The term ‘trap game’ often gets thrown around when a heavily favored team come up against one that’s struggling. The Eagles are soaring high at 3-1, while the Cardinals are at a disappointing 2-2. Detroit and Dallas simply dominated Carson Palmer and the struggling Cards’ Offense, while a narrow win over an Andrew Luck’less Indianapolis and an overtime thriller against San Francisco highlight just how much work there is to be done. However this is not a bad team. In fact, Arizona still possess one of the most dangerous passing offenses in the league…and that’s a scary thought.
The Cardinals already have four wide receivers who have surpassed the 190 yard mark in receiving and there have only been four games. The loss of David Johnson has certainly hurt Bruce Arians’ Offense and even though they have seemingly split the role he left between CJ2K and Andre Ellington, you may not find a more unbalanced Offense in the league. Carson Palmer has attempted 183 passes in four weeks and even though he’s been able to complete 59% of them and leads the NFL in passing, he’s as many touchdowns as he has interceptions. The Offensive line is struggling massively, but instead of trying to pound the run with slower backs, Arians has shown an unrelenting attitude towards slinging it down deep for chunk plays and trying to force his team back into the mix when behind.
For the Eagles, this is bad news. Although the Giants Offensive front was leaky and decided to attack an unrelenting pass-rush with speed and checkdowns, those deep bombs from Eli Manning in the fourth quarter helped propel the team back into the matchup…just as Phillip Rivers was able to do by launching cannon balls to Keenan Allen and Tyrell Willams.
Insert J.J Nelson, Jaron Brown and John Brown. Three renowned speedsters who between them already have three touchdowns and 481 receiving yards. They’ll be lining up against Rasul Douglas and Jalen Mills, while Canton-bound Larry Fitzgerald will likely see plenty of time opposite Patrick Robinson. The return of the ‘Safety blanket’ behind the corners will certainly take the pressure off, but once again…the Birds will be forced to treat the Cardinals Offense with respect and keep the ball ahead of them.
“They can put a four by one-hundred team together, and they have got a lot of speed and a quarterback that has — I know [Cardinals Head] Coach [Bruce] Arians has said he’s playing at a level that he has not seen him play before.” Jim Schwartz told reporters earlier this week. “They have had their struggles here and there. But I think he’s really playing good football and we have our work cut out for us. Again, it can’t just be about Larry Fitzgerald and it can’t be about one player. If you make it that way you’re going to be susceptible to other things and we’ve got to do a better job of not being susceptible to other things.”
The Eagles have been sitting their two young cornerbacks deep and playing from the off-position, giving opposing receivers a cushion to work with and more importantly their cornerbacks time to read, react, and wrap up their receivers to keep the time-bomb ticking. Playing in Man-coverage has led to three big receptions this year of note, with a lack of experience for Rasul Douglas and a lack of speed for Jalen Mills chaining the corners down. For the most part however, this has been successful…until the fourth quarter. Without any real reason behind the 52 points scored against the Birds in the final 15 minutes, there has to be a huge focus on keeping the “bend but don’t break” mentality throughout.
As for Larry Fitzgerald, Patrick Robinson will see his first real test as an Eagles cornerback, facing a wideout who has been prolific against them in the past. The veteran wideout has scored 11 touchdowns and recorded 845 yards in his eight games against the Eagles…and that number could be set to soar yet again if Carson Palmer has his way.
“Having those guys on your team obviously gives your quarterback a lot of confidence and that’s kind of the go-to guy. Doug Pederson said. “And we have to — we’ve got our work cut out for us defensively, because they also have speed guys that can roll. It will be a big test. But he’s a tremendous player, a lot of respect for him.”
The Eagles pass-rush started the season red-hot, but has since cooled off a little. Both Phillip Rivers and Eli Manning have been man-handled by teams not named the Philadelphia Eagles this season, the Birds’ could only muster up one sack in each of those games. If the team are indeed going to be without Fletcher Cox once again, dominating a unit that has allowed 17 sacks on Palmer this season becomes that much harder. The Eagles have a reputation, the Cardinals have a weakness. It’s rare that things like this go unaccounted for by coaches, so if the Cardinals do look to beat the rush, they’ll be looking to their rapid wideouts to take advantage of mismatches of their own.
The Birds’ have been incredibly successful against the run, but have the 31st ranked Pass Defense in the NFL due to the respect Schwartz has given opposing teams and the trust he’s placed in the pass-rush. If the Cardinals are going to pile the pressure on two young and aggressive corners, it may only be a matter of time before that playoff-calibre Offense begins rolling once again.
The Cards have struggled thus far because they allow so much pressure that it’s almost impossible to fire deep balls consistently…yet that appears to be the gameplan for Carson Palmer and company. It just so happens that stopping those big plays is still a weakness for the Eagles, as is keeping teams out of the endzone when opponents are inside the 20. This game has shootout written all over it, but can the Eagles Defense keep the fractures at bay and enable their “bend but don’t break” mentality to survive one more week?
Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK