Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Breaking Down Philly's Game Plan

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Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles: Breaking Down Philly's Game Plan
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Someday, Nick Foles will have time to sit back and appreciate the unbelievable week when he was named starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and NFC Offensive Player of the Month.

Right now, the 24-year-old is undoubtedly too preoccupied with preparing for his stiffest test of 2013 in the Arizona Cardinals.

Foles won’t get away with simply being part of the supporting cast this Sunday either. Arizona’s defense is uniquely constructed to match up with the Eagles’ two most explosive playmakers, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson.

McCoy enters Week 13 as the NFL’s leading rusher, averaging 91.7 yards per game, but Arizona’s second-ranked run defense has only allowed one back to top that figure all season long. Most fall well short.

Jackson is entrenched in the leaderboards as well, including most receptions of over 20 yards with 19, which will likely draw the attention of arguably the league’s best cover cornerback, Patrick Peterson.

By the way, Philadelphia’s record is 1-4 this season when Jackson fails to score a touchdown.

Obviously, McCoy and Jackson are always going to be fixtures in the game plan. The Cardinals are one of the few teams that can take away both, however, which means somebody else may need to step up and provide Foles with some firepower.

 

Involve the Tight Ends in the Passing Attack

Fortunately, the Cardinals do have at least one glaring weakness on defense: They are notoriously awful against tight ends. Arizona concedes an average of 6.4 receptions for 85.9 yards and 1.0 touchdown per game this season to players listed at tight end.

That being said, the Eagles haven’t utilized their tight ends in the passing game all that much under first-year head coach Chip Kelly.

Despite investing a second-round pick in Zach Ertz and signing James Casey to a pricey free-agent deal to join the already serviceable Brent Celek, the Birds are getting just 3.9 receptions for 54.1 yards and 0.4 touchdowns per game out of the unit.

Some of that is simply a result of how Kelly has chosen to employ his personnel. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Paul Domowitch points out that the Eagles dictate defenses based on their formation, and the preference for three wide receivers over two-tight-end sets makes it easier to run the football.

One of the reasons the Eagles have played so much "11" personnel this season is because it usually prompts the defense to switch from their base package to nickel (five defensive backs) so that they'll have a third corner on the field to deal with the Eagles' slot receiver, Jason Avant.

But because they've lifted either a linebacker or defensive lineman for a faster, but much lighter DB, they're more susceptible to the run. The Eagles have taken advantage of that.

The only problem is they may not have much luck pounding the rock against Arizonaeven with an extra defensive back on the field.

Domowitch notes in his story that the Eagles have been getting more tight ends on the field. Now it’s time to set them loose into a prone secondary.

 

Key Matchup: Riley Cooper vs. Jerraud Powers

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The battle that the Eagles offense really needs to win, though, is on the outside.

If Peterson has Jackson on lockdown all day, Riley Cooper should reap the benefits of his matchup. Coop will likely be working against Jerraud Powers, which just looks like a mismatch. Powers is 5’10”, Cooper is 6’3”.

Powers is an adequate cornerback, but that’s all. He’s an okay tackler, a willing run defender and he won’t get embarrassed in coverage. The fifth-year corner isn’t anything special, though, so Cooper should be able to get some separation.

We’ve seen the Foles-to-Cooper connection reap some huge numbers this season, but we’ve seen other weeks when it’s gone quiet and not made so much as a peep.

Cooper will be in a position to succeed versus Powers and his production could be vital on Sunday.

If the Eagles don’t get solid production from their complementary receivers, this is going to be a very difficult game to come away from victorious.

A loss to a fellow wild-card contender—one that’s already in front at that—and Philly can kiss that road to the playoffs goodbye. It wouldn’t make life any easier in the NFC East either.

It might be a bad sign as far as Foles’ ceiling is concerned too. The 24-year-old signal-caller has done tremendous work this season thus far, but if he wants to hold on to his new job, Foles will have to find a way to keep the offense moving even when his two co-stars are limited.

 

Arizona Offense vs. Philadelphia Defense

Occasionally, there are certain aspects of the game the defense can’t fully control.

Take a wide receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, for example. The Eagles could have perfect double coverage on the future Hall of Famer and he still might find a way to go up above the defenders and make a circus catch for a long touchdown.

Philadelphia defensive coordinator Bill Davis knows all too well what Fitz can do. Davis was the linebackers coach and later the defensive coordinator during a four-year stint in Arizona, and speaking with the media on Wednesday (h/t PhiladelphiaEagles.com), he touched on the seven-time Pro Bowler’s incredible ability to reel in the football.

The insight is he's probably the best receiver in the league. I've got nothing but respect for him. He does a great job at the ball. He's one of the strongest reach out and snatch the ball guys that are out there. And he's got such a drive to succeed and catch the football every time.

With second-year player Michael Floyd emerging as a dangerous No. 2 (49 catches, 761 yards, 3 TDs), the Eagles can’t exactly throw the kitchen sink at Fitzgerald. And it might not matter if they did. That’s not how you stop him anyway.

The best way to shut down Fitz is to stop him at the source—the quarterback.

Carson Palmer has been carving up defenses like a Thanksgiving turkey over the Cardinals’ current four-game winning streak, posting a passer rating of 110.8. It’s possibly the best run the 10-year veteran has experienced under center since 2007.

Carson Palmer's Last Four Games
Opp. CMP% YDS AVG TD INT
Wk. 8 vs. ATL 72.2 172 9.6 2 1
Wk. 10 vs. HOU 62.5 241 7.5 2 1
Wk. 11 @ JAC 71.4 419 10.0 2 0
Wk. 12 v. IND 70.3 314 8.5 2 0

NFL.com

He’s got the hot hand right now, but the pass rush can get to Palmer. He’s immobile and stuck behind a porous offensive line.

According to Pro Football Focus’ signature stats (subscription required), the 33-year-old has been pressured on an astounding 41.7 percent of his dropbacks—or roughly two in every five snaps—this season. When rushed, his completion rate dips from its season mark of 63.3 percent to 47.9.

That’s pretty amazing when you consider Palmer has one of the shortest drops in the league. Only three passers are getting the ball out of their hands faster this season.

All of those fancy numbers mean two things. First, it’s crucial that cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher win at the line of scrimmage and the first few seconds of the route. If they do, there’s a good chance the play won’t last much longer.

Second, rather than try to cast a wide net over Fitzgerald’s movements, Davis should throw more bodies at Palmer.

Palmer’s been sacked 30 times this season, which is seventh-most in the NFL. Only Matt Ryan has been hurried on more dropbacks according to PFF. If the Eagles’ front seven can make the quarterback uncomfortable, that should prevent the wide receivers from having a huge impact.

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