Eyes on the Enemy: Arizona Cardinals
On Sunday, the Eagles will travel to Arizona with the hope of following up on their shock win over the New Orleans Saints with another victory against the playoff-chasing Cardinals. A win would put the Birds on the coattails of the Washington Football Team who lie atop of the NFC East. It could also leapfrog them into second place with the New York Giants facing an in-form Cleveland Browns. Doug Pederson and the rest of Eagles nation will be hoping to see another positive performance from Jalen Hurts after his impressive display against the Saints. Sunday will be another tough challenge, and this time he will be across the field from another Oklahoma Sooners Alumni in Kyler Murray. Hurts will have to play even better than he did last weekend if he is to keep up against this explosive Arizona offense, especially with the Eagles secondary on its last legs.
The Season So Far:
It has been a frustrating season for Arizona as they have struggled with consistency. They head into this game with a record of 7-6 and sit just inside the wildcard spots holding that seventh seed. They will be hoping to defeat the Eagles, and in turn, climb above the Tampa Bay Buccaneers into the sixth seed giving them an easier Wildcard Round opponent.
Kliff Kingsbury's team started the season 2-2, and this came in the form of back-to-back wins against the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Football Team. They then lost two in a row to the Detroit Lions and Carolina Panthers, which looking back on the season, are very frustrating losses. They recovered from that two-game run and steamrolled past the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys, and they then went to 5-2 with their dramatic overtime victory over the Seattle Seahawks in what proved to be one of the games of the year. Arizona then lost to the Miami Dolphins before having another memorable moment against the Buffalo Bills as Murray threw his 'Hail Murray' to win the game in the final seconds. It was at that point where the Cards appeared to be contenders at the top of the NFC. However, it has not been so easy since then.
Murray appeared to hurt his shoulder in the loss to the Seahawks on Thursday Night Football, and since then he has not looked like the same player. Neither have the Cardinals. They lost three games in a row, meaning they went from 6-3 to 6-6 in the blink of an eye. They did beat the New York Giants last Sunday, but they were able to take advantage of an injured Daniel Jones. A win over the Eagles could all, but secure Arizona's place in the post-season with the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears being their closest contenders at 6-7. Sunday night will have a massive impact on how the NFC playoffs pan out.
The Biggest Threat- Arizona's Wide Receiver Group
Arizona has done a brilliant job building its receiving core, and the addition of DeAndre Hopkins automatically makes it one of the best in the league. They have pace, great contested catchers and smart route runners. Their receiving core has it all, and Hopkins is very close to one of the best receiving yard totals in his career. The relationship he and Kyler have built is incredible as they seem to be on the same page with everything. Even on the Hail Mary, Hopkins outjumped four defensive backs to catch the ball. DHop is arguably the NFL's best receiver and will cause a nightmare for whoever he faces on Sunday. Darius Slay has been struggling with injury this week, and if Slay does go up against the former-Texan, he will not be at 100%. He will certainly need to be helped in covering the receiver because if not, it could be another long afternoon for the Eagles star cornerback.
As for the rest of the Eagles secondary, they will be without Avonte Maddox who remained out of Thursday's practice with a knee injury; with Cre'Von LeBlanc still on IR, we could see a very inexperienced Eagles cornerback group. Kevon Seymour, Nickell Robey-Coleman and Michael Jacquet could all possibly be the starters on Sunday, and that is an area Kingsbury will look to target all afternoon. The Eagles will also be without defensive captain Rodney McLeod who tore his ACL against the Saints, and that will be another huge miss.
This game could be a difficult watch, especially with the prospect of the Birds being without three of their four starting cornerbacks. It is hard to see how they will deal with Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella. Let alone having to cover Hopkins. This situation will likely be the deciding factor in this game.
What to Target- The Cardinals Run Defense
I seem to say this most week's, but that is down to how good the Eagles run game is, and they proved that last Sunday. Miles Sanders is currently the best running back in the NFC East, and had he not been injured so often, he would have been in and around the top five rushing leaders this season. He recorded his third 70+ yard run of the season, and it was one that ultimately helped them defeat the Saints. The addition of Jalen Hurts also makes Philly's run game much more dynamic, and harder to stop.
The Cardinals come into the league with a bottom-half run defense and have given up 1554 yards on the ground this year. The Saints defense were in the top three against the run coming into last weekend, and the Eagles run game blitzed them to shreds. They had 236 yards on the ground, and if they can put up a similar performance on Sunday, it will give them their best chance for victory. It will allow them to keep Kyler Murray off the field for as long as possible, and also allow the Birds the chance to keep the score as close as they can. Doug Pederson needs to lean on the run game, and sadly that has not been a common theme this season, especially against some of the NFL's worst run defenses. However, even if Pederson decides to consistently put the ball in Hurts' hands, his ability to scramble and get outside the pocket will continue to add another unique dimension to the Eagles offense. That is one thing that will most likely happen on Sunday, especially with Matt Pryor at Right Tackle.
Who else to watch out for:
Haason Reddick- Reddick is coming off the best game of his career, and one of the best from a linebacker in recent memory. He put up a five-sack game against the Giants, and if the Eagles do not watch out for him he could have a similar day feasting on the inexperienced and make-shift offensive line. The linebacker leads the team in sacks (10) as well as quarterback hits (15). Jordan Hicks may be deployed as the linebacker that tracks Hurts across the field, so it would allow the Cardinals to rush Reddick as often as they please. The offensive line must bring its A-game Sunday.
Kenyan Drake- Drake has been a key component to the success of this offense, and when he has rushed for 80 yards or more, the Cardinals are 4-0 this season. Coincidentally, three of those four wins came against the rest of the NFC East, so Jim Schwartz will be hoping that he can break that streak. The Cardinals running back has also rushed for nine rushing touchdowns showing his prowess in the red zone. He and Murray will pose a similar threat to Hurts and Sanders, meaning it will leave Schwartz with a complicated gameplan to develop.