Opposition Research: Somers On the Cardinals

Jordan Matthews. (USA Today Sports)

Jordan Matthews. (USA Today Sports)

In this installment of Opposition Research, we spoke with Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic about what the Eagles should expect Sunday against the Cardinals.

What are the Cardinals’ strengths and weaknesses?

“Offensively, their strength is throwing the ball and they’ve got a lot of threats. They are very deep at receiver, beginning with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown and J.J. Nelson, a rookie who’s been productive. And they’ve got a quarterback in Carson Palmer who’s playing as well as anyone in the league.

Their weakness on that side of the ball, at least lately, is short-yardage situations — especially in the red zone — with blown blocks and sacks allowed that have made games more interesting and closer than they should’ve been.

On defense, their strength is their secondary. They’re very good back there and they’re really deep at safety. Rashad Johnson and Tyrann Mathieu and Tony Jefferson, they’ll often play at the same time with Mathieu coming down to play nickel corner.

Their weakness is rushing the passer; they don’t have that one guy — that Fletcher Cox kind of guy — that worries coordinators, especially a guy who can apply consistent pressure from the outside. It’s been a problem, and it’s one reason they blitz more often than anyone in the league.”

What injuries are the Cardinals battling that could impact the game?

“The biggest question is Rashad Johnson, the safety who hasn’t practiced the last couple of days because of an ankle injury. He doesn’t get a lot of attention, but he really runs things in their secondary. He’s of the smartest players in the league and he could literally coach the secondary today. He’s got five interceptions and he makes a very good secondary even better.

They’re banged up on the defensive line; they’ve been down a couple of guys for a few weeks. [Defensive tackle] Frostee Rucker, a starter, they think they might get him back for this week, but they’re not sure. [Defensive tackle] Cory Redding, a backup, it’s the same thing.

Offensively, really the only significant one they have is Andre Ellington, the backup running back who is still out with turf toe. He’s a dangerous guy in situations, but it’s not like he would be starting. David Johnson is pretty much entrenched there as the starter.”

Why have the Cardinals had a lot of success attacking down the field through the air?

“They’ve got great speed at receiver, and John Brown, and to a lesser extent J.J. Nelson, they’ve got the kind of guys Bruce Arians loves who are just pure speed — Nelson ran a 4.28 [40-yard dash] at the Combine. They’ve also got Michael Floyd — a bigger guy — who is very physical and can go down the sideline to catch a lot of those 50-50 balls.

And I don’t know that there’s anyone in the league who throws a better deep ball than Carson Palmer. He’s really been on the money with those things; they’ve missed on very few. And what sets it up most of the time is an efficient running game. They’re not going to bludgeon anybody, but this is the best running attack the Cardinals have had in at least 20 years.

Chris Johnson was on his way to a 1,000-yard season before he got hurt and David Johnson has been really productive. For the most part, they’ve been able to gain four yards a rush and at least have been good enough at it so people have to respect it.”

What’s one key matchup that could have a big impact on the game?

“I focus on whoever is blocking Cox. They’ve been pretty good on the offensive line, but they have a couple of guys who have given up some pressure: right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Ted Larsen. I think that’s an interesting matchup.

I also think Larry Fitzgerald against their secondary, specifically Malcolm Jenkins. Fitzgerald has been such a Philadelphia Eagles killer over the years and he’s having his best season in probably four years. He’s been a difficult matchup for a lot of people, so I think that’s one that will be really interesting to watch.”

Who do you think will win and why?

“I think this is a dangerous one for the Cardinals. I know the Eagles — obviously — have a lot on the line, but I really think the Cardinals do too. They’ve never won 12 games in franchise history and they would clinch the NFC West. They also could clinch the No. 2 seed [in the NFC]. It’s a mature team that will be ready.

I’m predicting the Cardinals, 28-21, but if the Eagles have another good day on special teams and they can confuse Palmer a little bit defensively, it wouldn’t be a shocker if the Eagles pull it off. But I think the Cardinals will win.”