By Lewis Gould
Tomorrow’s Eagles-Bengals game looks like a typical boring early December match-up that is interesting only in Philly and Cincy.
The Birds (5-6) have dropped six of their last eight games after their strong start and are desperate for a victory to remain a viable contender in the NFC wild-card race. The Eagles are just 1-5 on the road and the lone victory came on Sept. 19 against the Chicago Bears.
Cincinnati (3-7-1) is well aware that its streak of five consecutive playoff appearances will come to an end. The Bengals all but assured that with three consecutive losses and quarterback Andy Dalton isn’t sure how to handle the predicament.
“It’s different. I’ve never really been in this situation in my life or with any sport that I’ve ever played.” Dalton said on a conference call. “I’ve been just trying to figure out how to change it.”
The Bengals are averaging 15.3 points during their skid, and will be without star receiver A.J. Green for basically the third consecutive game. Green injured a hamstring on the opening series against the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 20 and missed last Sunday’s 19-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
The Eagles also are having issues finding the end zone — they averaged 14 points while losing to the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in the past two games and rookie quarterback Carson Wentz (above) is experiencing growing pains.
Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, was the talk of the NFL as he threw seven touchdown passes and was intercepted only once through the first five games.
The last six games tell a different story, with Wentz throwing seven interceptions and four touchdowns.
“We just have to stay the course. We can’t dwell on anything,” Wentz said during a press conference. “We just have to keep plugging along. Can’t throw in the towel. I know the guys in that locker room and that’s not going to happen. Our effort is always there. We just have to keep fighting, keep believing, and we can’t change our preparation.”
Eagles first-year coach Doug Pederson changed his tune lately with the defeats mounting.
Where he often mentioned the playoffs while the team was soaring, Pederson is now talking more about the building process.
“Teams in our situation right now, even though you are still maybe on the edge of getting to where you want to be at the end of the season, you can kind of go the other way,” Pederson said in a press conference. “It’s not to put any added pressure on anybody, but … I don’t want people to just start tanking it in the last month of the season.”
Pederson said it is likely that leading receiver Jordan Matthews (ankle) will play after missing most of the second half of Monday’s loss to the Packers. Matthews leads the Eagles with 57 receptions for 686 yards and three touchdowns.
However, running back Ryan Mathews (knee) will miss his second straight game. Mathews leads the Eagles with 427 rushing yards and seven touchdowns.
Defensively, Philly is performing well and tied for fifth in scoring defense (19.4 points per game) and stands eighth in total defense (339.4 yards per game). Outside linebacker Nigel Bradham leads the Eagles with 70 tackles and safety Rodney McLeod has a team-best three interceptions.
Defensive ends Brandon Graham (team-high five sacks) and Connor Barwin (four sacks) will attempt to pressure Dalton, who had several passes batted down in last Sunday’s 19-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Dalton (3,043 yards, 12 touchdowns) went past 3,000 yards for the sixth straight season, joining Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to do so in each of their first six years.
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (team-high 6.5 sacks) and weak-side linebacker Vontaze Burfict (team-leading 76 tackles) are playing well for the Bengals’ defense. Burfict is aiming for his fifth consecutive outing of 10 or more tackles.
With basically little to play for, Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis is striving to keep the troops motivated.
“I think coaches work harder, turn over more stones, become better coaches and people when things are a touch off,” Lewis said during a conference call. “When you’re winning, you are doing the same thing, you’re just not questioned by the masses about it. It doesn’t change your outlook on things.”