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Game Preview: Eagles-Cardinals

Posted Sep 18, 2012

How much can change in four years? Remember the last time the Eagles played the Ravens? Quarterback of the future Kevin Kolb came in to relieve Donovan McNabb at halftime for the Eagles. Next on the docket for the Eagles would be the Arizona Cardinals, quarterbacked by Kurt Warner. Now? The Eagles are once again moving from the Ravens to the Cardinals, but this time Michael Vick leads the Eagles and Kolb readies to face his former team for the first time.

Kolb didn't play in last season's Eagles-Cardinals matchup at Lincoln Financial Field, a game in which John Skelton led the Cardinals to a come-from-behind victory. Now, despite losing the preseason battle for the starting job, Kolb has the Cardinals sitting at 2-0 relieving an injured Skelton and leading the Cardinals to a home victory over the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 followed by an exceedingly impressive road victory over the New England Patriots in Week 2. It's certainly too early to think about playoff implications, but the Cardinals and Eagles are two of the four undefeated NFC teams through two games and only one will remain so by Sunday night.

The familiarity between Kolb and the Eagles coaching staff is a two-way road which should create an interesting chess match when the Cardinals are on offense. One of the players on the Eagles defense will be making a homecoming of his own Sunday as cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, acquired in the trade that sent Kolb to Arizona, returns to his old stomping grounds.

The key to the Cardinals' fast start though has been their defense, which ranks fourth in the league yards allowed per play (4.33). The Cardinals have been especially strong in pass defense, thanks in part to the emergence of second-year cornerback Patrick Peterson as an elite cover corner. Expect Peterson to be match up early and often with DeSean Jackson.

Last Time They Met:
November 13, 2011 – Cardinals 21, Eagles 17: Without DeSean Jackson, who was deactivated on game day, the Eagles failed to close out John Skelton, Larry Fitzgerald and the Cardinals at home. To add injury to insult, Michael Vick  would miss the next three games after suffering a broken rib during the game.

Tale Of The Tape (2012 Stats)
Eagles Cardinals
Record 2-0 2-0
Points Scored Per Game 20.5 (T-26th in NFL) 20.0 (28)
Total Yards Per Game 471.0 (1) 249.0 (30)
Rushing Yards Per Game 139.5 (8) 74.0 (28)
Passing Yards Per Game 331.5 (2) 175.0 (30)
Points Allowed Per Game 19.5 (7) 17.0 (5)
Total Yards Allowed Per Game 267.5 (4) 320.5 (13)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game 105.0 (15) 102.5 (13)
Passing Yards Allowed Per Game 162.5 (4) 218.0 (T-10)
Turnover Ratio -3 (T-26) -1 (T-17)

When The Eagles Have The Ball

The Eagles have moved the ball with ease in their first two weeks against the Browns and the Ravens. In fact, the Eagles have the league's top offense with an average of 471 yards per game.

The one roadblock for the Eagles offense thus far has been turnovers. After escaping Cleveland with a win despite five turnovers, the Eagles coughed up the ball four times against the Ravens, but in the end still came out with the all-important victory.

The Cardinals, like the Ravens, present another tough test for the Eagles in the form of a 3-4 defense. Arizona is currently ranked fifth in the league in scoring defense. The battle to watch will be up front as Dallas Reynolds will be making his first career start at center for the Eagles. The Cardinals have two very good ends in Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell. Dockett is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and has 34.0 career sacks. Campbell is tough to deal with because of his 6-8, 300-pound frame. He is off to a quick start with 2.0 sacks already this season.

Brent Celek had a career day against the Ravens linebackers to the tune of 157 receiving yards, the second-most by a tight end in franchise history. The man to watch in the middle of the Cardinals defense is third-year linebacker Daryl Washington. A former second-round pick, Washington has 7.0 career sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble thus far. Coming off the edge, the Cardinals have Sam Acho, who will battle King Dunlap as long as Dunlap's hamstring injury is healed. Demetress Bell could start if Dunlap is not able to go. Acho has a sack on the season. Opposite Acho is O'Brien Schofield, who recorded a career-high 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles last season.

In the secondary, left cornerback Patrick Peterson would likely be matched up against DeSean Jackson. Peterson is known for his return skills, but has an interception on defense so far in 2012. The 6-1, 219-pound Peterson was the No. 5 overall pick in 2011. Opposite Peterson is veteran William Gay, who spent the first five seasons of his NFL career with the Steelers. Last season, Gay had a career-high two interceptions.

The secondary is fortified with two long-tenured veteran safeties in Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes. Wilson is one of the most decorated players in franchise history with four Pro Bowl selections. He had a career-high 16 passes defensed last season despite suffering a torn biceps in Training Camp. At 230 pounds, Wilson is also a force against the run.

When The Cardinals Have The Ball

Offensively, the Cardinals haven't exactly been explosive over the first two games, but they've done enough to win. Some of that credit goes to the pass protection, which has been much maligned over the last two seasons. Consider that in 2011, Kevin Kolb was sacked once approximately every 9.4 dropbacks. This year, through the first two games, Kolb has only been sacked once in 36 total dropbacks. However, the Cardinals have not yet been tested by the vaunted Eagles defensive line that led the league in sacks last season. Along those lines, this will be the third consecutive week in which Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Babin will be lined up opposite a rookie defensive tackle. This week's pup is Bobby Massie, a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi.

On the outside, the Eagles expect to be better suited to cover Larry Fitzgerald than they were last season, when Fitzgerald victimized the Eagles to the tune of seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns at Lincoln Financial Field. But the Eagles were missing Nate Allen in that game and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was not yet patrolling the outside of the field. Rest assured that Fitzgerald will be motivated to make an impact, though, as he's coming off a game against the Patriots in which he caught a lone pass for four yards.

