On Thursday, I looked at the explosive Arizona offense and how it could attack the Eagles both deep and short on Sunday night, but today let's look at the Cardinals on defense and how they're one of the most disruptive units in the NFL. This is a group that, according to head coach Chip Kelly, blitzes more than anyone at the league, sending extra rushers at the quarterback nearly 50 percent of the time. What makes them so dangerous is that they don't just send linebackers. The safeties and slot corners are a big part of the pressure package. Factor in "money backer" Deone Bucannon, who is listed as a safety on the roster, but aligned as a linebacker near the line of scrimmage almost all of the time, and you have a really versatile blitzing operation.
We've shown in the past what having two defenders in the A gaps can do to offenses. It typically forces the offensive line to protect in one of two ways. The Cardinals use a lot of A gap pressure schemes, but one look in particular stood out to me.
In most double A-gap looks, the defensive line is widened out with a pair of 3-technique defensive tackles and two linebackers inside. What I saw from Arizona, however, was Bucannon in one A gap and defensive lineman Calais Campbell, a true mismatch nightmare at 6-8, 300 pounds, in the other. The Cardinals bring another linebacker into the B gap in Campbell's place, still giving them six potential blitzers before the snap. Offenses are still forced to block the same way as they would in a traditional double A-gap look. What is the most popular way to block this? The center is responsible for one A-gap defender and while the running back steps up and blocks the other.
That's exactly what the Bengals do on this play, except Bucannon's abilities as a blitzer allow him to beat the back clean at the snap on his way to quarterback Andy Dalton.
Here's a similar look in a game against San Francisco early in the season, with both Bucannon and Campbell in the A gaps. This time, they both slant to the defense's left, with Frostee Rucker looping back unblocked, right into Colin Kaepernick's face. Arizona is so good at combining stunts with basic blitz concepts and presenting them with such a wide variety of looks. Recognizing them will be a big task for the Eagles' offensive front.
Arizona also does a great job of creating pressure by alignment. The best way to do that is by taking the center out of the equation with a pass rush threat at nose tackle. On this play, the Cardinals were hoping to get a three-on-two matchup with three rushers on two offensive linemen. Seattle is ready for it with running back Marshawn Lynch stepping up as a third pass protector. Still, execution matters, and Kevin Minter beats Lynch to bring Russell Wilson down for the sack along with Dwight Freeney (who still has a killer spin move, by the way).
I mentioned that "E" word - execution - a theme for the Eagles on offense throughout the entire season. This game will be as important as ever for that to be true, because if you don't cross the T's and dot the I's against this defense, you're going to have a long day.
Arizona has been a Triple A-gap pressure team since Bruce Arians has been the head coach, with Todd Bowles getting things started back in 2013 and James Bettcher continuing it into this season. Here, the blitz comes in the form of a Cross Dog blitz, with two linebackers crossing inside and safety Tyrann Mathieu shooting through up the middle late. Cincinnati actually blocks the blitz up well, but the right tackle is unable to handle rookie pass rusher Markus Golden, who gets home for the sack.
This isn't just a big week for the offensive line though. Quarterback Sam Bradford will have to be strong in the pocket. Kaepernick feels the heat and delivers this ill-advised pass downfield, right into the hands of Justin Bethel for the pick-six. Bradford handled the blitz very well last week against Buffalo. He will need a repeat performance on Sunday night against this defense.
Bradford will have to play with his head on a swivel on Sunday because Arizona is very effective at showing you one thing before the snap, only to bring something completely different afterwards. Here, an overload look to the offense's right draws the running back in that direction after the snap. With the running back looking elsewhere, Mathieu comes in clean for the sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
How do the Eagles attack these pressure looks? The protection will have to be sound, and Bradford will have to be decisive. His numbers against the blitz, especially the all-out blitzes, were very strong against the Bills. His ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately will be a key factor in the Eagles' offensive success on Sunday night.
On this play against New Orleans, the Cardinals send one of their Triple A-gap blitzes at Drew Brees, who reads it immediately and dumps the ball off to running back Mark Ingram. This wasn't a screen pass. It was just a quick read by Brees. Ingram sprints down the sideline for a huge play. The Eagles will need similar plays from Bradford and his pass catchers on Sunday night against Arizona.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.