1. The Philadelphia Eagles must test Cincy with the deep ball.
First-round rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor will be out of commission for a few weeks with a UCL tear in his thumb. His injury, combined with no sign, at the time of this story being published, that veteran Alshon Jeffrey is ready to return to the lineup (he did practice on Thursday in a limited capacity though) are causing everyone who follows this team to wonder if this wide receiver corps will experience some of the same difficulty in keeping people healthy that it faced in 2019.
DeSean Jackson is still relatively healthy though, and recent fifth-round selection John Hightower was well-regarded as a deep threat coming out of Boise State. The Bengals defense doesn’t boast an all-world menace as the Rams do in Jalen Ramsey, so the deep ball that alluded the Eagles in Week 2 may be more available in Week 3.
Quarterback Carson Wentz’s accuracy issues aside, the offensive line showed remarkable improvement after a dismal performance in the season opener. If Wentz’s pocket continues to stay clean against a relatively anemic Bengals’ pass rush, targeting his deep threats can open up the offense for the improving running game.
2. This Philadelphia Eagles defense can’t be predictable.
Currently, the Eagles rank 18th out of 32 teams in the Football Outsider’s Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) ranking, just below average. For the uninformed, DVOA is a calculation of a team’s success on every play, but it’s based on down and distance. Once that’s done, the results are compared to the league average. If you’re still confused, just know this. It’s yet another stat the Eagles don’t rank high in.
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Even still, if you watch the footage from last week, knowing this team ranked 18th seems to be generous. Philly will continue to tweak their defensive scheme as the season continues, especially with the continued improvement in health by the new guy, Javon Hargrave, but getting this unit up to snuff will also require a few tweaks.
The dependence on the ‘Wide 9’ scheme and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s resistance to blitzing has created a defense that can appear to be predictable. Linebackers and defensive backs are left on islands. Both groups are often susceptible to misdirection plays and bootlegs. Starting strong safety Jalen Mills and linebacker Nathan Gerry have been picked on by opposing quarterbacks multiple times in the first two contests. Both have been liabilities in coverage.
Considering the unlikelihood Schwartz will bench either player, this means allowing them to attack the gaps in the ‘Wide 9’ has to be considered. Bengals rookie starting quarterback Joe Burrow, the first overall selection in the 2020 draft, is definitely talented, but it’s still early in his career. NFL rookies tend to slip up when confronted with complex scheme designs. Philly shouldn’t forget that. For Schwartz, this is a golden opportunity to get his guys back on track and comfortable.
3. The Philadelphia Eagles must spread the carries around.
Running back Miles Sanders bounced back in his debut following an early fumble on the Eagles’ first possession in Week 2. He wound up with 95 rushing yards and one touchdown on 20 carries, along with three receptions for 36 yards on seven targets.
His return to the lineup might have kept backup Boston Scott on the bench, but the diminutive back was fairly efficient despite limited touches. Scott ran four times for 19 yards, matching Sanders’ 4.8 yards-per-rush average, in addition to catching all three of his targets for 24 yards.
The numbers may not jump off of the page, but the Sanders and Scott duo could give the Eagles a new look that could invigorate the sluggish offense that, so far, has run a ton of 12 personnel (two wide receivers, two tight ends, and a running back).
They’ve kept Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert on the field together a lot, and understandably so, but the Eagles are running 12 personnel an astounding 74 percent of the time according to Sharp Football Stats. That’s 22 percent higher than they ran the same formation in 2019 (which was already the most in the NFL).
The 12 personnel concept hasn’t exactly been a remedy for the Eagles offense, but trying a few more plays using 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, one receiver) or 22 personnel (two running backs, two tight ends, one receiver) can give a new and much-needed spark to an Eagles’ offense that has been both stale and predictable at times, despite the fact that they have a lot of playmakers.