Something has to give in Sunday's matchup between the Bengals and Eagles. Both teams are searching for answers after starting 0-2.
The Bengals have a strong track record against the Eagles, boasting a 9-3-1 all-time record against Philadelphia. There are a lot of battles Cincinnati needs to win if they're going to beat the Eagles again. Here are the most important matchups in Sunday's game.
Fletcher Cox vs Bengals offensive line
Fletcher Cox is widely regarded as a top-five defensive lineman. He should be rearing to get after the weakest part of the Bengals roster. Things seemed headed in the right direction after Michael Jordan and Xavier Su'a-Filo held their own against the Chargers. Yet another tough roll of the injury dice knocked out Su'a-Filo for a few weeks. Jordan regressed to the mean in Cleveland four days later. He was the lowest-graded player on the Bengals' offense according to Pro Football Focus.
Cox has notched just 1 tackle for loss in two games, but he's still posted a 75.1 overall PFF grade. The nine-year veteran has shown signs of slowing down. He posted the lowest sack total of his career in 2019 (3.5) and he’s hobbled with an abdomen injury. A banged-up Cox can still wreck games, especially against one of the least experienced guard combos in the NFL. Fred Johnson felt the rust of minimal live-action reps all night long against Cleveland. How Johnson pairs with Jordan this week will play a big role in the Bengals chances of getting Zac Taylor his first career road win.
Darius Slay vs A.J. Green
Is "The Cliff" already here for A.J. Green?
I wrote a piece on the drop off aging wide receivers experience in July, but it's hard to believe A.J. Green's are due to a physical decline. He has another chance this Sunday to prove the early struggles can be chalked up to spotty practice time with his quarterback.
"A.J. has probably had four practices leading up to that last game (against the Browns)," Taylor said earlier this week. "It will be good for anybody, whether you're an All-Pro player or not, to be able to get on the field, get that rhythm, and communication with the quarterback."
After posting a career catch rate of 59.6 percent heading into 2020, Green sits at 36.3 percent through two games. He posted a rate 14.6 percent lower than what was expected against the Browns according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Some have credited Browns cornerback Denzel Ward for shutting down Green. It doesn't get much easier this week against Darius Slay.
The Eagles acquired Slay in a trade with Detroit this offseason. He's allowed five catches for 54 yards on ten targets so far. His current 50 percent completion rate would be the second-best mark of his six-year career. Slay has been one of the bright spots on this defense.
Miles Sanders vs Germaine Pratt
Not necessarily an apples-to-apples matchup here, but this is a key battle in the second level of the defense. It's been a tale of two Pratt's so far this season. After posting a career-high 12 tackles against the Chargers, he followed with just a pair of tackles during Cleveland's rushing rampage. The NC State product isn't meeting runners aggressively enough at the line of scrimmage. Pratt's average tackle is being made 8.4 yards past the LOS after posting a 5.1-yard average depth his rookie year.
Add it all up and Pratt sits tied for second-worst among all linebackers with -4 points saved according to Sports Info Solutions and a 35.3 overall PFF grade. Cincinnati is hoping that a second-year leap can get going in Philadelphia.
Miles Sanders should have something to say about that this Sunday. He was his usual efficient self last week, rushing 20 times for 95 yards and a touchdown, while adding three receptions for 36 yards. The passing game is where Sanders can really hurt the Bengals. Sanders had 50 receptions for 509 yards and 3 scores last year, posting a hyper-efficient 8.2 yards per target, the second-best average at the position in 2019.
If the first two games are any indication, the Eagles are going to do everything they can to get their star running back matched up with Pratt in coverage. Pratt has allowed 200 yards and an 82.4 percent completion rate on 17 targets as the nearest defender in his career. The battle of two key sophomore pieces is going to play a large part towards deciding the victor in the city of brotherly love.
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