5 Key Matchups to Watch in the Eagles-Cardinals Game
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles turned in one of their more embarrassing performances of the season against the Arizona Cardinals, falling by a 21-17 score that helped the Eagles ultimately miss the playoffs.
The Eagles were without Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson and as a result, the entire offense struggled to find its form. This year, the Eagles will have Jackson for Sunday's matchup but they will be without starting counterpart, Jeremy Maclin, who is sidelined with a hip injury.
The Cardinals are also a tougher team than they were last year, as they're entering Sunday's contest at 2-0 and coming off a shocking upset of the New England Patriots. The game won't likely come down to just one player's performance, but here are five matchups that could make or break the game.
DeSean Jackson vs. Patrick Peterson
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This season, DeSean Jackson seems to be playing like the rejuvenated wide receiver the Philadelphia Eagles thought he could be when they inked him to a five-year, $51 million contract extension this past offseason that will keep him in Philly at least through the 2016 season.
Jackson has the speed to beat any cornerback in the NFL, but he will see another extremely difficult test when he lines up against the Arizona Cardinals' Patrick Peterson. That makes three very tough corners for Jackson in three weeks, as he saw Cleveland's Joe Haden in week one and Baltimore's Lardarius Webb in week two.
Jackson will absolutely need to have a good game with Jeremy Maclin out and Damaris Johnson likely to see extended action in Maclin's spot on the outside of the field. Jackson missed last year's matchup against the Cardinals, but he did fare well the first time he played the Cardinals back in 2008—catching six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in the regular season and then six more for 92 yards and a huge go-ahead fourth-quarter touchdown in the NFC Championship loss.
Whoever wins this battle will have bragging rights for a long time because they're both top-notch players at their respective positions.
Nnamdi Asomugha vs. Larry Fitzgerald
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I would be fine with the Philadelphia Eagles putting Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against Larry Fitzgerald—instead of Nnamdi Asomugha. DRC is bigger, more physical, faster, and he's covered Fitzgerald for three years in team practices, back when DRC was a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
But the team will likely pit Asomugha against Fitzgerald, and when you give a cornerback $60 million, as the Eagles gave Asomugha before 2011, it's for games like this.
To say Fitzgerald has torched the Eagles in the four games he's played against them would be an understatement: He is averaging 146 receiving yards and two touchdowns per contest, and no Eagles fan will ever forget his absurd three-touchdown first half in the '08 NFC Championship Game.
Last year, rookie Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo inexplicably decided to put safety Jaiquawn Jarrett on Fitzgerald for some of the game's most critical plays, and the end result was that picture you see above. This year, the Eagles need a big performance out of Asomugha.
Dallas Reynolds vs. Arizona Cardinals Defensive Line
The Arizona Cardinals run a 3-4 defense, so Philadelphia Eagles center Dallas Reynolds—starting his first-ever NFL game—could see action against all of Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, and Dan Williams at some point in the contest.
Williams is a former first round pick who hasn't amounted to the player the Cardinals thought he would be, but Dockett and Campbell collectively are among the six to seven best 3-4 defensive linemen in the game. Dockett leads all defensive tackles in sacks since 2007, but Campbell may even be better at this point in both their careers.
Reynolds—filling in for the injured Jason Kelce—played very well in his first taste of NFL action last week against the Baltimore Ravens. But he will see another difficult task this week, and considering Michael Vick broke his ribs on a hit against the Cardinals last year, the play of Reynolds will be very important.
Eagles Defensive Coaches vs. Kevin Kolb
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Last year when the Philadelphia Eagles played Kevin Kolb's Arizona Cardinals, John Skelton started at quarterback for the Cardinals because Kolb was injured.
But tomorrow Andy Reid and the Eagles will go up against the quarterback they drafted as the hopeful successor to Donovan McNabb back in the 2007 NFL draft. Defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, defensive line coach Jim Washburn, and defensive backs coach Todd Bowles weren't at their current positions with the Eagles back when Kolb was on the Eagles (Castillo was on the team but he was coaching the other side of the football), but I'm sure they've talked enough with the other coaches on the Eagles and watched enough game film to learn Kolb's tendencies as a quarterback.
Kolb won't be asked to gun the ball all game against a tough Eagles defense; he'll be asked to manage a conservative yet effective offense that moves the chains without turning the football over. He will be facing a brutally tough defensive line behind his team's patchwork offensive line, and the secondary of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is very intimidating.
Bobby April vs. Patrick Peterson
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Last year when Patrick Peterson faced the Philadelphia Eagles, he was in the midst of his record-breaking season as a punt returner, one that earned him an invite to the NFC Pro Bowl squad as a rookie.
The Eagles and special teams coordinator, Bobby April, managed to hold Peterson to just 27 yards on six punt returns, a paltry 4.5 yards per average, and he didn't break any return longer than 10 yards.
Again, the Eagles will have to minimize the damage Peterson does from the punt returning position, where his breakaway speed and elusiveness make him a threat to score every single time he settles back to field a punt.