There was a time when the St. Louis and then newly relocated Phoenix Cardinals were in the same division as the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys and Redskins – the old NFC East. Dating back to their days in Chicago, the Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles had never really been rivals as the two teams were never competitive at the same time. More accurately the Cardinals franchise was not all that competitive… ever. In Chicago they were overshadowed by the Bears faithful. In St. Louis they struggled on the field and at the gate causing the team to move to the desert West in the late 1980s. Despite cornering the sports market (there was only the NBA’s Phoenix Suns as MLB and NHL wouldn’t plant their flags for another 10 years) those soon to be renamed Arizona Cardinals would remain virtually irrelevant for another 20 seasons. The Bidwell family along with their deep space outpost franchise barely registered on the NFL map.
These days the Arizona Cardinals are nearly three years removed from their first Super Bowl appearance while the Eagles began the season with the media misnomer of “Dream Team.” Kevin Kolb was finally traded away from Philadelphia (for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) this abbreviated offseason to sign a $60M contract as the Cardinals new franchise QB (this being a franchise that had signed Matt Leinart to succeed “stopgap” Kurt Warner). Not since the days of Buddy Ryan’s Last Stand and the end of the Neil Lomax Era had there been any buzz.
However, looking at these two teams in 2011, one might see a snapshot of two teams heading in very different directions. The NFC currently has nine teams with better overall records than the Eagles (3-5). While Arizona (2-6) is not one of those teams, they play in the NFC West where division leader San Francisco (7-1) leads the way but 2-6 is good to tie the Cardinals for second place along with Seattle. Philadelphia is two games off the lead (having lost to the first place Giants) and one game behind the Cowboys (upon whom they imposed a serious beat-down on national TV). That same Eagles team suffered a demoralizing loss of their own (leading 24-17 in the third only to surrender 13 unanswered points) just one week later when the Chicago Bears gave them a whuppin’ on Monday Night Football.
Any good coach, player, NFL analyst, journalist or even Oliver Stone will remind you that the great element of football is that on any given Sunday, anything can happen. That being said, it is extremely difficult to make the playoffs if you can’t beat the teams in your division and conference. Arizona may be a team in disarray with 51 new players on the 2011 roster and coach Ken Whisenhunt trying to reinvent the franchise that Tagliabue forgot but their focus is on this week and simply beating the Eagles. Whisenhunt’s Cardinals team that went to the Super Bowl was tough and terrorizing if they remained unchecked. This 2011 version of the team retains very few players from that squad, but among those are Adrian Wilson, Larry Fitzgerald and Darnell Dockett – all of whom should play significant roles in this game. Cardinals rank 20th in NFL passing yards (216 avg), 26th in rushing yards (95.9 avg), 29th in opponents passing yards (272 avg) and 16th in opponents rushing (118 avg).
This means that if the Eagles are to take advantage of this opportunity, they would do well to send DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin downfield to get behind the Arizona defense – but maintain outlets in the flat for Brent Celek and Jason Avant or Steve Smith. This Cardinals pass rush will likely afford Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy opportunity to scramble, move the pocket and set up screen passes that could go for huge plays. Forcing the Arizona linemen and linebackers to pursue the speedier Eagles skill players will wear the Cardinals down and ensure Philadelphia will be able to dictate play by the fourth quarter. Then again, if it were that easy, they wouldn’t have to play the game.
Arizona is coming off last Sunday’s 19-13 overtime victory over one-win St. Louis, snapping a six-game losing streak. Calais Campbell blocked a potential game-winning field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter, while rookie Patrick Peterson returned a punt 99 yards for a thrilling game-winning TD in overtime (a la New Miracle in New Meadowlands). It was the Cardinals’ first win since beating Carolina in the season opener and serves as proof that there is talent on this team.
“It has been a tough stretch — six games, difficult, especially the way we lost them,” said coach Ken Whisenhunt, whose team has lost four games by four points or fewer. “Emotionally for your team, it gives you a lot to build off going forward.”
The Cardinals got that second win with Kolb on the sidelines recovering from a turf toe injury in his right foot. Kevin Kolb (129-227, 1706 passing yards, 8 TD) will likely watch from the sidelines – an ironically familiar position for Kolb who spent four years as a professional clipboard artist in Philadelphia. Kolb has been battling with a turf toe injury to his right foot meaning second year QB John Skelton will get the nod. Skelton completed 20 of 35 passes for 222 yards with a TD against the Rams but also committed the Cardinal sin of surrendering a pair of safeties. Turnovers have defined the Eagles fate this season (no turnovers=win, many turnovers=loss) and they will factor into this game as well.
All season, the Eagles have basically shut down their opponents’ number one receiver. The players who have had big receiving games against Philadelphia this season are not your typical highlight reel superstars – Chicago’s Earl Bennett, New York’s Victor Cruz, Dallas’ Laurent Robinson and Washington’s Fred Davis. Larry Fitzgerald, one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers, will be looking to buck that trend this Sunday when his Cardinals come to town. Since being drafted in 2004, Fitzgerald has the fourth-most regular season touchdowns in the NFL (68), the second-most receptions (651) and the second-most receiving yards (8,850). At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Fitzgerald is one of the most physically imposing offensive weapons in the league.
