Eagles vs. Cardinals: Sketching out a Game Plan for Arizona
If you would have told me a month ago that the Arizona Cardinals would be 2-0 heading into Week 3, I would have laughed at you.
When I sat down and looked at their schedule before the season started I only figured they would win two or three of their first eight games. But thanks in large part to Darnell Dockett and their top 10 defense, Arizona has found themselves at the top of the NFC West with the San Francisco 49ers.
Offensively, they have yet to find their groove; yet it will only be a matter of time before they do. And if they don't, they are going to have a hard time continuously winning close games. At some point they are going to need either John Skelton or Kevin Kolb to drive them down the field and win a tight one for them.
Sure, Kolb did it for them in Week 1 against Seattle, but can he do it consistently? That's the real question. I have no problem admitting that I was wrong about this team heading into the season; however, I can't say I was the only one.
This week the Cardinals' road doesn't get any easier as Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles make an appearance at University of Phoenix Stadium. Arizona and Philadelphia are two of the six 2-0 teams remaining.
When the Cardinals Are on Offense
Neither the run nor pass game has been able to get things going through the first two weeks of the season.
Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells have found it to be tough sledding behind their patch-work offensive line, as they've only combined for 80 yards on 38 carries. Carries have been almost equal, with Wells getting the slight edge.
Given the strength of Philadelphia's secondary and pass rush, Arizona is going to have to lean heavily on their run game despite the early struggles. Unfortunately, it won't come as easily as they would like it to considering our friends at Pro Football Focus haven't handed out one positive run game grade to a Cardinals offensive lineman.
The biggest culprits of poor performance have been both offensive guards. When run plays have been run behind Adam Snyder and Daryn Colledge they are only averaging 1.5 yards per carry as a team. On the opposite end of the spectrum, their most successful runs have come off the right end. When running outside of the tight end on the right side they are averaging 4.6 yards a pop.
Last year's 14-point fourth quarter rallied the Cardinals late as they overtook and beat Philadelphia in the final minutes. Skelton to Fitzgerald was a connection that was heard all afternoon long as defensive coordinator Juan Castillo didn't have an answer for No. 11.
Fitz finished the game with seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Easily his biggest individual output of the 2011 season. As a team, Arizona put up a total of 370 yards, which proved to be their fourth-highest total of the season. Only in two other games did they put up more passing yards than the 282 Skelton threw for.
Can Kolb replicate that same kind of success this weekend, or will he fail to get Fitzgerald involved for the third week in a row? Currently, he only has five catches for 67 yards and has been thrown at a measly 13 teams. Compare that to Danny Amendola and Reggie Wayne; they both have over 24 targets a piece.
Pounding the rock and getting the perennial Pro Bowler involved will keep this game close, but if the Cardinals get behind early, look for the Eagles' pass rush to tee off on the former second-round pick.
When the Cardinals Are on Defense
Shutting the door on an up-and-coming Seattle team to open the season looked to be a step in the right direction; yet the complete domination of Tom Brady and the Patriots the following week proved to the national media that Arizona's defense is the real deal.
Don't let last year's numbers fool you. Yardage-wise, Ray Horton's defense may have only been 18th overall, but if you look at the last eight games of the season you will see that they belonged in the top 10. Over the final eight games of the season they gave up an average of 321.5 yards per game, which would have made them No. 8 overall.
And without a doubt Horton's unit has picked up right where they left off at the end of last season. Right now they are only allowing 320.5 yards per game and have one of the top third-down defenses in all of football.
PFF has their defense in the top 10 in run defense and pass coverage. Overall, they have graded out as the 11th-best defense on the site.
They only trail the Chargers for the 10th spot, and if they want to really jump up the rankings, they need to clean up some of their penalty issues. The 21 defensive penalties leads the NFL. The New York Giants have that same number except they've played three games not two.
Cutting back on the penalties will be the first order of business, but game-planning for and attacking Michael Vick will prove to be the most effective method. They should go back and make a carbon copy of their attack from last year. Vick was sacked twice, he threw two interceptions and finished with a quarterback rating of 32.5.
Arizona's defense held Philadelphia to 289 yards of total offense and 60 offensive plays. Dockett, Adrian Wilson and Calais Campbell were the dominate forces that drove home the victory. No. 90 worked over right guard Danny Watkins all day long, Wilson was flying around the field everywhere in coverage and Campbell even managed to pick a pass off while controlling the line of scrimmage.
By game's end Vick was hurried a total of 19 times. When under pressure he was 6-of-15 for 50 yards, and the two interceptions actually came when No. 7 wasn't pressured at all. Arizona dropped seven and sometimes eight in coverage and it proved to be effective. When the Cardinals did this he barely completed 50 percent of his passes.
Even though many are still non-believers when it comes to picking the Cards, they have a very good chance to stay at the top of the NFC West. If they keep Vick guessing and don't allow Philadelphia's wideouts to get behind the secondary, it should end up being back-to-back wins in consecutive years.
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