Neither wide receiver Jeremy Maclin nor offensive tackle King Dunlap made the trip to Arizona, and the Eagles are going to look to get into a rhythm without two starters against a very strong Cardinals defense that relies on pressure and speed.
Without Maclin, the Eagles will use Jason Avant as a starter, mix in some Damaris Johnson and perhaps will even give Mardy Gilyard some snaps. They want to create good matchups against an aggressive Arizona scheme that is headlined by cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is likely to be draped all over DeSean Jackson from start to finish on Sunday.
Nobody would ever suggest using Jackson as a decoy, because his big-play skills are so important for the offense. Jackson has to find a way to shake free of Peterson and his bump-and-run excellence. How can the Eagles get the ball into the hands of the explosive Jackson, and how can they replace the production Maclin gives the passing game?
Certainly, the Eagles have talent without Maclin. Avant is a sharp route runner who has great hands and the courage to catch the ball in tight spots. Johnson is a lightning-quick rookie who is an effective catch-and-run receiver and, in the limited opportunities he's had to date, has been tough in coverage. Gilyard, from what we saw in the preseason, is strong in his routes and has a good body and the ability to separate.
But what else are the Eagles going to do to juice up the offense? It can't possibly be a matter of just interchanging the personnel and running the same X's and O's.
Last week, for example, the Eagles used a no-huddle approach to put Michael Vick right into the groove and it worked. There were some hiccups, but the Eagles rolled up 486 total offensive yards and dictated to the Ravens.
That's the key right there. The Eagles must put the Cardinals on their heels and show them something they haven't seen. Maybe it's a formation. Maybe it's the way the Eagles use their personnel against a defense that has fast linebackers who can run with tight ends and running backs in the passing game.
Maybe the Eagles show some no huddle, just to get the Cardinals thinking. Or they pound the running game. Or they go screen game and catch the Cardinals coming up the field.
The beauty of the Eagles offense is the versatility it offers. The Eagles have the scheme and the personnel to pull off just about anything, provided the losses of Maclin, Dunlap and center Jason Kelce aren't too much to overcome. The Eagles must play to their strengths, and that means a fast tempo and easy, move-the-chains plays for Vick and Co.
This is not the defense against which to use seven-step drops and try to go over the top. The best approach is to get the ball out of Vick's hands quickly, because the Cardinals are so fast and so aggressive with their blitz game that they thrive on big plays for lost yardage.
So what's the hook for Sunday? First of all, how much confidence do the coaches have in first-time starter Dallas Reynolds at center and Demetress Bell in his first Eagles start at left tackle? I know the show goes on when there are injuries, but don't adjustments have to be made? Do the Eagles use more blockers to chip and give Vick a half second more of time when he drops back to throw the football?
I think we're going to see a lot of LeSean McCoy, again. He's had a huge workload through the first two games, but he's in line for more on Sunday. The Eagles need to put the ball in the hands of their best players, and McCoy is the best the Eagles have. And I sure wouldn't have Vick throwing the ball 45 times against this defense, one that got after Tom Brady and the Patriots last week like few defenses ever do.
The Eagles need to bring a hard-hat mentality to this game. The fancy, big-play offense is going to be challenged here, and the Eagles must be more physical than Arizona. They must put a hat on a hat and win the battle at the line of scrimmage.
With that, though, I'm sure the Eagles are going to come up with some wrinkles. They're going to need some patience, and they're going to have to be resourceful and they're going to have to be precise. Maclin is a huge part of this offense. The line of scrimmage is a huge question mark. How are the Eagles going to move the ball and score points down so many of their key players?
Start hot, and stay that way. That's the message from offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who is putting his game plan together as we speak. He's going to come up with a winning formula, one of the most challenging he has had to put together in his time with the Eagles.