Eagles defense ranks second in the NFC in passing yards allowed, giving up a trifling 211.8 yards per game through the air, and has three Pro Bowl corners who each have the talent to match up with a receiver of Fitzgerald’s skill level. The Eagles will base their defensive gameplan around stopping Larry Fitzgerald. On Friday, starting safety Kurt Coleman indicated that the Eagles would focus on shutting Fitzgerald down as much as possible – meaning limiting Fitzgerald to pedestrian catches. Should Fitzgerald catch a few balls but not break loose for a long score, this plan will be successful. Look for Nnamdi Asomugha (limited Fitz to 26 yards on 2 catches in their only meeting) and Asante Samuel to trade off covering Fitzgerald, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie used to cover Fitz in practice and may find himself matched against his former teammate in the nickel package. Coleman though is the key to this defense because rookie Jaiquawn Jarrett will be starting in place of Nate Allen (concussion).
Overall the Eagles have no margin for error. They have won 3 of their first eight games and now need to win 7 of their final 8 to hope that a 10-6 record still makes the playoffs in the NFC. Nine teams stand above the 3-5 Eagles currently but with 8 games remaining, anything is possible. One or two teams could fall by the wayside and divisional opponents like Dallas and the NY Giants have remaining head-to-head contests against Philadelphia but at the end of eight more weeks, 10-6 will have to be good enough.
PREDICTION: EAGLES 24 CARDINALS 14
The Eagles will be without two starters, head coach Andy Reid said in his press conference Friday. Safety Nate Allen (concussion) and left guard Evan Mathis (turf toe) are unquestionably listed as “out” on the injury report. Defensive end Juqua Parker, who has been struggling with a high ankle sprain, will be listed as “questionable” after being a limited participant in practice throughout the week. Reid said that Allen has not yet passed his concussion tests and was limited by the short week leading up to the game after last Monday night’s game.
KING & KID
Rookie second-round pick Jaiquawn Jarrett will make his first NFL start in place of Allen, while King Dunlap, 6-9, will start his first game as a guard in place of Mathis. Phillip Hunt may replace Parker in the starting lineup as it is unclear how much Daryl Tapp will be available.
“King’s worked in (at guard) throughout training camp and throughout the season,” said Reid. “Seems a little strange to people, but the offensive linemen are all familiar with him. He jumps in there … he has some game experience … he’ll be fine.”
DeSean Jackson has 29 receptions and 2 TD receiving, and he is averaging 3.7 yards on 9 punt returns this season. While there have been flashes of Jackson’s jaw-dropping speed and game-breaking abilities — he is averaging 17.3 yards per catch and has had a pair of games with more than 100 yards receiving — Jackson has been quiet too often for the Eagles in 2011.
Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek have both played well, and when it all came together against Dallas the offense was a beautiful thing to watch. Jackson knows defenses are trying to take away his speed stretching the field, so when he looks up and sees a safety over the top, the ball is going somewhere else. The key must be to punish defenses who choose to take DeSean away by using Maclin, Celek and LeSean McCoy underneath – then to assault them with a 60-yarder to Jackson when they come up to play the screen game or the run. At that point Vick should be free to scramble and set up more plays deep downfield while the offense could run rampant over confused defenses. Reid and Mornhingwig must create a game plan that is less predictable and more punishing. Something has to give for the offense, which is coming off its worst statistical game of the season in Monday’s loss to Chicago. The Bears took away the big play, the staple of this offense. Vick operates at his best when he can hurry the ball down the field and score quickly. The Eagles, bottom line, need Jackson to be big again.
About the Author
Written by Christopher Rowe
Contributing writer Comcast Sports, NY Times contributing stringer 1996-2000, Contributing writer Yahoo Sports (2001 World Series). Contributing writer Newsday Long Island (1992-1994, Jets Training Camp) and Newak Star Ledger. Freelance Copywriter, Editor/Founder Atlantic Times Weekly (1993-2003) fantasy football magazine, produced screenwriter and general humorist. Hofstra University grad, Marist College honorary alum, Salesian; Purveyor of the Value and Valor of Philadelphia Eagles 1960 NFL Championship; Adrent believer that Eagles could have won Super Bowl XV...and Super Bowl XXXIX...plus modern decade of Eagles 5 NFC Championships... Believer in the Broad Street Bullies and the 1983 Sixers... Witness to Philadelphia Phillies World Series championships 1980 & 2008, Suffered Phillies first pro sports team to reach 10,000 losses,witnessed "1980 Cardiac Kids," 1983 "Wheeze Kids," 1993 "Macho Row" and many, many, many not-so-memorable seasons in-between... until the Philadelphia Baseball Renaissance of 21st Century, Five NL East division titles 2007-2011, 3 NLCS appearances 2008-2010, 2 consecutive World Series berths 2008 & 2009. 2008 World Champions of baseball [miss ya Harry and Richie]; "collector" of MLB ballparks (42 stadiums including 15 which are gone); Fantasy Football & Baseball player since 1992. Always a sports fan... Tenui Nec Dimittam Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org