Even less prolific than the passing game for the Cardinals this year has been the running game. The Cardinals top two running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, have paltry yards-per-carry averages of 2.8 and 1.2 respectively. That's good news for an Eagles defense that has looked much improved against the run, thanks in part to the addition of DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks at linebacker. Speaking of Kendricks, one of the most impressive aspects of the Eagles defense thus far has been the relative ease with which three rookies have become vital cogs in the defensive machine. Kendricks has stood out at linebacker, while first-round pick Fletcher Cox was trusted to play the most snaps of any defensive lineman last week and fourth-round pick Brandon Boykin has been a revelation as the nickel cornerback. Scary, then, to think for the rest of the league that the Eagles defense may only get better as the season goes on, though they will be tested by the only West coast trip on the schedule.

Eagles Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Michael Vick LDE Jason Babin
RB LeSean McCoy LDT Cullen Jenkins
FB Stanley Havili RDT Derek Landri
WR Jason Avant RDE Trent Cole
LT Demetress Bell WILL LB Akeem Jordan
LG Evan Mathis MIKE LB DeMeco Ryans
C Dallas Reynolds SAM LB Mychal Kendricks
RG Danny Watkins LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
RT Todd Herremans RCB Nnamdi Asomugha
TE Brent Celek SS Nate Allen
WR DeSean Jackson FS Kurt Coleman

Key Matchups

C Dallas Reynolds vs. DT Darnell Dockett

After starting center Jason Kelce went down early in the third quarter Sunday, reserve lineman Dallas Reynolds filled in and did more than hold his own. Tasked with slowing down a Ravens line that included All-Pro Haloti Ngata, Reynolds kept the pocket clean and helped the Eagles march down the field to score a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter. He’ll face another tough 3-4 unit Sunday, captained this time by defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.

Dockett was originally drafted as a defensive end but was moved inside after the Cardinals switched to a 3-4 defense. A three-time Pro Bowl selection and an All-Pro in 2009, Dockett has made it a habit of getting to the quarterback. Since 2007, Dockett has more sacks than any defensive tackle in the league. Reynolds performed admirably last Sunday, and he’ll be asked to keep it up this week against Dockett and the Cardinals’ defensive line.

WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. CB Nnamdi Asomugha

It will be a battle of wills Sunday, as wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is likely to be lined up against cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. In their last two meetings, Asomugha has held the Cardinals to only two catches for 26 yards and no touchdowns, according to Pro Football Focus. Through the first two games of the 2012 season Fitzgerald has five receptions for 67 yards and no touchdowns, numbers he will certainly want to improve upon.

Both players are widely regarded as among the most cerebral players at their respective positions, but it will take more than brains to separate the two. At 6-3 and 218 pounds, Fitzgerald won’t be easily handled at the line, which means Asomugha will have to match the physicality and speed Fitzgerald has made an All-Pro career out of. The past says Asomugha should be able to limit the Cardinal, but Fitzgerald will have his eyes focused on the end zone.

CB/PR Patrick Peterson vs. Eagles Special Teams

Cornerback and punt returner Patrick Peterson will provide yet another early test for the Eagles’ coverage unit. Last season, Peterson was one of the most electric players in the league. As a punt returner, he set the NFL single-season and the Cardinals’ all-time record with four touchdowns. He also amassed 699 return yards, an NFL rookie record.

To combat his speed, the Eagles must improve on their performance from last week where they held the Ravens to 34 yards on three punt returns. This means they will need special teams ace Colt Anderson to return to top form. Special teams coordinator Bobby April’s unit will need Anderson’s experience and hustle to stop a potentially dangerous Peterson from swapping field position, or worse, putting up a quick score.

Cardinals Projected Starting Lineup
Offense Defense
QB Kevin Kolb LDE Calais Campbell
RB Beanie Wells NT Dan Williams
FB Anthony Sherman RDT Darnell Dockett
WR Larry Fitzgerald LOLB O'Brien Schofield
LT D'Anthony Batiste LILB Daryl Washington
LG Daryn Colledge RILB Paris Lenon
C Lyle Sendlein ROLB Sam Acho
RG Adam Snyder LCB Patrick Peterson
RT Bobby Massie RCB William Gay
TE Jeff King SS Adrian Wilson
WR Andre Roberts FS Kerry Rhodes

Players To Watch

QB Kevin Kolb

Kevin Kolb’s brief days as the face of the Eagles seem a distant memory. Traded to Arizona after last season’s lockout, Kolb has struggled in his time in the desert. After battling injuries for much of last season, he lost the starting job to John Skelton this summer. However, a Week 1 injury to Skelton thrust Kolb back in the starting role. And in the past two games he has responded, going 21-of-35 for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Last Sunday, Kolb helped his team knock off the Patriots in New England en route to a 2-0 record.

Kolb is not being asked to carry the offense on his back in Arizona. Instead, Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt is putting his quarterback in a game-management role. So far, the plan has worked. But to this point Kolb has not faced an aggressive and talented defensive front like the one he will see against the Eagles. An injury kept him out of last season’s Philadelphia homecoming, but this time he’ll get a chance to take a shot at his former club.

SS Adrian Wilson

The elder statesman of the Cardinals, Adrian Wilson has been one of the franchise’s most talented and consistent players. He has been named to four consecutive Pro Bowls (and five overall) and is also a three-time All-Pro selection. Wilson excels in coverage, but also has unique versatility. He is one of only ten players to have at least 20 sacks and 20 interceptions in his career, joining former Eagles Brian Dawkins, Seth Joyner and William Thomas. If Vick and the Eagles offense want to throw against the Cardinals, they will need to keep an eye on Wilson at all times.

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