Cheat Sheet: Eagles’ Defense Vs. Cardinals’ Offense
1. Let’s start with our old friend Kevin Kolb. He started the season on the bench after getting beaten out by John Skelton. But when Skelton went down in the opener, Kolb helped engineer an 11-play, 80-yard game-winning drive against the Seahawks, going 6-for-8 for 66 yards. But if you’re looking for reasons why the Cardinals beat the Patriots, 20-18, in New England last week, Kolb shouldn’t be near the top of your list. He went 15-for-27 for 140 yards. The offense got great field position on two of its four scoring drives. On one, the Cardinals picked up 7 yards before settling for a field goal. On another, they started out at the New England 2. Over the course of the game, Kolb missed open receivers, and there are issues between him and his offensive line. At times, he has no time to find receivers. And on other occasions, Kolb flees the pocket early because of perceived pressure. Don’t forget that Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg know Kolb’s strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone in the league.
2. This is very much a dink-and-dunk offense. The average pass thrown by Kolb has traveled 6.23 yards. Only Alex Smith and Matt Schaub have lower numbers. Kolb’s averaging 5.9 yards per attempt, which ranks 30th. And 16 of his 27 attempts against New England targeted running backs and tight ends. The Cardinals have just four pass plays of 20+ yards in two games. Only the Seahawks and Broncos have fewer. Meanwhile, opponents are averaging just 4.5 yards per pass attempt against the Eagles. That’s the best mark of any defense in the league. They’re also completing just 44.2 percent of their passes vs. the Eagles, also No. 1. All season long, you can expect to see opposing quarterbacks try to get rid of the football quickly against the Birds’ pass rush. Kolb will be no exception.
3. Up front, the Cardinals have issues. The starting tackles are Bobby Massie (RT) and D’Anthony Batiste (LT). Massie, a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi, will line up opposite Jason Babin. This is the third straight week that Babin will go up against a rookie right tackle. He has one sack through two games and leads the Eagles with 11 hurries. Brandon Graham and Phillip Hunt will spell Babin. Graham played nine snaps last week, had four pass-rushing opportunities and notched four hurries, along with a tackle against the run. It makes sense that he would see a bump in playing time, rotating in more with Hunt and Darryl Tapp, but no coach is willing to say that’s definitely going to happen. On the other side, Trent Cole figures to give Batiste all sorts of problems. Batiste has allowed a team-high nine hurries in two games, according to Pro Football Focus, and the film backs up those numbers. He’s bounced around to four different teams since entering the league five years ago. Before 2012, the last time Batiste started a game was 2007. Cole was really good last week against Michael Oher, and he had to face Pro Bowler Joe Thomas in Week 1. Don’t be surprised if he has a multiple-sack game and causes general disruption throughout.
4. Speaking of disruption, the interior of the Cardinals’ line will have to deal with Fletcher Cox, who was a force against the Ravens. At right guard, Adam Snyder brings experience, having started 71 career games. He spent the first seven seasons of his career with the 49ers before joining Arizona in the offseason. But Snyder was a limited participant at practice Thursday with an elbow injury. If he plays, he’ll see plenty of Cullen Jenkins too. At left guard, Daryn Colledge will go against Derek Landri and Cedric Thornton. Colledge was a five-year starter for the Packers before signing with the Cardinals in 2011. And finally, Lyle Sendlein, the center, has started every game for the Cardinals since the start of the 2008 season. According to Football Outsiders, the Cardinals are one of two teams who have not used a pick on an offensive lineman in the top three rounds the past five years. Kolb’s only been sacked once, but a lot of that has to do with point number two above. The Eagles should have a big advantage with their defensive line, which is the case most weeks.
