Philadelphia Eagles News

For 'D,' A Unique Test In Arizona

The numbers are impressive. In six career games against the Eagles, Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has 40 receptions for 642 yards and eight touchdowns. At times he's been a one-man offense, with outputs of nine catches, 152 yards, three touchdowns (2008 NFC Championship Game) and seven catches, 146 yards, two touchdowns (2011 season) and nine catches, 114 yards and a touchdown (2012 season). He has, in the past, wrecked the Eagles' defense almost by himself.

These days, he doesn't have to be the main focus for the Cardinals.

And what's what makes this matchup on Sunday so very difficult for the Eagles defense.

"They are a lot more than Larry," said cornerback Cary Williams on Wednesday in the Eagles' locker room at the NovaCare Complex. "You see them moving the ball around, spreading it to a lot of guys. You can't key on any one player. They have a lot of playmakers."

A future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Fitzgerald's numbers are pedestrian by his standards in Arizona's 5-1 start: 23 catches, 283 yards and a single touchdown. When you consider that Fitzgerald has had two seasons of 100-plus receptions and three others with 90 or more catches, 2014 seems like lean times for one of the greatest to ever play the game.

Not so, really. Arizona has beefed up Fitzgerald's supporting cast in recent years with fellow receivers like Michael Floyd and rookie burner John Brown, along with versatile second-year running back Andre Ellington and tight end John Carlson. Injuries have forced Arizona to use three quarterbacks -- Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton and even rookie Logan Thomas -- and the Cardinals haven't put up overwhelming offensive numbers.

But here they are at 5-1 and leading the AFC West and, no doubt, earning the respect of the Eagles defense.

"They play smart football and don't turn it over and don't force anything," said cornerback Brandon Boykin. "They can hurt you in a lot of ways. There are options to throw the ball to and they are committed to running the football, too. It's a good, smart approach."

Arizona has turned the football over only four times -- three fumbles and only one interception in 209 passing attempts -- and has a plus-7 in turnover ratio. If you want to zero in on a single statistical category to determine the difference for Sunday, that would be a good place to start. While the Cardinals are third in the NFL with that plus-7 difference, the Eagles rank 28th in the league with a minus-5 ratio.

"Palmer isn't going to throw the ball up for grabs and take too many chances," said Williams. "He's a smart guy. He gets rid of it quickly. He will throw it away. We have to put pressure on the pocket and force him to move around out of his comfort zone. It's the same with him as it is with all quarterbacks. The more you take him out of his rhythm, the better chance you have of forcing a mistake."

With 16 quarterback sacks in their most recent three games the Eagles have created enough havoc on the front end to allow the cornerbacks to play aggressively and take away the short passing game. The Giants game was a perfect example of what the defense can accomplish: There were eight sacks, a lockdown on the New York passing game, a total shutdown of the Giants running game and zero points allowed.

"I think we're growing," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "No matter if we have a good game like we did against the Giants or we struggle for a couple quarters. No matter what the goal of every defensive team in the league really is, are we getting better this week? Are we better this week than we were last week? Can we build on what we did?

"I do think we took a big step forward with a confidence level of guys saying, okay, everybody just kind of did their job and they trusted the guy next to them to do their job.  There is a lot to be said for somebody not stepping out of their little area of what we're asking them to do and trying to make a bigger play.  I think that we learn collectively that if we play together we're pretty good."

Pretty good means there is a lot more growth ahead. And it starts against an Arizona offense that just wins. It hasn't been pretty for the Cardinals, week to week. It hasn't been all Fitzgerald, all the time, as it has been at times in the past. But it's been effective enough to win games.

That, more than anything, has the Eagles' attention for Sunday afternoon.

"You know that if you don't do your job, Larry is going to make big plays. And if you make a mistake against Michael Floyd, he's going to hurt you. All of those guys are good. It's like this every week in the NFL," said Boykin. "It's always a battle. I think we believe in what we do and we're moving in the right direction. That's what's exciting. You can see that we're taking steps."

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