The Eagles are entering an exciting week five matchup against the Arizona Cardinals. With a 3-1 record and an NFC East crown to contend for, confidence is high within the locker room…but travelling to Philadelphia is an Arizona Offense that like the Giants before them have struggled this season. For the Eagles to move to 4-1, they’re going to need some big performances from key players. Here are five Birds’ to watch on Sunday.
RB Corey Clement:
He may only have 52 yards and a score on 16 rushing attempts so far, but considering his status and position on the depth chart coming into the season, you can only be impressed with the UDFA. Clement has answered the call whenever he’s been fed the ball, including helping the Eagles to drain the clock in the game-ending drive against the Chargers. This week however, he may have an even bigger role to play.
With Wendell Smallwood missing all of this week’s practices so far, the Eagles could well be down to two running backs after starting the season with five. Smallwood is likely going to return soon, but that leaves only Blount and Clement with Sproles and Pumphrey already injured.
The Eagles have become a ground-and-pound team in recent weeks, but the team are finally playing an impressive run Defense. The Cards rank just inside the top ten this season, allowing only 352 yards on the ground through four games. If Blount struggles to get going as he did in the first two weeks, look for Corey Clement to see a huge chunk of carries. Even if the veteran can hit the ground running, expect the Wisconsin Badger to play a substantial role, with the Eagles missing a vast amount of explosiveness and versatility in the backfield.
CB Patrick Robinson:
There’s no doubting that Robinson has been one of the Eagles’ strongest assets so far this season. The nickel cornerback has settled into a role in which he flourished during the 2015 season and is even graded as PFF’s fourth best corner.
This week however, he faces one of his toughest matchups yet. A Canton bound wide receiver by the name of Larry Fitzgerald. The veteran is not only leading the team in receiving and coming off of a stunning overtime touchdown reception, but he has a dominant track record against the Eagles.
The wideout with a reception in 200 consecutive games 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.
The only man standing in his way will be Patrick Robinson. It’s a matchup that has “highlight reel” written all over it…but the question is, for who?
DT Elijah Qualls:
Timmy Jernigan may be returning to practice and indeed the starting lineup on Sunday, but the team are still going to be without Fletcher Cox. The Cardinals offensive line has more holes in it than Augusta Golf Course, allowing seventeen sacks on Carson Palmer already this season. The Eagles will simply have to take advantage of this if they’re to dominate the matchup, but without their perennial pass-rusher, a potentially less than 100% Timmy Jernigan and an absent Destiny Vaeao, the Eagles need a difference maker.
Last week, that was Beau Allen…but within the rotation sit both Justin Hamilton and rookie Elijah Qualls. There may be no better time for the Washington product to make his mark as an Eagle than against an offensive front that is struggling to open the run for slower backs and simply can’t keep Carson Palmer upright long enough to unleash that lethal passing attack that has become so symbolic in recent years.
Qualls is a thick-based run-stopper, who has the versatility and athleticism to catch unsuspecting linemen off-guard or take advantage if Jernigan is double-teamed to simply push his way to the quarterback and make things happen. He may have a big role to play on Sunday if Jim Schwartz has his way.
WR Alshon Jeffery:
The presence of Alshon Jeffery has undoubtedly opened up countless new layers in the Eagles Offense, but his numbers thus far have been less than ideal for a number one receiver. All that matters is the ability to win…and Jeffery has made some big catches including the reception that set up Elliott’s heroic field-goal two weeks ago, but is this the game he breaks out for a 100-yarder?
The man tasked with stopping him will be Patrick Peterson. The veteran cornerback is no stranger to containing number one wide receivers and with the ‘honey badger’ behind him, this may be another game in which Wentz is forced to spread the ball around to gain the best advantage.
Arizona’s Defense cannot be overlooked and their pass Defense ranks inside the top fifteen this season despite being constantly forced to play off their back foot. Alshon Jeffery could be relied upon early and often on Sunday…and this may be the game where we really see if the Eagles recently signed number one wideout can be just that in Doug Pederson’s Offense when he’s called up to the plate and the Eagles need a playmaker.
LB Mychal Kendricks
The breakout or more adequately named ‘resurgence’ of Mychal Kendricks has been exciting to watch. The former Cal pass-rusher looks to have finally carved a niche in this Eagles Defense, just one year removed from constant trade rumors and very little action on Defense.
His speed, aggression, and versatility to play sideline-to-sideline that was a weakness last year, all look stronger than ever…and the Eagles may need one of the linebacker’s biggest games if they’re to overthrow the Cardinals.
The Giants were aware that the Eagles cornerbacks were sitting deep, and also suffered from a potent offensive line. They threw everything underneath to try and undercut the Eagles defensive backs and control the tempo of the game. The Cardinals are loaded with speed on the outside, speed that will be similarly respected by Jim Schwartz. If the Eagles DB’s again play from off-coverage, that coverage aspect could be huge for Kendricks.
This is without factoring in the versatile Andre Ellington. If we see plenty of slants and curls, Mychal Kendricks may have his name called a little more than he’s recently been used to, as the Eagles find a way to combat the Cardinals abundance of speed at the skill positions.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports