How the Eagles deal with Larry Fitzgerald, superstar, is so incredibly key to today's game. At Lincoln Financial Field last season he caught 7 passes for 146 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He destroyed a defense that was supposed to channel all of its energies toward him.
Instead, Fitzgerald was free to roam. He ran to openings in the zone defense. He tossed aside man-on-man coverage. And when it came time to drive the length of the field for the winning points, quarterback John Skelton looked for Fitzgerald, who found room working between cornerback Asante Samuel and safety Jaquawn Jarrett for the big play to take the ball inside the 5-yard line and set up the dagger touchdown for Arizona.
Well, neither Samuel nor Jarrett is on this year's Eagles roster. Today's approach is likely to be far different from 2011. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo has a much-improved defense and his attacking, fast corps is much better equipped to limit Fitzgerald this time around.
Is that as simple, and yet as difficult, as it appears for today's game? Is it all about slowing Fitzgerald and, thus, slowing an Arizona defense that has yet to take flight this season?
Who else on the Cardinals offense scares you? Arizona hasn't run the ball well at all in two games, and the other receiving threats aren't exceedingly dangerous. Quarterback Kevin Kolb figures to drop back and get rid of the ball quickly. He doesn't want anything to do with the Eagles pass rush.
So it comes down to Fitzgerald vs. the Eagles defense. Fitzgerald dominated a year ago and the Eagles couldn't slow down his big-play ability. It was a man against boys.
Castillo figures to double team Fitzgerald with a cornerback in bump-and-run coverage at the line of scrimmage with a safety over the top. Heck, the Eagles may drop a linebacker into coverage just to make it that much more difficult for Fitzgerald to catch and run on an inside route.
Make no mistake, this is a game for the defense to win. Stop the run, pressure Kolb and take away Fitzgerald and what do the Cardinals have? Can the Eagles force a turnover or three and steal some field position and help the banged-up offense manage the game against Arizona's very good offense?
That's the way I look at today's game. I don't see the Eagles coming out and throwing 40 passes, unless Marty Mornhinweg thinks he can get a large handfuls of screen passes going to take away the speed of Arizona's defense. I think the Eagles are going to pull things back just a touch in this game to not put too much pressure on quarterback Michael Vick. You are going to see a lot of LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek and even Clay Harbor in the passing game. I think the running game steps up in importance.
But this is one for the defense. The Eagles must play a dominating game here and not allow Kolb to nickel and dime them down the field. His only real deep threat is Fitzgerald, who should be given no room to breathe. I see Kolb dumping off a lot, screening and slanting his way against the defense.
Up front, the Eagles have as overwhelming an advantage as a team can have. Arizona just is not very good offensively at the line of scrimmage. The Eagles are going to see draws and mis-direction runs, but if they handle their gaps and play well, those spaces are going to be squeezed.
This defense is playing with too much confidence to have a letdown today. The Eagles know how important the game is. They know how much the offense is hurting. They know how dangerous the Cardinals are on special teams.
So the defense gets the glory here. There isn't a matchup the Eagles lose, unless they allow Fitzgerald to go wild. And I don't see that happening. I see Castillo tailoring his defense around Fitzgerald from the moment he steps on the field.
It's that simple, and yet that difficult: Stop Fitzgerald and you stop the Arizona offense. Is it as clear cut as that for Castillo and his defense? It sure seems that way. On paper, nobody else scares a defense. On paper, the Cardinals don't have much in the way of big-time threats.
On paper ...
Well, the game isn't played on paper, so you know something strange is in order for the Eagles and the Cardinals in this matchup of 2-0 teams with flaws and question marks and warts. The message here is this: Don't let Larry Fitzgerald go wild and the Eagles stand a good chance to win the game.