on the left and nine-year vet Jake Scott, picked up a month ago, on the right. But the Eagles are playing with their backup tackles.
"Look at it this way," Mayock says. "Foles was sacked six times last week. All the sacks were with four-man pressures. So they struggled with a very vanilla four-man front pressure protecting the quarterback. So when you start bringing all the different scheme looks that Zim brings to the table, if Philly can't establish a run game I think it's going to be a long night for them."
It doesn't look like Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (concussion) is going to play, but rookie Bryce Brown is just 143 yards shy of McCoy's rookie rushing record. The 6-0, 223-pound Brown, a seventh-rounder from Kansas State, ripped the Cowboys for 169 yards two weeks ago and went for 178 the week before that against Carolina before the Bucs stopped him. The Bengals figure to do much the same as Tampa Bay: make Foles beat them.
The Bengals aren't the Bucs at No. 1 vs. the run, but they are a very good 11th against the rush and in the six games since Pittsburgh's Jonathan Dwyer gouged the Bengals for 122 yards on just 17 carries they haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher.
"I can't imagine Andy Reid is going to let Foles sit there in the pocket against this defensive line," Lapham says. "I see screens, bootlegs, draws, anything to get him out of pocket and change his launch point. It's going to come down to how the other players behind the line play. Everybody has to do their job with the checkdowns and make sure they hold it to two or three yards. Like Marvin Lewis says, 11 guys have to play defense."
And Mayock really likes one of those guys.
"Geno Atkins has turned into a beast. When I turn on the tape, I see John Randle," Mayock says of the Hall of Famer. "He's that quick, explosive three technique that is really special."