‘Thursday Night Football’ Preview: Bengals should rebound against the Eagles

Brian McIntyre

Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles
8 p.m. ET, NFL Network

Two of the NFL's longest-tenured head coaches will be on the sidelines when the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles square off at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night. Andy Reid is the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL, compiling a 130-90-1 record during his nearly 14 full seasons with the Eagles, while Marvin Lewis is 76-80-1 in his nine-plus seasons with the Bengals. Reid's tenure is coming to an end, however, as the Eagles' disappointing 2011 and 2012 seasons are expected to result in his dismissal at the end of the season. Lewis has his Bengals team at 7-6 and in the hunt to return to the playoffs for a second straight season. The Bengals are still looking for their first playoff win of the Lewis Era.

When the Bengals have the ball

Offensively, the Bengals are in the middle of the pack, ranking 15th in total offense and 14th in both rushing and passing yards per game. In his sophomore season, quarterback Andy Dalton is completing over 63 percent of his pass attempts for 3,186 yards with 25 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Over the last five weeks, in which the Bengals are 4-1, Dalton has 11 touchdowns and three interceptions, with each of those interceptions coming in the last two weeks. When the Bengals put the ball in the air, it's most likely going to one of three targets. Wide receiver A.J. Green is among the NFL leaders with 79 receptions for 1,151 yards and is tied for the NFL lead with 10 receiving touchdowns, despite being kept out of the end zone in each of the last three weeks. Green could be in for a big night. Tight end Jermaine Gresham has 55 receptions for 636 yards and five touchdowns on the season and slot receiver Andrew Hawkins has caught 45 balls for 485 yards and four touchdowns. According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles are 31st in the league when defending No. 1 receivers (Green) and No. 27 in the league when defending "other WRs" (Hawkins), so funneling the passing game through those two should be an effective strategy for Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

The Bengals are far from being a one-dimensional offense now that BenJarvus Green-Ellis has finally gotten himself going this season. Over the last four games, the Bengals are averaging 171 yards per game on the ground, with Green-Ellis topping 100 yards in wins over the Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers before being "held" to 89 yards on 12 carries in last Sunday's 20-19 loss to the Cowboys. The Eagles are giving up nearly 120 yards per game on the ground and haven't kept an opposing team under 100 yards since Sept. 30. If the Bengals want to run, they should have no problem doing so.

When the Eagles have the ball

Many of the names you've come to recognize when watching the Eagles offense the last few seasons will be in street clothes on Thursday night. Quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek have been ruled out for this week's game with concussions. Left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Todd Herremans are injured reserve.

Even if Vick were healthy enough to suit up, third-round pick Nick Foles will make his fifth start of the season as the club wants to take an extended look at the rookie from the University of Arizona. In four-plus games, Foles has completed 61.4 percent of 184 attempts for 1,174 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Foles has gone three straight games without throwing an interception and is coming off a game where he went on the road an ran (very slowly) for one score and passed for two others, including one to Jeremy Maclin with no time remaining on the clock for a 23-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Foles may not have the ceiling off as fellow 2012 quarterback draftees Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill or Russell Wilson, but while playing with a makeshift offensive line and without some considerably talented skill-position players, Foles has shown he could be a serviceable starting quarterback in the NFL.

Foles will be challenged on Thursday night by a Bengals defense that ranks 12th in Football Outsiders' passing defense DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average) and leads the NFL with 42 sacks. Leading that pass rush is defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a 2010 fourth-round pick out of Georgia who may be the best interior pass-rusher in the NFL. One potential reprieve for the Eagles' offensive line is defensive end Michael Johnson, who is second on the club with 8.5 sacks, has been in a walking boot due to a toe injury and is "questionable" for Thursday night's game.

Cincinnati's defense is not as solid against the run, ranking 14th in rushing yards allowed per play and 26th in Football Outsiders' run defense DVOA metric. The Eagles will be without McCoy, but seventh-round pick Bryce Brown had two monster weeks — 43 carries for 347 yards and four touchdowns — before the Buccaneers limited him to just 6 yards on 12 carries in Week 14. With Johnson iffy with a toe injury, and linebackers Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict coming off injuries, Brown could have opportunities to gash the Bengals defense on Thursday night.

How it could go: Never underestimate a team playing for pride, which along with playing the role of a spoiler, is all the Eagles have to motivate themselves for the remaining three games of the season. That said, the Bengals are superior to the Eagles in all three phases of the game and, after last week's loss to the Cowboys, will be in desperation mode as they attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Prediction: Bengals 27, Eagles 16

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