Friday, December 19, 2014

Eagles-Cardinals scouting report

The last time these two teams met, the Eagles were reeling and the Cardinals were already in free fall.

Eagles-Cardinals scouting report

LeSean McCoy and Beanie Wells lead their teams´ rushing attacks. (AP Photos)
LeSean McCoy and Beanie Wells lead their teams' rushing attacks. (AP Photos)

The last time these two teams met, the Eagles were reeling and the Cardinals were already in free fall.

The Eagles were upset, 21-17, and the 2011 season was all but lost after it was revealed that Michael Vick had his ribs broken on one of the first plays of the game.

Ten months later, both teams are 2-0 and riding strong finishes from last year. The Cardinals have gone 9-2 in their 11 games dating back to the week before their victory over the Eagles. The Eagles have won six straight.

It's fair to say that neither team has looked unbeatable two games into this season. The Cardinals have won behind a stout defense and in spite of an anemic offense. The Eagles have pulled out two comeback, one-point wins on the strength of their second-half defense and despite a turnover-prone offense.

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Vick was not perfect last week against the Ravens, but he had the bounce-back performance that he needed. He had one of his worst games as an Eagle last November when he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, threw for only 128 yards, and tossed two interceptions against the Cards.

He was without DeSean Jackson, though. Eagles coach Andy Reid had benched his star receiver.

Arizona was without the injured Kevin Kolb. John Skelton, his replacement at quarterback, somehow eked out the road W. Kolb is back in there, however, with Skelton now sidelined by injury. He gets his chance to show the Eagles that they traded away the wrong quarterback.

Here's how the teams matchup:

When the Eagles run
The offensive line lost another run-blocking stud when center Jason Kelce tore his knee up against the Ravens. That's two Jasons - Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon in March - now lost for the season. LeSean McCoy seems to have adapted to the loss of Peters at left tackle as the Eagles have run him more to the right. Dallas Reynolds steps in for Kelce, and while he performed admirably under difficult circumstances last week, there is uncertainty about his readiness. He and guard Danny Watkins will often be tasked with stopping defensive end Darnell Dockett. Arizona runs a 3-4 base defense that's patterned after the Steelers'. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton is a Dick LeBeau acolyte. Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson is Horton's Troy Polamalu - a hard-hitting safety who can play just as easily in the box as he can in coverage.
Edge: EVEN

When the Eagles pass
The Birds are first in the NFL in yards (471), but they are tied for 26th in points (20.5). The reason for the disparity, of course, is their league-worst nine turnovers. Vick threw two of his six interceptions last week, but only one was truly his fault. He was much better against the blitz, completing 5 of 7 passes for 82 yards when Baltimore sent an extra pass rusher. He was sacked twice, however. Horton can blitz with the best of them. Opposing quarterbacks have completed only 39.3 percent and averaged only 2.6 yards per pass attempt when the Cardinals blitz. Vick could see lots of zone blitzes Sunday. Arizona did sack Patriots quarterback Tom Brady four times last week without the blitz. Defensive end Calais Campbell (6-foot-8) had two of the sacks. Credit has to also go the Cardinals secondary, which has allowed only 10 passing touchdowns in the last 11 games dating back to last season. Cornerback Patrick Peterson, now in his second season, has blossomed. He could be on the much smaller Jackson (5-10, 175 pounds to Peterson's 6-0, 219 pounds). Brent Celek had a career day last week (seven catches for 157 yards), but he may be asked to stay in and help left tackle Demetress Bell, starting in his first game for the Eagles.
Edge: EVEN.

When the Cardinals run
Last November, the Eagles shut down Arizona running back Beanie Wells, holding him to 62 yards on 23 carries. The Cardinals, as a team, gained only 88 total yards on the ground in that game. Their struggles have carried over into this season. Wells and Ryan Williams are averaging just 2.1 yards a tote. Arizona hasn't had a run over 20 yards yet (McCoy, by comparison, has two). Last season, the Cards had only seven. The Eagles' run defense has been buoyed by the addition of middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who appears to have been the missing piece to make the wide-nine work. Opposing offenses have gained just 33 yards on 20 carries (1.6 average) in the second half on the Eagles.
Edge: EAGLES

When the Cardinals pass
Kolb got clobbered last season when he dropped back to pass. Much of the fault lied lay with the Cardinals' offensive line, but he wasn't very elusive either. It's been a different story this season. Last year, Kolb was sacked once every 9.7 drop-backs. A year later, he's been sacked only once in 38 drops. Arizona's line still isn't great, but it's better. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt has helped Kolb, too, by calling for a lot of quick, timing-based throws. That may not be enough to stop the Eagles pass rush. The line hasn't piled up the sacks this season, but it hasn't mattered. The pressure has been there. Defensive end Jason Babin has a favorable matchup against rookie right tackle Bobbie Massie. Arizona won last week despite wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's catching only one pass for 4 yards. The future Hall of Famer torched the Eagles last season, pulling in seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He'll be facing a different secondary this time around, though. Will the Eagles have Nnamdi Asomugha shadow Fitzgerald, as he's done in the past, or will they give the wideout different looks?
Edge: EAGLES

Special teams
The Cardinals' field goal unit has blocked 11 attempts in the last three seasons. Campbell blocked three last season alone. Eagles special-teams coordinator Bobby April said that Peterson and Wilson are also to be feared coming off the edges. Peterson is especially lethal as a returner. He tied an NFL record last season when he returned four punts for touchdowns. Eagles rookie Damaris Johnson is averaging just 4 yards a punt return. After a strong opener, Eagles punter Chas Henry had a technical problem with his drop against the Ravens, April said. Only one of Henry's five punts went farther than 40 yards.
Edge: CARDINALS

Intangibles
The Eagles are looking at the perfect trap game. They're coming off an emotional win over the Ravens and have an NFC East tilt against the New York Giants next. The Cardinals don't offer much inspiration, although this will be the Eagles' first trip back to Glendale, Ariz., since they lost in the 2008 NFC championship game. If the Cardinals weren't coming off a huge victory over the Patriots, the thinking here is that they would be poised for an upset. The Eagles had superior talent last season but somehow managed to blow it against Skelton and the Cardinals. So there might be some payback. If Arizona has one decided advantage, it's their front seven against the Eagles' ailing offensive line. Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington is slowly becoming one of the best tacklers in the league.
Edge: CARDINALS

Pick: Eagles, 20-13.

Jeff McLane Inquirer Staff Writer
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Birds' Eye View is the Inquirer's blog covering all things Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL.

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