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Spadaro: 6 storylines to follow Sunday vs. Cardinals

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

Each week, prior to kickoff, let's take a look at some of the numbers that matter and keep them in mind when the game begins.

1. Continuity is so important to the Eagles' offensive line and they've had just that through four games with the same starting five each week – all victories. With left tackle Jordan Mailata (shoulder) downgraded to out, the team will have a new starting offensive line for the first time in 2022.

How much does continuity matter? In 2020, the Eagles led the lead with 57.1 adjusted games lost due to offensive linemen, the highest in the league since the 2016 Minnesota Vikings, according to Football Outsiders. In all, the Eagles used 14 different starting combinations up front. The Eagles sagged in 2020, falling to 4-11-1. Last season, the Eagles had some early injuries – guards Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo were lost for the remainder of 2021 in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively. But then things stabilized a bit – although it took a few weeks later for the line to really settle down – with Landon Dickerson stepping in at left guard and Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig sharing starting assignments at right guard. Through it all, Jason Kelce started every game for the seventh straight season, and on Sunday he is set to start his fifth game this season and his 134th consecutive game (including playoffs) overall.

What does this all mean for Sunday? It means that the Eagles might have to re-establish some continuity with Driscoll in for Mailata, as he was against Jacksonville in Week 4. Arizona likes to blitz and create havoc, so the Eagles really have to be on the same page in this one.

2. Arizona has lost seven consecutive games at home, dating back to October, 2021. There is no specific reason or trend or explanation, other than the Cardinals just aren't getting it done at State Farm Stadium.

"I wish I had an explanation," quarterback Kyler Murray said after the team lost 20-12 to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 3. "It's not winning football. We need to turn this into a home-field advantage."

It hasn't helped that Arizona, in general, is having trouble scoring early in games. The Cardinals have yet to score in the first quarter of any game this season and have scored just 16 points in the second quarter of their games in a 2-2 start. The Eagles, by the way, are looking for their first win at State Farm Stadium (0-4) and their first win in Arizona since the 2001 season (0-6, including a loss in the NFC Championship Game) since then.

3. Philadelphia has been physical in the running game and has shown its brawn in the red zone, scoring nine of its 10 rushing touchdowns from the 10-yard line and in. Those 10 rushing touchdowns in four games are historic: The Eagles are the sixth team since the 1970 NFL merger to record 10 touchdowns on the ground in the first four games of a season, the first since the 1995 season. The Eagles rank fifth in the NFL in rushing offense (165.3 yards per game) and are ninth in the league in red zone touchdown efficiency (64.7 percent).

Scoring in the red zone is crucial, of course, and the Eagles have the added circumstance this week of having a new placekicker in rookie Cameron Dicker, in for the injured (right ankle) Jake Elliott. You wonder how this impacts Head Coach Nick Sirianni's decision-making on fourth downs when the Eagles are in Cardinals' territory, and what the team thinks Dicker's range will be on field goal opportunities. Arizona is tied for 25th in the NFL in defensive red zone efficiency, so there could be some big moments in the red zone on Sunday.

4. Having one great pass rusher is fine, but NFL teams want multiple threats and so far the Eagles have had just that. They lead the NFL with 16 quarterback sacks and are the only team with five players with multiple sacks this season. Understanding that these two statistics go hand in hand, the Eagles are also tied with Baltimore for the league lead with 10 takeaways and their turnover differential of +8 paces the NFL.

The Eagles are 4-0 for a lot of reasons and winning the turnover battle each week. Arizona is +4 in the turnover game this season, and for the Cardinals to win, they're going to have to flip the script on the Eagles.

5. Third down is always a key down and the Eagles' defense has been the best in the league at forcing three-and-out offensive series, with 21 of them, while the Arizona offense has struggled on third downs. The Cardinals have converted just 31 percent of their third downs, ranking 29th in the NFL. Putting Arizona in third-and-long situations and then limiting the big play is obviously what the Eagles want to do.

6. Putting the ball in the hands of tight end Dallas Goedert continues to be a huge positive for the offense. Goedert ranks second in the NFL with 204 yards of his 240 receiving yards coming after the catch, and his average of 15 yards per catch is tied for most in the league among tight ends. Goedert, of course, replaced Zach Ertz as the starter here. Ertz is a Cardinal, continuing the 2022 Eagles Reunion Tour. Ertz, a new father, is having a fine season for the Cardinals with 22 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 8.2 yards per reception.

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