5. Don’t ask me how I got this far without mentioning Larry Fitzgerald. Through two games, the Cardinals have done a terrible job of getting him the ball. Fitzgerald has five catches for 67 yards on 15 targets. Last week, the Patriots paid him a lot of attention, Kolb missed him when he was open, and Fitzgerald couldn’t hang on to a pass late. Last year, Fitzgerald caught seven balls for 146 yards against the Eagles, and that was with John Skelton throwing to him. As for the Eagles, they’ll have to decide whether to match up Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Fitzgerald. Or use some combination of the two. Both corners have played well through two games. Asomugha’s weakness has been making plays on the ball when he’s targeted. Rodgers-Cromartie has gotten beat deep a couple times – one was a bomb to Torrey Smith last week, the other an overthrow by Brandon Weeden in Week 1. Overall, though, he’s playing at an extremely high level and has the athleticism to catch up to Fitzgerald even if he gets beat.
6. The Cardinals’ other wide receivers are Andre Roberts and Early Doucet. Roberts, a third-round pick in 2010, had 51 catches for 586 yards last season. He’s got six receptions for 56 yards through two games. Rookie Brandon Boykin will draw Doucet. Last year, Doucet lined up in the slot 59.6 percent of the time, per PFF. Of his 689 yards, 590 came when he was in the slot. Doucet has played 45.7 percent of the snaps so far this season. Last year, that number was 54.6 percent. Boykin has been outstanding through two games. He’ll get tested every week.
7. The Cardinals’ run game has been awful in the first two games. Three different players – Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling – will get touches. But none has been productive so far. Let’s start with Wells. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry last year and finished with 1,047 yards on the ground. He’s had 21 carries so far this season – tops on the team – but has managed just 58 yards (2.8 YPC). Wells’ longest carry has gone for 10 yards. In terms of total snaps, Williams, a second-round pick out of Virginia Tech in 2011, has been on the field the most (42 snaps). But his numbers are even worse as a runner: 18 carries for 22 yards. And he was a limited participant at practice Thursday with a knee injury. Stephens-Howling has four runs for 15 yards. The longest run by any of the three has gone for 13 yards. You can see why the Cardinals have gone with the dink-and-dunk passing game. Part of the reason is to gain positive yards on safe plays since the running game has been so abysmal. With the way DeMeco Ryans is playing, it’d be surprising if the Cardinals got the ground game going Sunday.
8. Joe Flacco targeted his two tight ends a total of 19 times last week. If the Eagles cornerbacks turn in another good performance, Kolb will be looking for Todd Heap all day. That’s assuming he plays, of course. Heap was a limited participant at practice Thursday with a knee injury. Through two games, he’s the Cardinals’ leading receiver with eight catches for 94 yards on 13 targets. Heap had a nice 28-yard catch and run on what ended up being Arizona’s game-winning drive last week. They’ve got a couple other tight ends too – Jeff King and Rob Housler. Last week, Heap played 36 snaps; King 29; and Housler 23. So the Eagles can expect to see plenty of two tight-end sets. Last week, the Ravens tried to isolate Nate Allen or Kurt Coleman on Dennis Pitta. The Cardinals could look to do the same.
9. We very well could see cornerback Patrick Peterson play a couple of offensive snaps like he did last week. On one, he lined up in shotgun, faked the handoff to Stephens-Howling and picked up 17 yards around the left end. It was one of Arizona’s better offensive plays of the game and the team’s longest run of the season. The next time Peterson came in, he actually did hand the ball off to Stehpens-Howling.
10. Some leftovers… Kolb had a 5-yard sneak for a touchdown last week. We saw teams run the sneak for chunks of yardage against the Eagles last year, given how much space there generally is between their defensive tackles. Could see it again Sunday. … Kolb has not thrown an interception yet this season, but he did lose a fumble last week. … Fitzgerald will line up all over the place. On one play last week, he was in the backfield before motioning out to the slot on the right side. Last year, 13.1 percent of his snaps were in the slot, per PFF. …Stephens-Howling took a screen 10 yards last week. Look for the Cardinals to go to that early to slow down the Eagles’ pass rush.
Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at email@example.com.