Here are 10 things to know about the matchup between the Eagles’ offense and the Cardinals’ defense Sunday afternoon. If you missed the first cheat sheet, which focused on the Eagles’ D and Arizona’s offense, click here.
1. The truth about the Cardinals’ 2-0 start is that it’s had far less to do with Kevin Kolb than Arizona’s talented defense and outstanding special teams. In Week 1, the Cardinals limited Russell Wilson to 4.5 yards per attempt and sacked him three times. Last week, they limited Tom Brady to 6.9 yards per attempt and sacked him four times. In one span during the second and third quarters, the Cardinals forced the Patriots to punt on five of six possessions. They’ve allowed just four pass plays of 20+ yards in two games. Only the Lions and Jaguars have allowed fewer. Talented defensive linemen, playmaking linebackers, a (potential) shutdown cornerback and veteran safeties. It’s not going to be easy for Michael Vick and company to move the football against this group.
2. Let’s start up front. The Cardinals run a 3-4, but for much of the game, it’s more of a 2-4-5 without a nose tackle. The two defensive linemen figure to give the Eagles all kinds of problems, especially considering Dallas Reynolds will make his first NFL start at center and Demetress Bell will make his first start of the season at left tackle. Add in the fact that Todd Herremans has been up-and-down through two games, and Danny Watkins is still having too many issues in pass protection, and the offensive line is a major concern going into this one. Veteran Darnell Dockett will line up opposite Watkins quite a bit. He was all over the place in last week’s victory. Brady’s first interception last week was the direct result of Dockett batting the ball in the air. He made a couple of other big plays too, once looping behind the right defensive tackle and pressuring Brady into throwing the ball away. In the second half, the Patriots faced a 3rd-and-6 from the Cardinals’ 30 and ran a toss to the left side with Danny Woodhead. Dockett dropped him for a 9-yard loss and forced a punt. Dockett led the Cardinals with 23.5 hurries and 16 QB hits last year, according to Football Outsiders. He’ll provide a big test for Watkins and company.
3. The other Cardinals’ defensive lineman to watch is 6-foot-8 Calais Campbell. Evan Mathis and Bell will likely see quite a bit of him Sunday afternoon. Campbell led the team with eight sacks last year to go along with 17.5 hurries. He’s got two sacks this season, although both last week had more to do with coverage than Campbell’s rush. That’s not to say he didn’t have an impact though. Against New England, Campbell had 10 tackles (7 solo, 2 for loss). He had a great sequence on a key drive in the fourth quarter. On one play, Campbell beat the right guard badly one-on-one, hit Brady and forced an incompletion. On the next play, he dropped Ridley at the line of scrimmage for no gain. Campbell had an interception last year against the Eagles. Vick has had issues with balls batted at the line of scrimmage in the past. He’ll need to find passing lanes in this one.
4. The Cardinals’ inside linebackers are Daryl Washington and Paris Lenon. On the outside, they’ve got Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield and Quentin Groves. Washington is the best player in this group. According to NFL.com’s numbers, his 21 solo tackles through two games are tops in the NFL. Washington will also go after the quarterback too. He had five sacks and 15 hurries last year. Through two games, he’s blitzed 20 times, according to Pro Football Focus. Against the Eagles last year, he delivered a crushing blow on Vick, injuring his ribs. Washington made an impressive play last week, knocking Stevan Ridley back for a 3-yard loss. Meanwhile, Bell will see a lot of Acho. A fourth-round pick in 2011, he had seven sacks as a rookie. On one play last week, the Patriots tried to run two play fakes, but Acho read it perfectly and sacked Brady. Lenon has two sacks on the season. And more on Groves below.
5. When the Cardinals took Patrick Peterson with the fifth pick in the 2011 draft, they were hoping they got themselves a shut-down corner. So far, through two games this season, he looks like he’s headed for that label. Brady had very little success throwing at Peterson last week. He was tested, but didn’t let up big plays to Brandon Lloyd. Peterson also came up with an interception off of the Dockett tipped ball. And he made an unbelievable play against the run. On 3rd-and-1 in the fourth, Peterson knocked Rob Gronkowski back, got off his block and tackled Ridley for a 4-yard loss. The Patriots were at the Arizona 39. They might have gone for it on 4th-and-1, but instead punted on 4th-and-5. DeSean Jackson is off to a great start. Vick targeted him eight times last week, and Jackson came up with seven catches for 114 yards. This should be a really fun matchup to watch.
6. Arizona has veteran William Gay at the other cornerback spot. He spent five seasons with the Steelers before joining the Cardinals. Gay moves inside in nickel, and Jamell Fleming comes in. At safety, they’ve got 12-year veteran Adrian Wilson and eighth-year pro Kerry Rhodes. As for the Eagles, Jeremy Maclin will sit this one out, which will mean more playing time for Damaris Johnson and Jason Avant. The Eagles could also use more two tight-end sets with Brent Celek and Clay Harbor. Celek is coming off a monster eight-catch, 157-yard game against the Ravens. He’s been a huge part of this passing attack since the sixth game of last season.
7. The Cardinals will show different looks at the line of scrimmage, and they will blitz. According to Football Outsiders, Arizona rushed five 27.9 percent of the time last year, sixth-most in the league. They sent six or more 10.8 percent of the time, seventh-most. The Eagles will have to shore up protection, Vick will have to be especially good pre-snap, and Jackson will have to make the Cardinals pay when they send big blitzes. Last week, the Cardinals sent six defenders at Brady on the 5-yard touchdown to Gronkowski.
8. Let’s check out the All-22 on a couple specific plays from last week.
Here, the Cardinals show six defenders at the line of scrimmage in what appears to be a blitz look as linebackers Lenon and Washington inch up. But when Brady takes the snap, the linebackers drop back into coverage, and the Cardinals only rush four. New England’s protection was set up to handle the blitz, so the Patriots kept seven players in to block four defenders. That set up an advantage for Arizona, which had seven defenders in coverage against only three Patriots receivers in pass routes. Brady had nowhere to go with the football, tried to force one to Lloyd, who was covered, and the play resulted in an incompletion.
9. One more to look at. This is an example of just a four-man rush. But it shows how critical communication will be between the Eagles offensive linemen. Take a look at the first image.
The key on this play is Cardinals outside linebacker Quentin Groves, who lined up with his hand on the ground. He takes a couple steps forward, as if he’s rushing upfield, but then comes back and loops behind the lineman to his inside.
The Patriots’ offensive line does a poor job of picking him up. The center has his back turned to Groves and isn’t blocking anyone, while the right guard can’t get to him either. Groves comes pretty much unblocked and sacks Brady. Meanwhile, it looks like he had a receiver open on this play, but Brady didn’t have time to get him the ball.
Again, Reynolds is going to get tested playing on the road against a very talented group of pass rushers for the Cardinals. The running backs and tight ends will have to do their jobs as well. Don’t be surprised if McCoy and Harbor stay in quite a bit to block.
10. Leftovers… Looking at LeSean McCoy’s rushing stats, he’s got 140 yards on 22 carries to the right (6.36 YPC) and 17 carries for 50 yards to the left (2.94 YPC). Those stats can be deceiving since they don’t always account for where the play was originally supposed to go, but those numbers seem to pass the eye test. Run behind Herremans and Watkins. …The Cardinals are allowing just 3.4 YPC through two games. They’ve given up one run of 20+ yards and no rushing touchdowns. Arizona seemed to be vulnerable to play-action last week. That could be one way for the Eagles to get the safeties to cheat up if they want to hit on a big play to Jackson. … Don’t forget about special teams. That could be the difference in this game. More details in this post from Thursday.