Eagles vs. Cardinals: Where Sunday's Game Will Be Won or Lost

Bernie Ollila@@bernieollilaContributor IIISeptember 21, 2012

Eagles vs. Cardinals: Where Sunday's Game Will Be Won or Lost

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    It will be another battle of the birds this weekend when the Eagles head to the desert to take on the Arizona Cardinals, who may be a little overhyped heading into Week 3.

    There are a few weaknesses on each team that can—and most likely will—be exploited, most notably on defense.

    But before we get into the Xs and Os, let’s take a quick look at how each team won last week to gain a bit of perspective.

    Turnovers have doubtlessly been a problem for the Eagles to this point, and some say they should have lost both of their games because of that. Regardless, the Eagles have managed to overcome their mistakes and rally to win twice.

    On the other side, the Cardinals should have lost last week. If Stephen Gostkowski made that field goal, the football world would be singing a different tune about the Cardinals heading into this weekend.

    Alas, that is not the case. The Patriots lost last week. The Cardinals didn’t win. Unlike the Cardinals, you can’t attribute the Eagles’ success to the shortcomings of their opponents.

    We’ve heard enough about turnovers: We get it. The Eagles need to stop the turnovers. So, let’s take a look at the other pieces of the Birds’ puzzle that will decide the outcome of the game this weekend.

On the Lines

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    With Jason Kelce out, the man giving the ball to Michael Vick will be Dallas Reynolds—a man everyone will be watching.

    To say Reynolds is unproven would be an understatement because of the importance of the guy he is replacing. In all honesty, if this makes you nervous, you’re thinking clearly. It’s even more unnerving to think about Reynolds going up against Darnell Dockett.  

    As if the Eagles' offensive line woes couldn’t get any worse, mediocre LT King Dunlap’s status for Sunday is also questionable. Personally, I’d like to see Demetress Bell, but I can’t really justify that given the fact he was beat out for his job by Dunlap in the preseason.

    The Cardinals pass rush is fierce and potent. They have seven sacks through the first two weeks of this season. When you consider that and how the Eagles offensive line has looked so far and factor in the injuries, it doesn’t look too good.

    The Cardinals offensive line has its question marks. However, they’ve only given up two sacks so far this year.

    On the flip side of that, we all know the potential the Eagles D-line has—even though we haven’t seen it come to fruition to this point.

    In any case, Jason Babin is going up against a rookie in Bobby Massie, and the Eagles D-line is going to hurry Kolb and force him to make bad decisions. So, we can eliminate the potential for a lot of big passing plays right away: Kolb won’t have enough time to make anything work. Even if he does, the Eagles don’t have scrubs at the corners. 

On the Ground

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    When they run the ball, the Cardinals have been awful. Beanie Wells has 58 yards on 21 attempts, and Ryan Williams has 22 yards on 18 attempts. These are numbers the Cardinals’ ground attack will not improve upon this week.

    DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks have been terrific for the Birds. They’re been great in coverage, and they plug the holes in the "wide 9" very well.

    For the Eagles, things generally have a favorable outlook when the ball is in LeSean McCoy’s hands.

    Even though he has coughed up the ball twice so far, he’s not a fumbler. We can’t get worried about that yet.

    McCoy is quick, and he usually makes good reads. If Andy Reid gives him the ball, Shady could have a tremendous impact this weekend. 

In the Air

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    Let’s turn out attention to Patrick Peterson. What has he done? Well, he shut down Braylon Edwards and Brandon Lloyd. He can also return punts. Rumor also has it that he’s quite the physical specimen.

    Brandon Lloyd and Braylon Edwards are not Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones. Patrick Peterson is not Deion Sanders. I’m not trying to take anything away from him, but let’s keep things in perspective.

    Peterson will probably be on DeSean Jackson. Although Peterson is bigger, Jackson is faster, explosive, and no longer plays with much caution. So, if Jackson wants to win this matchup, it will have to be on the deep ball. But even then you’ve got Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes to deal with. So, don’t expect Jackson to be a huge factor on Sunday.

    How can Michael Vick and the Eagles beat the Cardinals defense? The answer is short passes, draws and screens. Oh, and a lot of handoffs to LeSean McCoy.

    It can be done. If you look at the numbers, the Eagles are ranked first in the NFL in offensive yardage. Even though the Cardinals pass rush has proven itself to be a formidable threat, Michael Vick has the escapability to make plays when the O-line breaks down. Vick also has the weapons to make deep plays and the arm to do it with.

    For the Cardinals, don’t put too much stock in the fact that Kevin Kolb hasn’t thrown an interception this season. He’s still been pretty bad.

    Also, don’t project Nnamdi Asomugha’s performance this week based on last year.

    Asomugha will likely be on Larry Fitzgerald this Sunday. Nnamdi matches up with Fitzgerald well for the most part in strength and speed, but as far as agility goes the matchup belongs to Fitzgerald.

    Don’t worry too much about slants and streaks. Focus your doubts about Asomugha on routes that have Fitzgerald moving a lot. Even then, don’t have a heart attack about it.

    Fitzgerald will probably beat Asomugha once or twice, but have faith in Kurt Coleman and Nate Allen to back Asomugha up.

    Coleman and Allen have looked good so far. They also haven’t faced a QB-WR with the ability to expose them, and Kevin Kolb certainly isn’t about to do so with anyone.

    On the other side of Nnamdi Asomugha, the Eagles have Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to cover whoever the Cardinals send out there. Look for DRC to have a big day.

    In the slot, the Birds’ have Brandon Boykin—who validated that he can play at this level last week. 

In Summary

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    The Eagles defense will most likely determine the outcome of this game. If they can force a few turnovers and neutralize Larry Fitzgerald by pressuring Kolb, they should be golden.

    The Eagles probably won’t manhandle the Cardinals, but they very well could—and should—get the best of them.

    Defensively, the Eagles have been outstanding so far. Offensively, the Cardinals have been lackluster so far.

    Notice that special teams—even though it is a huge part of Arizona’s game—isn’t mentioned here. To be honest, special teams will not determine the outcome of this game.

    This weekend’s battle of the birds will come down to defense, plain and simple.

    Both teams are capable of shutting the other down with defense. But, all things considered, the Eagles have the edge.

    Of course, a big key is going to be not turning the ball over on the Eagles’ end. But even if they do, the Birds have the personnel on defense to limit the Cardinals’ offensive productivity.