Five Things: Getting To Know the Cardinals

Photo Credit: Robert Stanton - USA Today

Photo Credit: Robert Stanton – USA Today

Here are five things to know about the Eagles’ Week 8 opponent, the Arizona Cardinals.

1. For the second straight game, the Birds face a pure pocket passer in Carson Palmer. Against the Giants, Billy Davis did a great job of scheming up ways to disrupt Eli Manning’s timing, and the defense sacked him six times.

The Cardinals present a different challenge, though. Bruce Arians likes to chuck the ball downfield. Per Pro Football Focus, 14.3 percent of Palmer’s passes have traveled 20+ yards downfield, ninth-most in the league. He lacks mobility when pressured, but is not afraid to take chances downfield and will let his receivers make plays.

On the season, Palmer is completing 66.1 percent (eighth) of his passes and averaging 7.2 yards per attempt (19th). He’s thrown six touchdowns and one interception. However, Palmer had a couple near-picks dropped by the Raiders’ defense last week.

In last year’s meeting, Palmer went 24-for-41 for 302 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Eagles. He was sacked five times.

2. Palmer has a capable group of pass-catchers at his disposal. Michael Floyd has emerged as one of the best big-play threats in the game. He’s Arizona’s leading receiver (353 yards) and is averaging 18.6 yards per reception (fourth in the NFL). Floyd is not a volume receiver. He has just 19 catches in six games. But at 6-3, 220, he’s capable of winning 50/50 balls. The ball skills of the Eagles defensive backs will be tested.

Larry Fitzgerald, 31, is not the threat he used to be, but is still a capable receiver. He’s tied for the Cardinals’ lead in targets (39) and has 23 catches for 283 yards on the season. Floyd and Fitzgerald have combined for 11 plays of 20+ yards.

Rookie slot receiver John Brown leads Arizona with three touchdowns. And Andre Ellington will make a lot of catches out of the backfield. He’s got 25 catches for 260 yards on the season. That’s a concern for an Eagles defense that ranks 32nd in the league covering running backs.

Floyd had five grabs for 99 yards against the Eagles last year. Fitzgerald had five for 72.

3. The Cardinals entered last week’s game sixth defensively, according to Football Outsiders’ rankings. That’s remarkable considering how many core guys (Daryl Washington, Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell) they’re playing without. The Cardinals are allowing 19.8 points per game, fifth in the NFL. However, they’re giving up 5.8 yards per play (23rd).

Arizona has seven sacks from six different players and has not been able to generate a consistent pass rush. No Cardinals defender has more than two sacks. They run a 3-4, but are multiple, and Todd Bowles likes to dial up the blitz. Arizona ranked 28th in adjusted sack rate going into last week’s game.

4. In the offseason, when Chip Kelly talked about the Eagles’ focus on beating man coverage, he often brought up Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Peterson (6-1, 219) and Antonio Cromartie (6-2) give the Cardinals a pair of long cornerbacks who are capable of pressing opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage. Peterson is aggressive, and that has led to seven penalties on the season. Arizona has allowed 25 pass plays of 20+ yards, sixth-most in the NFL.

This should be a nice matchup for Zach Ertz. The Cardinals rank 25th against opposing tight ends, according to Football Outsiders. Ertz had a big game against Arizona last year with five catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns.

5. The Cardinals’ run defense has been outstanding. Arizona is allowing a league-best 3.2 YPC. Veteran Larry Foote has 35 tackles, including three for loss. Rookie safety Deone Bucannon is a physical, downhill player who can do damage in the run game as well.

Last year, the Eagles used a lot of split zone runs against the Cardinals. LeSean McCoy had 19 carries for 79 yards.