Eagles Wake-Up Call: Can Tempo Slow Cardinals Blitz?


NFL: Preseason-Philadelphia Eagles at New England Patriots

On most weeks, the Eagles feel like they have a weapon to combat their opponents’ blitzes: tempo.

The pace the Birds use on offense can deter opposing coordinators from trying to get to their more complex schemes. According to Chip Kelly, that was one of the reasons the Eagles faced so much man coverage in 2013.

But Todd Bowles and the Arizona Cardinals appear to be the exception.

“Yeah, Todd does a really good job,” Kelly said. “They get in and out of everything. I don’t think anything we did affected in terms of them, and they showed a lot of different looks, a lot of multiple looks, and did a real good job in defending us last year.”

The numbers show that Bowles was not afraid to send pressure against Nick Foles and company. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Cardinals blitzed 49.5 percent of the time overall last year. Per Pro Football Focus, that number was even higher against the Eagles.

Bowles sent extra pressure on 24 of 40 occasions, or 60 percent of the time vs. Foles. On those plays, Foles went 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) for 135 yards (7.1 YPA). All five of the Cardinals’ sacks came on plays where they blitzed. When Arizona didn’t send extra pressure, Foles was 12-for-15. Overall, his numbers were very good: 21-for-34 for 237 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

But there’s no denying that Bowles and the Cardinals’ defense had success with the blitz.

On Sunday, we get Round 2. Both the Eagles’ offensive line and Arizona’s defense are playing with several backups, but the Birds are still preparing for a blitz-heavy attack.

“They’ve gotta get creative, and that’s what they’re doing,” said center David Molk. “It’s not like they’re necessarily going up the middle or anything like that. It’s just everywhere. They’re just blitzing heavy. …They do so many different things, you have to be ready for every pressure they have with every applicable protection we have.”

The Eagles will go back to tempo again this year and most likely will look to move at an even faster pace. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper will have to win their one-on-one matchups with Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Foles will have to make decisions quickly.

Asked if tempo can limit opposing defenses from blitzing, LeSean McCoy said: “That’s what it’s made for. It’s so hard to really adjust to our offense when we’re going so fast to get your calls out, different alignments. But the thing about them is they play a lot of man. So when you can have corners that play man, you really can do different defenses and send different blitzes.

“They send guys that you think they can’t do it because of maybe coverage reasons, and they still send those blitzes. So I’m anxious to see how they play us, a team that’s fast-tempo that does a lot of different plays, formations. We send a lot of things at different defenses, so I’m waiting to see how they play us.”

The Eagles will try to move quickly. The Cardinals will try to dictate terms and send pressure. Whichever team wins that battle will avoid its second loss of the season.

WHAT YOU MISSED

“The ringing is like someone shooting a gun right next to my ear.” Post-football life for Kevin Kolb.

The Matchup: Our full Eagles-Cardinals scouting report.

Marcus Smith II is staying at inside linebacker for now.

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

Tommy Lawlor of Iggles Blitz on how Foles fits into the culture Kelly is trying to establish:

As perfect as he is off the field, Foles remains inconsistent on it. A lot of non-Eagles people see him on a Sunday or Monday night game and get on Twitter and talk about how unimpressed they are. I think Foles is an acquired taste. He looks odd. You have to get used to watching him to get over the fact he’s not Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers. Think of him as a poor man’s Philip Rivers. His style is odd, but he’s able to get the job done.

I get the feeling Kelly would really like Foles to show that he’s “the guy” on the field because he values him so much off it.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com is looking forward to the Kelly/Bowles chess match:

For the Cardinals, Bowles’ innovative schemes have allowed the defense to remain one of the top units in football despite a barrage of personnel losses. Bowles has tweaked his schemes to fit his available players, which is why the Cardinals confuse opponents with an exotic, 2-3-6 package that features a variety of fronts and blitzes. With the wily defensive coordinator also adept at implementing pre-snap disguises and post-snap chaos, the Eagles’ offense could be on the defensive dealing with the wide array of tactics Bowles will employ on game day.

COMING UP

We’ll have our predictions and more.