Thursday night's game was fun for a while, but things fell apart in the second half and the Eagles lost by 21 points. I was very down after watching the game. All the mistakes were overwhelming. I went back and re-watched the game for my reviews and came away feeling better. I know that sounds crazy to many of you. Here's the thing that surprised me - the Eagles held a 13-10 lead with 90 seconds left in the third quarter.
The game went from close to disaster almost instantly. This wasn't a case of the Bengals looking great all night long. The Eagles outplayed them for much of the game. The Eagles’ mistakes resulted in touchdowns and that proved to be the difference. Football teams are matched so evenly these days that a handful of key plays often decide games. The Bengals got 24 points off defensive takeaways. The Eagles got just six. The Bengals also got 10 points off special teams mistakes. The Eagles got none. Essentially, that was the game.
While the overall result was disappointing, but there are some things to be very happy about. This is one of the very rare times when you can give up 34 points and come away with positive things to say about the defense. Cincinnati's scoring drives all started on the Eagles side of the field. There were no long, sustained scoring drives. The Bengals were just three-of-six in the red zone. Things could have been a lot worse.
The play of the defensive line was a big part of the improved defense. For the first time all year, the defensive line looked like what we expected. I don't think you can say they were dominant (gave up too many rushing yards), but it was pretty close. The Eagles racked up six sacks and two forced fumbles. They drew numerous holding calls. They kept pressure on Andy Dalton all game long.
Brandon Graham had the best game of his young career. He had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Beyond the numbers, Graham was a force off the edge. He drew at least three holding calls. He gave right tackle Andre Smith fits. The Bengals had in a backup for a play and that guy got a holding call. Graham was relentless in pursuit. One of his solo tackles came on the other side of the field. Dalton scrambled to his left and Graham was there to tackle him and limit the play to a short gain.
Graham used speed, quickness and strength to win his battles. He fired off the ball and used a good rip move to stay low and get around Smith on multiple plays. Graham got him off-balance and then mixed in the bull rush. There were a few plays when Graham drove Smith backward several yards, despite weighing maybe 75 pounds less.
The Bengals have run the ball well, often to the right side. Graham had a solid night in run defense. He took on Smith on some plays, tight ends on others. Graham was able to hold his ground. He got penetration at times and was disruptive. There were a couple of plays when his aggressiveness got the best of him and he was out of position.
This was a really encouraging performance from Graham. He needs to show the Eagles that he can be a good starting defensive end. Since Jason Babin's release Graham has played pretty well. He needs to keep this up and not rest after a good game. If he's able to continue to play well, Graham will send a message that he should start in 2013.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.
Graham wasn't the only young defensive lineman to have a good game. Fletcher Cox was outstanding. He had 1.5 sacks and was a disruptive force all night long. Cox used power to continually drive blockers back at Dalton. This led so sacks for other players as well as some hurried throws. Cox got his sacks by using quick moves to the inside.
Cox did miss on a couple of sacks in the game. This is one area of his game that does need some work. Finishing plays is tough for the big guys because quarterbacks can be so elusive. Cox has missed a few sacks this year, most notably a play against Tony Romo in the first Dallas game that could have ended a drive. The fact that he's able to get in the backfield on a consistent basis is impressive. Last year at Mississippi State, Cox had five sacks. He's already got 5.5 this season. The sky is the limit for him if he'll stay focused and listen to his coaches.
I was very happy to see Trent Cole play well. He struggled in the Tampa Bay game. The Eagles made a tactical adjustment and moved him out a bit wider this week. It wasn't out back to the nine-technique, but the wider alignment did help. He was able to get a head of steam and then go inside, outside or over the blocker in front of him. Cole finished with seven solo tackles and a sack. I loved the fact he was so active against the run. Tampa Bay handled him with tight ends on multiple plays and that had me nervous.
Mychal Kendricks played his second game at the weakside spot. I thought he was up and down. He broke up a pass and generally covered well. The Eagles used him on tight ends quite a bit. Kendricks did have a tackle-for-loss on a run play to his side. His run defense was hit and miss. There were times when he was too passive and got stuck on blocks. Other plays he was aggressive and won the one-on-one battles. The talent is there. He must be more consistent.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had another good showing. He went up against A.J. Green most of the game. Green did have one touchdown which came on a great catch over Rodgers-Cromartie), but was limited to six catches for 57 yards. Normally, he's more of a gamebreaker than that. Rodgers-Cromartie broke up one pass. He had a chance for a couple of interceptions, but wasn't able to make either play. The Eagles just can't seem to buy an interception right now. Rodgers-Cromartie made life tough for Green. He did give up six catches, but they weren't easy. When you face an elite receiver you rarely are going to shut him down. The goal is to limit his damage and make him work for his catches.
The offense didn't have such a great night. The one thing they did that was very impressive was keep Geno Atkins under control. He has a good chance to be an All-Pro player this year, but the Eagles held him without a tackle, let alone a sack. Atkins has 10.5 sacks on the year and has been dominant. Evan Mathis, Dallas Reynolds and Jake Scott kept him under control. Mathis seemed to do the best job on him. Scott did get called for holding on a play when Atkins drove him straight back to Foles.
Emil Igwenagu made his NFL debut, playing some fullback and some tight end. He had a pretty good night. His highlight was a block of the Bengals’ Rey Maualuga that opened a good hole for Bryce Brown. That came with him at fullback. Igwenagu did have one big mistake. Right after that highlight block, he lined up at tight end on the right side. The run went left and Igwenagu had a good initial block. Dion Lewis cut the play back to the weakside and Igwenagu grabbed his defender and held. That pushed the drive back out of field goal position and the offense never threatened again. Igwenagu showed he can play, but you can't have critical mistakes like that.
* Nick Foles was solid in the first half, but struggled after halftime. He threw a costly pick that helped to jump start the Bengals offense in the second half after it was returned into Eagles’ territory. Foles underthrew a deep ball badly and it was an easy interception.
* Backup lineman Matt Tennant got to play as an extra blocker. The Eagles tried a trick play and threw the ball to him in the end zone. Foles made a good throw, but Tennant could not make the catch. That drop was a costly mistake.
* Cedric Thornton was solid on defense. His highlight play was a block on a kickoff return, when he put a Bengal on the ground. The Eagles need more of that.
* Colt Anderson had another solid outing. I was blown away when he almost picked off a deep ball to Green in the end zone. Anderson did miss a couple of key tackles in the second half.
* Alex Henery started a new streak by going two for two on field goals.