The Eagles have had some early in 2017. Everyone wanted to see if this team could win on the road. The Eagles are 2-1 so far. Would the Eagles do better in division games? They are 2-0. Could the Eagles overcome injuries to key players? The team has had players step up at cornerback, running back, linebacker, kicker, and defensive tackle.
The Cardinals come to Philadelphia on Sunday and make for an interesting test in their own right. The Cardinals have been a thorn in the Eagles' side in recent years. The teams have played six times in the past decade The Eagles have only won twice.
Those wins came in 2008 and 2013. The Eagles made the playoffs both years. Close losses in 2014 and 2011 cost the Eagles potential playoff berths. There is something about playing the Cardinals that usually leaves the Eagles seeing red.
Arizona is having a bit of an odd season. They are 2-2, but both wins came in overtime against subpar opponents. The Cardinals are 11th in yards gained and seventh in yards allowed, but points have been a problem for them. They are only 22nd in scoring and 20th in points allowed. They are making mistakes, but not making the big plays to offset them.
This is going to be a challenging game for the Eagles on both offense and defense. Arizona has some weapons on offense. If you focus strictly on stats, it would be easy to think Carson Palmer might be struggling. That's not the case. The game tape shows him playing well despite some tough circumstances.
The Cardinals' offensive line has had to deal with injuries and that has proven to be tough for an offense that likes to throw the ball vertically. Palmer has been sacked a league-high 17 times. He has thrown five interceptions. Pressure has really hurt the Cardinals.
They continue to try and stretch the field because Palmer is so good with deep balls and they have some speedy receivers. J.J. Nelson and John Brown can both fly. Larry Fitzgerald isn't fast anymore but uses his size and ball skills to make big plays. The Eagles' secondary has a tough task in trying to cover these receivers. The Eagles do not have the speediest corners so they have to play smart, using angles and positioning to keep up with the Cardinals' wideouts.
There are two keys to dealing with a deep passing game. Obviously, the defensive line must get pressure. Fletcher Cox will miss his second straight game, but Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Tim Jernigan can get the job done. The backups must also do their part. This would be a good week for Derek Barnett to get his first NFL sack.
The other key is for the safeties to make sure they keep everything in front of them. Rodney McLeod is usually the deep safety, but Malcolm Jenkins and Corey Graham must also help out. They cannot give up long touchdowns to the Cardinals. Even if you get burned for a big play, don't let them go all the way. Make them earn those six points.
Arizona has really struggled to run the ball this year. Losing elite runner David Johnson and having a banged-up offensive line has been crippling to the run game. The Cardinals are dead last in the league in rushing and yards per attempt. The Eagles have been outstanding against the run this year. They need to continue that on Sunday and make Arizona one-dimensional.
The Cardinals' defense loves to blitz. They attack over and over and over. Seven different players have a sack this year. Chandler Jones is the stud pass rusher and leads the team with four sacks. The Cardinals will bring anyone and everyone. That's puts a lot of pressure on the Eagles' offense. Carson Wentz has to make good pre-snap reads. The linemen and running backs must know who to pick up. One missed assignment can lead to a big play for Arizona.
Wentz has done a terrific job of protecting the ball over the last two weeks. He will need to do that again. He also has the benefit of having faced the blitz-happy Giants a couple of weeks ago. While the Giants and Cardinals run different schemes, it does help to face teams that blitz a lot and creatively. There are going to be some similarities.
The Eagles have been running the ball really well in the last couple of weeks. Arizona has one of the best run defenses in the league so it will be interesting to see who wins that battle this weekend. Wendell Smallwood might miss this game with a knee injury, but LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement can get the job done without him. Blount would probably love the extra carries. Smallwood will be missed in the passing game. He's become a very reliable receiver.
The offensive line has been dominant for long stretches of the last two games. They will need another showing like that to neutralize the Cardinals' blitz and to give Blount and Clement room to run.
With Patrick Peterson likely to shadow Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor must make plays. Both guys have shown the ability to do that so far this year. It will be interesting to see how the Cards try to defend Zach Ertz. They have done a good job against tight ends so far this year, but Ertz will be the best they've faced. Another good test for both teams.
The Eagles are off to a 3-1 start. That's the same record they had last year before stumbling. This team is playing better football and wants to stay atop the NFC East so winning on Sunday would be huge. Crazy things tend to happen when the Eagles and Cardinals get together so be prepared for a wild game.