Turnovers Doom Eagles, Bengals Inch Closer to Playoffs
by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Rob Parker's Sensitivity Coach
The jovial hug shared by Andy Reid and Duce Staley on Sunday is but a distant memory.
All it took was a 6 minute stretch in the third and fourth quarters to return Eagles fans to their vacant, emotionless state of numb.
Despite an aggressive, yet smooth, early showing, the Philadelphia Eagles were spiked by the Cincinnati Bengals 34-13 on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles actually held a 13-10 halftime lead, and showed a spark on defense not seen in quite some time, before things completely unraveled in almost comedic fashion.
Cincinnati, for their part, didn't exactly blow anyone away with their offensive prowess, and Andy Dalton himself had a pretty humdrum night.
Then again, he didn't need to be spectacular. His defense took care of that for him.
The Bengals became the fifth opponent in the last seven games to score more than 30 points on the Eagles, and forced 5 Eagles turnovers, the worst for Philly since opening day.
At 8-6, Cincinnati's eyeing their third playoff bid in 4 years, while the Eagles endure their third 10+ loss season under Reid in 14 seasons.
1. Third Quarter From Hell for Philly
There's less than 6 minutes remaining in the third quarter, and the Eagles are up 13-10 on a fringe playoff team. Nick Foles and the offense have just gotten the ball back after Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham forced 2 straight sacks.
The Eagles have the ball on their own 47-yard line, and are looking to extend the lead.
That's not what happened.
On the first play of the new drive, Foles threw an interception to Leon Hall, who returned the ball 44 yards. Still, nothing to worry about just yet.
10 plays later, Andy Dalton runs in for a touchdown to go up 17-13. Still, there's 1:10 left in the third, and Foles is days removed from leading an 11-point comeback. What's a 4-pointer, right?
2 plays later, Bryce Brown fumbles without even looking at the ball, which is his way of saying, "Whatever Adderall was confiscated in Seattle, I'll take it." Wallace Gilberry runs in for the touchdown, making it 24-13.
First play of the ensuing possession, Foles completes a pass to Clay Harbor who, yes, fumbles, with Chris Crocker recovering.
Then the third quarter ends.
Cincinnati would tack on a field goal to go up 27-13, but would recover the ensuing kickoff on another fumble, before adding a touchdown to AJ Green 6 plays later.
34-13 Bengals, off of 4 turnovers, all in a 9-minute stretch.
2. Eagles Defense Played Their Finest
Although enterprising Eagles fans won't mind the increased possibility of a better draft slot, tonight's game wasted a tremendous effort by the defense.
Philadelphia put up 6 sacks, twice their season high, and forced Andy Dalton to fumble twice. Those turnovers set up a pair of field goals which created the 13-10 halftime lead.
Since abandoning Jim Washburn and the Wide Nine, the Eagles have had 8 sacks over the last 2 games, after scoring just 20 over the first 12 games.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of this uptick in defensive pressure is rookie Fletcher Cox, who has 2.5 sacks this week, and 5.5 for the year. His 1.5 sacks in tonight's game helped facilitate the punt that would lead to Foles' interception, and then Murphy's Law coming into play.
Brandon Graham, taking away Jason Babin's old job, recorded 2.5 sacks, bringing his total to 5.5 on the year as well.
The other sacks came from Cullen Jenkins (who had one on Sunday as well) and Trent Cole. Jenkins' sack forced one of the fumbles, as did one of Graham's.
And don't blame the defense for this loss: all six of Cincinnati's scoring plays originated in Philadelphia territory, off of 5 turnovers and 1 blocked punt.
3. Green Lone Standout Receiver for Bengals
We already know that AJ Green is great, and that he stands out in a crowd. Good thing for the Bengals tonight, because he was the only receiver who stood out.
As Mike Mayock noted many times through tonight's telecast, Green is the only Bengals wide receiver to have caught a pass in this game.
As a matter of fact, Green was one of only 3 Bengals players to have caught anything thrown by Dalton.
Of Dalton's 13 completions, 6 went to Green, good for 57 yards and a salt-in-the-wound touchdown early in the fourth. Those numbers put him at 85 catches, 1208 yards, and 11 touchdowns for the season. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie simply struggled to keep him contained through the evening.
Another 6 completions went to tight end Jermane Gresham, 63 yards. The lone remaining throw was for running back Brian Leonard, for 2 measly yards.
That's another sad commentary on the night for Philly: the pass rush was stellar, and Nnamdi Asomugha was fine in coverage, but DRC's difficulty in covering Green, plus the turnovers, squandered a fine effort.
4. Law Firm Represents Well
BenJarvus Green-Ellis was never going to be as heavily relied upon in New England's expansive offense as he could be for a team needing a strong running back to serve as a missing link.
After just one previous 1000-yard season (1008 yards for the Pats in 2010), "The Law Firm" went over the 1000-yard mark on his first carry of the game, and proved to be Cincinnati's most reliable offensive weapon.
Green-Ellis ran for 106 yards on 25 carries (4.2 YPA) and a touchdown on the night, bringing his total to 1080 yards for the season, and 6 touchdowns.
This game also marks the fourth over the last five that Green-Ellis has gone over 100 yards, averaging 108.6 YPG, as well as 5.12 yards per attempt rushing.
Amazingly, Green-Ellis is only the second player to run for more than 100 yards against the hapless Eagles this season, with Doug Martin (128) becoming the first to do so last week.
That would be just like Philadelphia to largely solve their lacking pass defense, and then forget how to stop the run.
5. The Road From Here
Cincinnati finds themselves at 8-6, and, technically the current sixth seed in the AFC, barring the result of Pittsburgh's game with Dallas on Sunday. If Pittsburgh loses, and falls to 7-7, the Bengals could punch them down the later the following week, as the two teams will meet at Heinz Field. All that's at stake is control of a wild card spot; doubly crucial, as Pittsburgh beat the Bengals 24-17 in October.
As for the Eagles, the Andy Reid Farewell Tour has its final game in Philadelphia in 10 days, when the Eagles host the surging Redskins. Last time they played was November 18 in Landover, and the Eagles were blown out 31-6. The Eagles have become so inconsequential, that the First Take controversy involving RG3 may get more attention than the game itself.
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