Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington pursues Eagles running back LeSean McCoy during the teams' 2011 matchup.
That day, the defense held Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in check and limited the Philadelphia offense to just 10 points (the other touchdown coming on a Nnamdi Asomugha pick-six).
The formula for success this week will be much the same. Pressuring Vick led to his lowest single-game quarterback rating of the 2011 season—just 32.5.
There is more to earning a Week 3 victory against the Eagles and moving to 3-0 for the first time since 1974.
Pressure Michael Vick
As just mentioned, the Cardinals held Vick to a 32.5 quarterback rating in beating his Eagles last season. He completed just 16-of-34 passes for 128 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Ray Horton picked a brilliant scheme tailored specifically for stopping Vick’s athleticism, and it worked to near perfection. The defense sacked him twice, hit him five more times and generated a staggering 19 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus (paid information).
Doing the same this time around is paramount and may be easier.
According to Chris McPherson of the Eagles’ official website, head coach Andy Reid said it would be “a stretch” for starting left tackle King Dunlap to play Sunday. That means free-agent signee Demetress Bell would get the start.
Center Jason Kelce was placed on Injured Reserve Tuesday following a knee injury suffered during Philadelphia’s Week 2 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Second-year center Dallas Reynolds will start in his place, meaning potentially two of Vick’s five blockers will be brand new to the lineup Sunday.
Control the Clock
Part defense and part run game, controlling the clock will be important for the outcome of this contest.
Last season, Arizona used up 31:42 of game-clock to defeat Philadelphia in part because despite being outrushed 166-88, they stuck to the rushing attack. They rushed the ball five more times and ran 13 more total plays than the Vick-led Eagles.
Both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams have gotten off to slow starts in 2012. The Cardinals rank 28th in rushing as a team, averaging just 74.0 yards per game.
Through two games, Philadelphia ranks in the middle of the pack at stopping the run, allowing 105.0 yards per game on the ground. But Cleveland and Baltimore did not run much against them—only 43 times combined. They surrender 4.9 yards per carry, behind only the Green Bay Packers (5.1) and the Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams, who both have allowed 5.5 yards per carry thus far.
The yards will be there if Arizona remains diligent with the run game.
The other side of the coin is getting off the field on third down and holding the Eagles to field-goal attempts. The Cardinals have done an excellent job of doing both through two weeks.
Arizona’s defense is No. 10 in the NFL, allowing a 32.2 percent third-down conversion rate. They also rank fourth, allowing opposing offenses to score touchdowns on only 28.6 percent of red-zone attempts.
The Cardinals have been near the top of those two defensive categories dating to the beginning of last season. It is part of what they do and has been a major factor in the turnaround the unit has seen since Horton took over.
Take What the Defense Gives
The Patriots did a great job bracketing Larry Fitzgerald last week. He was targeted just five times, coming up with one catch for four yards. He was open on many routes, but Kevin Kolb did not look in his direction often enough to allow him the chance at making a play.
These missed opportunities did not cost the team, but they easily could have.
On one occasion, the Cardinals were faced with a 3rd-and-13 during the second quarter. Kolb lined up in the shotgun with Fitzgerald to the top of the formation, while receiver Andre Roberts and tight end Todd Heap lined up in slot left.
Fitzgerald and Roberts both ran five-yard in-routes and Heap ran a wheel route. The defense was in zone coverage, dropping deep enough to take away any routes that could net Arizona a first down.
(Photo courtesy NFL.com)
Offensive coordinator Mike Miller called a perfect play to get Kolb’s athletes the ball with an opportunity to make something happen after the catch. The offensive line gave him a clean pocket, but all Kolb could do was scramble to the right sideline and throw an incomplete pass to receiver Early Doucet.
(Photo courtesy NFL.com)
There was no guarantee Fitzgerald or Roberts would have gained a first down on the play had Kolb thrown to either of them, but not making the throw does guarantee they won’t.
Against a stingy Eagles defense, there will be times when they drop into zone coverage on long-yardage situations. Kolb—assuming he starts Sunday—must take advantage of that by indeed taking what the defense gives him; if they give him the underneath routes, he has to connect on them and allow his athletes to make plays.
Matchup to Watch: Cardinals Cornerback Patrick Peterson vs. Eagles Receiver DeSean Jackson
Through two games this season, Patrick Peterson has been the best cover cornerback in the NFC, allowing an opposing quarterback rating of just 7.9—only Darrelle Revis’ 0.0 is lower among corners.
Four receptions for 23 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and one batted pass.
That includes facing off against Tom Brady last week. In fact, Brady’s rating when targeting receivers covered by Peterson was an awful 2.8.
DeSean Jackson did not play in the game last year, a coach’s decision following Jackson missing a team meeting the day before the game. He was limited in practice Wednesday but was a full go Thursday, perhaps signifying he will be a go Sunday as well.
Two premier punt returners. Two of the fastest people in the NFL. Get ready for this one.
Arizona’s defense handled Brady perfectly last week. They did the same the week prior against the Seattle Seahawks and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson. They did so yet again last year against these same Vick-led Eagles.
Horton’s defense has recorded at least two sacks in an NFL-high eight games, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.
How Many Times Will the Cardinals Sack Michael Vick?
That will continue Sunday, as they will come after Vick early and often—a complete reversal of the New England game in which they blitzed Brady only seven times (per PFF). Creating havoc for Vick will cause his erratic nature to appear, leading to turnovers.
In three games all-time against the Cardinals, Vick has completed just 51.3 percent of his passes for 396 yards, no touchdowns, four interceptions and a 44.6 QB rating.
Philadelphia’s offense has been on the field a lot through two games. Vick has attempted the third most passes (88), while running back LeSean McCoy has the third most carries (45) so far. Based on that, it is difficult to tell how they plan to attack Horton’s attacking defense, but it should be a great game.
Cards’ quarterback John Skelton practiced for the first time since suffering a sprained ankle during the Seahawks game, albeit on a limited basis. Progress is being made, but it is unlikely he plays Sunday.
Kolb should start, and in his first game against the team that drafted him, he will struggle.
Philadelphia’s defense is better than New England’s is, and that will translate to more attempts for Wells and Williams. Kolb will get his opportunities to show his old team they made a mistake in trading him, but those opportunities will fall by the wayside.
Defense rules this matchup.
Final Score: Cardinals 17, Eagles 9