The character of the 2012 Cincinnati Bengals will be found out against the Philadelphia Eagles this week as they look to rebound from a disappointing loss to the Dallas Cowboys this past Sunday. The Bengals gave away a nine point lead to the Cowboys in the fourth quarter and missed an opportunity to take a one game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the race for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Marvin Lewis’ group should be happy with the short week and seemingly soft fixture against the Eagles to potentially take out some of their frustrations.
That is, preusming the team enters the game with the right attitude.
Run the Ball
Against the Cowboys, offensive coordinator Mike Zimmer opened the game with an excellent drive based around some excellent creativity in the running game. It was capped off by a forward handoff to Andrew Hawkins in the backfield that went for a touchdown. Although that was officially marked off as a pass, it was realistically a running play to the outside. The Bengals only ran the ball 19 other times(as well as one scramble from Andy Dalton) and one of those was an end around for Marvin Jones that came on that first drive.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, while not being the most explosive of running-backs, has been in excellent form over recent weeks as a result of outstanding run blocking upfront. Green-Ellis has run for 437 yards over the last four games, with an average of 20.25 carries per game. Against the Cowboys he only had 12 carries, but still went for 89 yards, despite an irrelevant penalty call on AJ Green that cost him 10 more yards. Green-Ellis may not be explosive or elusive, but his run blocking is so good he doesn’t need to be while he is not a risk to turn the football over if asked to carry the offense. Against the Eagles’ under-performing defense that was never designed to stop the run in the first place, he could have another easy big day if given the football.
Send Multiple Receivers Deep Regularly
The Eagles’ defense ranks 15th in passing yards allowed per game, giving up just 229.3 yards per game, but they have allowed 44 plays of at least 21 yards and 10 of at least 41. Combine that with just 22 sacks on the season and there is a huge amount of potential for the Bengals to throw deep on the Eagles. Even though Dalton has been very inconsistent throwing the deep ball this season, and the Bengals’ receivers aren’t exactly consistent deep threats outside AJ Green, it makes sense to attack that level of the Eagles’ secondary.
Many of the big plays that the Eagles have allowed this year have come from breakdowns in communication. Neither Nate Allen or Kurt Coleman have been reliable on the backend and it often seems inevitable that either will make a big mistake in coverage. Combine that with Nnamdi Asomugha‘s complete loss of pace and there is too much potential for big plays for the Bengals to ignore. Instead of just attacking the deep coverage with just Green and tight end Jermaine Gresham, the two natural deep threats, Jay Gruden should repeatedly send three and even four receivers deep to force the secondary to communicate and pass off receivers to each other consistently. Dalton may miss receivers often, but that is acceptable as long as he can connect on some occasions.
The Bengals do have deep threats outside of Gresham and Green. Brandon Tate may not be the best receiver, but he has plenty of speed, while Marvin Jones is still establishing himself in the offense, but has already shown off plenty of explosion.
Mix it Up on Defense
Mike Zimmer is one of the best defensive coordinators in the league, but he does run a pretty rigid defense. It is very difficult for a defense to change that philosophy if it has been in it for years rather than weeks, especially in a short week, but with the little time he has to work with his guys this week, Zimmer should consider adding a wrinkle or two to his scheme to catch the rookie quarterback off guard. Nick Foles is entering his toughest test as a starting quarterback on a short week. He won’t be fully prepared for what Zimmer’s talented defense can throw at him.
An aggressive approach from Zimmer could see his unit completely dominate the Eagles’ offense and potential outscore them if certain aspects of the game fall their way.