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Eagles' preview: Comparing Carson Wentz's rookie season to Bengals' Joe Burrow, and other key matchups

Martin Frank
Delaware News Journal

Four years ago, the Eagles made Carson Wentz the starting quarterback for Week 1, without the benefit of a preseason after it was cut short when Wentz broke his ribs in the preseason opener.

It's just like the Cincinnati Bengals have done this season with Joe Burrow, the top pick in the NFL draft this past spring.

When Wentz was injured, however, he was the No. 3 quarterback. Wentz was elevated all the way to the starter just eight days before the start of the regular season when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford in exchange for a first-round pick.

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Still, we have already seen some similarities through two games of Burrow's NFL career, beginning with an exorbitant number of pass attempts.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow looks to throw during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Thursday, Sept. 17, 2020, in Cleveland. The Bengals are looking to avoid their third 0-3 start in four years. They haven’t had a winning season since 2015. “Everybody’s itching for the first win, and it’s time to get that win,” rookie quarterback Joe Burrow said.(AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

As a rookie, Wentz set an NFL rookie record for completions with 379. He also set a team record for attempts with 607. Wentz attempted 60 passes the last time the Eagles played the Bengals, on Dec. 4, 2016. He completed 36 for 308 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in the Eagles' 32-14 loss.

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In the Bengals' last game, a 35-30 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 17, Burrow went 37-for-61 for 316 yards with 3 TDs. He became the first rookie since 1950 to attempt at least 60 passes without throwing an interception. Burrow and Wentz represent two of three rookies to attempt 60 or more passes in a game. Chris Weinke in 2001 is the other.

Burrow already leads the NFL in passes attempted through two games, with 97. He attempted 37 in Week 1, a 16-13 loss to the Chargers.

In Wentz's rookie season, the Eagles were 2-6 when he attempted 37 passes or more, 5-3 when he attempted 36 or fewer.

"Just having watched Carson over the last couple of years, I know he has a ton of confidence in himself." Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. "He’s really smart, high football IQ. Joe is very similar in that way. They can both extend plays and they’re dangerous."

The Eagles defenders have already noticed Burrow's poise when doing their video review of the Bengals.

"He’s a young guy, but I really like him," cornerback Darius Slay said. "He’s got a lot of swagger about himself. I love that about him. Looks like he’s a competitor. He competes every play. I’m looking forward to the challenge."

Here are some other key matchups to watch:

Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Press Taylor speaks with members of the media at the NFL football team's practice facility in Philadelphia, Monday, June 10.

Press Taylor vs. Zac Taylor

There is quite a sibling rivalry going between Bengals coach Zac Taylor and his younger brother, Eagles passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor.

Their father, Sherwood, a former assistant coach at Oklahoma in the 1980s, has a trophy called the "Taylor Bro Bowl" that goes to the brother whose team wins the matchup between the other.

So far, Press, who's 32 years old, has a 2-1 lead over Zac, who's 37. Both of Press' wins came over the Los Angeles Rams, in 2017 and 2018, when Zac was an assistant on Sean McVay's staff.

Zac Taylor became the Bengals' head coach in 2019, going 2-14 in his first season.

"For Press and I, it’s just another game," Zac Taylor said. "It’s just business as usual. We both want to win and we both want the other guy to feel really bad after the game is over."

Added Press Taylor: "There’s nobody I’d rather compete with more than my brother, honestly ... I’m always rooting for him, but if anybody beats him, I want it to be me."

The brothers avoided talking to each other this week, and Press Taylor said they didn't talk football when they were together this summer knowing that this game was coming up early in the season.

It's possible that Press Taylor might get his own head coaching job one day. When asked what that would be like, Zac Taylor said: "It wouldn’t change a thing. That’s something we take a lot of pride in as a family. Regardless of where we’re at in life, we’re there for each other, and we don’t take anything for granted."

Eagles' Miles Sanders' (26) breaks a tackle from Los Angeles' Leonard Floyd (54) Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Miles Sanders vs. Bengals' defense

The Bengals give up an average of 185 yards rushing per game, and are coming off a game in which the Browns rushed for 215 yards.

Bengals Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins has yet to play this season, and he won’t on Sunday.

It would seem like an ideal game to keep the ball on the ground behind Miles Sanders, who returned to the lineup last week after missing most of training camp and the first game with a hamstring injury. 

Sanders had 95 yards rushing and 36 yards receiving on 23 touches against the Rams. He should have even a bigger load against the Bengals, both because of the running potential and because rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor is out for several weeks with a thumb injury.

"It should be a decent running game," Sanders said. "But you still gotta respect your opponent. They’re in the NFL just like us ... Having a good pass game will open up the run this week."

Prediction

The Eagles haven't started a season 0-3 since 1999, Andy Reid's first season as a head coach. And really, if the Eagles don't beat the Bengals, they could be looking at 0-6 with upcoming games at San Francisco, at Pittsburgh and home for the Ravens.

So it's not an overstatement to say this is a must-win game.

Can the Eagles do it? We have seen Carson Wentz get off to a terrible start. Reagor is out. The offensive line is reshuffling for a third straight week. And the defense was horrible against the Rams.

Fun fact: The Bengals are the only NFL team that the Eagles have not beaten this century. The Eagles are 0-3-1 against Cincinnati after a win in 2000. Look for the Eagles to finally break through.

Score: Eagles 27, Bengals 20.

Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.