EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - If there is one thing made clear in the Eagles' defensive performance against the Giants yesterday, it was the importance of tackling in the open field. The two most glaring instances came on the same drive in the second quarter, as Sheldon Brown's shoestring tackle of Brandon Jacobs on a 24-yard run and Darren Howard's impressive chase-down of Derrick Ward on a swing pass helped hold the Giants to a field goal.
They will need similar success limiting big plays against the Cardinals, particularly in the open field, where Arizona wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin have established themselves as two of the most dangerous players in the league.
Boldin, who hopes to be ready to play in the NFC Championship after missing the Cardinals' 33-13 win over the Panthers with a hamstring injury, finished the regular season ranked second in the NFL with 595 yards after catch. Fitzgerald ranked fourth in the league with 20 catches of 20 yards or more. Against the Panthers on Saturday, he caught eight passes for 166 yards, including receptions of 41 and 29 yards.
The Eagles, on the other hand, haven't allowed a touchdown pass in their last five games. During that span, they have picked off six passes, including two in their 23-11 win over the Giants yesterday.
"We set out to do what we've been doing from the beginning of the season," safety Brian Dawkins said. "Be a defense that doesn't give up a lot of big plays; be a defense that makes stops, gets turnovers to allow our offense to stay in rhythm."
That was the case in the Eagles' 48-20 win over the Cardinals on Thanksgiving night, the victory that sparked their run to a fifth NFC Championship Game since 2000. That night, they intercepted Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner three times. Warner threw three touchdown passes, but the Eagles harassed him into one of his worst performances of an otherwise stellar season. Fitzgerald caught two touchdown passes, but finished with just 65 yards. Boldin, meanwhile, caught five passes for 63 yards and no touchdowns.
Offensively, the Eagles had one of their best games of the season against Arizona as quarterback Donovan McNabb rebounded from his benching a week before in Baltimore to complete 27-of-39 passes for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
But the Eagles know they will be facing a different Cardinals team, especially on their home field.
"We have a feeling of what they like to do, especially on the defensive side of the ball," McNabb said. "We know they're a blitzing team, and they'll probably be blitzing more than they showed in that Thanksgiving game. Just watching their game against Carolina, and the first game they won last week, this team is continuing to jell. Everyone talked about them not being able to win on the East Coast, and then to be able to go down to Carolina when everyone expected them to lose by a lot, and to win by a lot, the team just continued to jell."
Then again, the same can be said about the Eagles. Which should make for an interesting NFC Championship. *