Injuries are a factor here. Depth is being tested. The Arizona Cardinals and the Eagles start the second quarter of the season coming off tough wins and with some players bouncing around the depth chart. Here are some key matchups for Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field.
Eagles Secondary vs. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald
A career-long Eagles killer, Larry Fitzgerald is a handful. As defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said this week, it "isn't all about one player," and that's true, but Fitzgerald continues to be an all-time great in his 14th season. Fitzgerald has 26 receptions and two touchdowns, including one in overtime last Sunday to beat San Francisco.
So … what do the Eagles do about him?
"We have to be aware of him at all times," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "They're going to move him around and get him into matchups that they think work for them. He's going to get his. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. We just have to be at our best, we have to tackle well and we have to make sure that we communicate and have our coverage buttoned up."
It's not an easy task, especially with the complementary fleet of receivers the Cardinals bring to the table. They're fast and explosive. John Brown, Jaron Brown, and J.J. Nelson along with Fitzgerald will stretch the limits of the Eagles' secondary.
Eagles DEs Vinny Curry/Derek Barnett vs. Cardinals LT John Wetzel
Arizona comes into this game banged up along the offensive line. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries is out and second-year man John Wetzel is the starter protecting quarterback Carson Palmer's blind side. Arizona is also hurting at left guard and, frankly, the entire line hasn't played very well. The running game is struggling without star back David Johnson. Palmer has been hit 43 times and sacked 17 times in four games. The Eagles, obviously, are going to try to go after him.
So on the edge, Curry and Barnett have to win this matchup. They need to help the Eagles make up for the loss of Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox, out again with a calf injury. Winning the blind side makes everything easier for the Eagles up front, and allows Schwartz to play seven in coverage against this dangerous Cardinals receiving crew.
As a side note, Brandon Graham on the other edge has an advantage against Jared Veldheer, who will struggle to match Graham's athleticism and speed.
Eagles C Jason Kelce vs. Cardinals Blitz Package
Arizona took a hit this week with the loss of defensive end Markus Golden, placed on Injured Reserve with a season-ending ACL injury. So the Cardinals are going to split time on the edge with Kareem Martin in base personnel and first-round draft pick Haason Reddick coming in to rush the quarterback. That's only part of the challenge for the Eagles, figuring out who is where and doing what. The Cardinals mix up their blitz packages and like to bring it up the A gap, over center Jason Kelce. You're going to see the Cardinals moving around a lot with the front seven, so Kelce has to be on the same page with quarterback Carson Wentz in terms of what they're seeing.
and Arizona rush linebacker Chandler Jones will be a featured attraction as well. Jones is one of the best in the game.
Eagles WR Torrey Smith vs. Cardinals CB Justin Bethel
The Eagles would love to get Torrey Smith going a bit and build back up his confidence after he's had some drops to date. Smith has a speed advantage against Bethel, who figures to see more of Smith with Patrick Peterson matched up against Alshon Jeffery. Arizona isn't particularly deep at cornerback, so if the Eagles can get some good matchups with Smith and with third wide receiver Nelson Agholor, they will try to make some big plays down the field in the passing game.
As good as Peterson is, he can't cover the entire field. And if the Cardinals can't replace Golden in the pass rush and get after Wentz, the passing game might be the better option as head coach Doug Pederson calls the plays in this one.
Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks vs. Cardinals RB Andre Ellington
Maybe it's Mychal Kendricks, or a safety or a team effort, but the Eagles have to be wary of Arizona running back Andre Ellington, who was targeted 14 times and had nine receptions for 86 yards last week in the overtime win against San Francisco. Palmer is going to throw the ball – last week he was 33-of-51 for 357 yards, one touchdown, and one interception – and the run/pass ratio is going to be out of whack for this team.
To counter a pass rush, Arizona wants to get the ball out of Palmer's hands quickly, and that means into the hands of Ellington, a receiver who lines up in the backfield.
Kendricks has played very well this year, so maybe the Eagles use him more in coverage. Perhaps they play more nickel and keep the extra cornerback hugged to the line of scrimmage. Ellington is going to get his touches. The Eagles have to be great at tackling and making sure he doesn't get lost in the wash.