Sunday is almost here, which means it’s nearly time for the Eagles week five matchup against the Cardinals. The Birds’ hot start will be vindicated or questioned depending on how they handle a struggling Cardinals team that still has the potential to contend with the best team’s in the league. Here are five things the Eagles will need to do in order to overthrow Arizona on Sunday.
Opening the Offense
If there’s one thing that the Eagles have done exceptionally well this year, it’s spread the ball around. Jeffery may not be dominating corners on a weekly basis, but the infusion of potential on the outside has allowed Zach Ertz to have an incredibly hot start to the season, and give Carson Wentz comfort in moving the ball around the field.
This week, the Eagles come up against a Cardinals Offense that have allowed 859 yards, but more importantly, a cornerback in Patrick Peterson who is having an outstanding year below the radar.
— PFF (@PFF) October 3, 2017
CBs with 125+ coverage snaps+fewest yards allowed
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 3, 2017
For Pederson, it’s all about drawing Peterson away in order to create those mismatches that Carson Wentz has taken advantage of so confidently through the opening four weeks.
“Yeah, and in Patrick’s case, listen, he’s very comfortable going anywhere inside, outside. You see him all over the field with the best receivers, and we’re going to continue to find creative ways to get Alshon open even in the middle of the field, big body, big target in there, and he actually loves being in that slot position. We’ll keep him moving around. Just defensively I think that whoever is on him, if it is Patrick, then he just has to be aware of where Alshon goes once he breaks the huddle.”
We saw arguably Pederson’s most creative game from a play-calling perpsective last week…and we may need to see the same again if the Eagles are to somehow find an advantage against a shutdown secondary.
Overcoming a versatile Defense
The Cardinals Defense haven’t exactly been disappointing this season. Considering that their backs have been pushed so far against the wall they’ve almost become part of the structure, the Defense has been able to battle back into games and give the Offense of Bruce Arians a shot.
A huge part of that comes from the versatility of the unit…a word that’s becoming synonymous with the Eagles at this point. The Eagles drafted Nate Gerry, a hybrid Safety who would later transition to linebacker in the mold of someone like Tyrann Mathieu. Unfortunately, Gerry didn’t quite meet the expectations of Jim Schwartz, but the Cardinals have this role signed, sealed, and delivered. Having players such as Mathiew and Deone Bucannon add an extra challenge for Carson Wentz in terms of picking up protections and diagnosing just who will be storming through the trenches in a Defense where just about anybody could be a suspect.
“any time you play young players, as mentioned with Corey, especially in the backfield, protections are important.” Peterson explained. “One thing that Carson has done a great job with is being able to sort of help those guys when they’re on the field and direct them. It’s like one of those things like, ‘Hey, you’ve got that guy,’ the light kind of comes on, like ‘Oh, yeah, I’ve got that, I know what you’re talking about,’ and you see some of that from time to time. And that’s great to see from two young players being able to do that.
But yeah, it’s a challenge. This is a pretty good defense that we’re facing. Really first four weeks of the season they’ve all been pretty good.”
The Cardinals Offense may have been marginalized in recent weeks, but their Defense certainly has not. The Eagles have to find a way to keep turnovers to a minimum and more importantly preach patience against a unit that’s licking its lips over the mere scent of a mistake.
Pressure back on the backs
With Wendell Smallwood listed as a gametime decision and Doug Pederson playing his cards very close to his chest, the Eagles are back under pressure in the backfield once again. The Cards have been able to snuff out the one relatively well thus far, and if LeGarrette Blount struggles, the Eagles currently only have Corey Clement and newly re-signed Kenjon Barner behind him.
The Birds’ could call up Byron Marshall, but he would be in a similar spot to Barner and someone would have to be cut correspondently.
The Offensive line is performing at an exceptional level…and it will need to do so once again to pave the way for a backfield that’s light on depth and versatility, but has no shortage of physicality and angry runners. Patience will once again be the key.
After two weeks of sticking to the run, the impact it can have is crystal clear. The Offense is balanced and the running backs are combining for yardage that almost feels alien at this stage. Despite a shockingly quiet opening two weeks, the Eagles lead the NFL in rushing yards per game…which says all you need to know.
Even without Wendell Smallwood, it’s imperative that the Eagles once again trust the process.
The kitchen sink:
The Eagles pass rush started the season red hot, but after the Giants found a way to cool them down, the storm began to calm. Fletcher Cox picked up an injury and all of a sudden the production started to fade.
Brandon Graham leads the team in sacks and while some added pressure from Chris Long and Derek Barnett have been impressive to watch, one can’t help but notice the disappearance of Vinny Curry for the second consecutive year.
The good news for a faltering pass rush is that the Cardinals have given up the most sacks in the NFL, tying with the Texans at 17. The bad news is that the Eagles have been here before. New York’s porous offensive front somehow kept Eli Manning upright against the Eagles and despite the loss, he left without being sacked.
If the Birds are going to somehow override the Cardinals stunning amount of speed in skill positions, it starts and ends up front. The wide receivers will be laser-focused on defensive backs sitting eight yards off the line of scrimmage, it’s down to a pass rush without their leading DT to throw the kitchen sink at a 38-year old quarterback who is not mobile by any means and should be easy prey for a predator.
Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports