The Cardinals Offense has been anything but impressive this season. The flashes of brilliance from Larry Fitzgerald have been overshadowed by the loss of David Johnson and a shockingly leaky offensive line that has left Carson Palmer on his back seventeen times already. The combination of a ruthless pass-rush and a poor offensive line mean one thing however…gameplanning. After seeing how the Giants were somehow able to keep Eli Manning unscathed, the Cardinals aren’t going to roll into Philadelphia expecting a beatdown. That means 38-year old Palmer will be forced to get the ball out quickly…and there’s one player in particular who could prove to be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles.
David Johnson may be injured and CJ2K may not have the explosiveness he did five years ago…but there’s one running back who cannot be overlooked; Andre Ellington. During his first two seasons, Ellington tallied a total of 1,312 rushing yards and six scores to go with 766 receiving yards and another three touchdowns. The signs of becoming one of the best dual-threat backs in the league were all too clear for the Clemson product…until injuries, fumbles, and a rookie running back caught up with him.
After receiving 330 carries in his first two years, Ellington touched the ball just 79 times in his next two season’s out of the backfield. When you factor in the stunning emergence of David Johnson, Ellington soon became marginalized. But this season has very much seen a turnaround for the former sixth round pick.
Ellington had two receptions for 35 yards against Detroit, before totalling 81 scrimmage yards against the Dallas Cowboys, including five rushes for 22-yards. What came next however is the biggest warning sign to the Eagles possible.
Against San Francisco, the scat-back amassed 86 yards on a career-high nine receptions. Four of which came in the fourth quarter and overtime to help propel a spluttering Cardinals Offense to victory. Ellington is producing at a level close to what we almost became accustomed to seeing when he first entered the league. It will be down to the Eagles to ensure that the level of versatility they’re lacking in their own backfield due to injury, doesn’t come back to haunt them.
“Ellington has played wide receiver for them”. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz told the media. “He’s made some great catches and he’s so hard to handle coming out of the backfield. I think there’s still the same challenges. It’s just they have compartmentalized it a little bit and we still have to defend the same offense and the same quarterback.”
A fourth quarter breakout last week is the last thing that the Eagles would have needed to see. The team have surrendered 52 points in the final quarter this season and have given up plenty of yards to unsuspecting targets. Whether it was an unaccounted for UDFA in Austin Ekeler bursting through the trenches for a 35 yard score last week, giving up 29 receiving yards to Giants running backs, or the sheer electricity of Kareem Hunt, the Eagles have struggled to contain dual-threat backs this season to some degree.
The pass-rush is undoubtedly a focus for the Eagles this week. After such a hot start, it was almost confusing to see the Giants evade it so elegantly. If Arizona approaches this matchup with the same mentality, it could be screen pass and checkdown galore for an Offense that is has done nothing but heave it downfield and hope for the best.
The Eagles may have one of the best linebacker groups in the league however. Led by Jordan Hicks and co-captained by Nigel Bradham, the duo have been nothing short of outstanding from the moment they took to the Linc for the first time together in the season opener last year. The resurgence of Mychal Kendricks will of course help here, but it all starts up front for the Birds.
The Cardinals have a ferocious passing attack and it’s likely that the need for speed will plague a young cornerback group. But if all the attention is focused on the Brown’s, and J.J Nelson, not to mention the HOF bound wideout who has torched the Eagles for 854 yards in his career against the team, then it leave the option for Ellington to sneak into danger unnoticed.
If the Eagles play a lot of off-coverage as they have become renowned to do this season, it gives a cushion that’s all too generous for Ellington who could just as easily slide into the slot. The Eagles have ran with zonal looks over 75% of the time this season…so if the Cardinals are going to attack, it has to be quick, underneath, and aggressive. All signs point towards Andre Ellington seeing a very prominent role on Sunday, but can the Eagles find a way to contain him, having allowed just 283 rushing yards all season?
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports