Setting the stage
Winners of four straight, Bruce Arians and the Arizona Cardinals are very well aware that the season does not get any easier following a convincing win against a playoff caliber team. As a matter of fact, they follow that contest up by traveling to Philadelphia to take on another playoff-caliber team in the Eagles.
When Chip Kelly left Oregon to coach the NFL’s Eagles, many pundits were reluctant to how his offensive system would translate. Thirteen weeks into the season, those reservations out of sight in the rear view mirror, as Philly has put up fantastic offensive numbers. At 6-5, the Eagles are still within reach of the NFC East crown and promise to play inspired football following Dallas’s Thanksgiving Day win over the Raiders.
Arizona has been mixed against good offensive teams this season, losing miserably to New Orleans (third most offensive yards per game) but defeating the Detroit Lions late (second most offensive yards per game). Philadelphia puts up the fourth most yards per game in the NFL, but unlike the air-heavy attacking of the Lions and the Saints, the Eagles do most of their damage on the ground, averaging 151 rushing yards per game in 2013. Only Washingon rushes for more per game at 151.5.
That’s an importance distinction, as Arizona defensively has been stout against the run, allowing only 81.3 rushing yards per game, the second lowest total in the NFL.
Furthermore, Philadelphia has been less than stellar on the defensive side of the ball, allowing over 300 passing yards per game. With the way Carson Palmer has been playing lately, an Arizona offensive explosion could very easily be in the works.
Although the Cardinals have had some good offensive performances, they are usually backed by good defensive play as well, so I’m unsure of whether or not Arizona can keep up with Philadelphia in such a situation. Nevertheless, Arizona’s aggressive defense will certainly be the difference in a shootout kind of game, as it has been all season for the Redbirds.
Here are some key matchups in Sunday’s Bird Bowl between the Eagles and the Cardinals:
Patrick Peterson vs. Desean Jackson
Speed, speed, speed. With Desean Jackson rocking a 4.35 40 time and Patrick Peterson reciprocating with a 4.34, this matchup has the makings of a track meet.
Jackson has long been one of the best deep threats in the NFL, as his blazing speed sees him often break the secondary. The six year vet is tied with Calvin Johnson for the NFL lead with 19 receptions of 20 or more yards, and he is fourth among receivers with 50 receptions in yards per catch with 17 per reception.
Kelly likes to send Jackson deep early and often, and Patrick Peterson has the speed to keep up with him stride for stride. If the Cardinals want to win, they will need to keep Jackson honest, and limit his deep catches as much as possible.
Cards D-line vs. Eagles O-line
The Cards defensive front has been integral in the effectiveness of Todd Bowles’s attacking scheme in 2013. At a combined 904 pounds, the terrifying threesome of Dockett, Campbell and Williams will be met with a test unlike any they’ve faced this season.
It will be interesting to see how they respond to Kelly’s hurry-up no-huddle offense, and if they can keep playing at a high level with their conditioning being put to the test.
Without that being factored in, the Cardinals defensive line has an advantage in both size and experience, so it will be important for them to play with as much intensity as their stamina allows, even if that means tapping into the second and third strings, where guys like Alameda Ta’amu and Frostee Rucker have had moderate success off the bench.
Cards receivers vs. Eagles secondary
Although the numbers don’t show it, the Eagles sport a lot of talent in their secondary. Anchored by guys like Cary Williams, Patrick Chung and Nate Allen, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles get the best of the Cards receivers early.
One guy in particular the Cardinals should account for on every play is the second year corner out of Georgia, Brandon Boykin. Much like Arizona’s own Tyrann Mathieu, Boykin sees a lot of time in the nickel, and is often given free rein to act aggressively, a tactic that has seen Boykin flourish. With four interceptions and two forced fumbles on the season, Boykin is dangerous is left to his own devices.
The Eagles move the ball a lot, and will undoubtedly see a couple big plays against the Cardinals. They also take good care of the ball with Foles under center (16 TD to 0 INT), an underrated quality for an offense to have.
I’d be inclined to pick the Eagles in any other situation. They’re well aware of what needs to happen in order for them to stay in the playoff hunt, especially considering Dallas won, so Philly needs a win to stay at the top of the conference race.
However, the Cardinals are in the exact same boat. The only difference is that the Cards are already in playoff form. They are playing too hot to ignore right now, and have the talent and momentum to make this game a particularly ugly one for the Eagles, who have been less than stellar at home this season (1-4 at home). Carson Palmer continues his hot streak, and the Cardinals D makes just enough stops to pull off the easy win, ARZ 35-27 PHI.
Kickoff is at 1:00 PM ET from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on FOX.
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