7 Keys to Victory in Philadelphia Eagles' Week 5 Matchup
Philadelphia comes into this one on the heels of two impressive victories, but the Cardinals will be riding high after a thrilling overtime victory over San Francisco.
Arizona is still trying to figure out how to replace David Johnson, but it's beginning to find a winning formula behind defense and the ageless Carson Palmer.
It may only be Week 5, but it's not far-fetched to draw the conclusion this matchup could have playoff implications in the NFC.
At 3-1 with two divisional victories, the Eagles have proved they're in the thick of the NFC East mix. On the other end, Arizona looks to be in a serious NFC West logjam, and at 2-2 a big road win in Philly could give them some much-needed momentum going into the middle of the season.
The Eagles have been efficient in almost every category as they've built their divisional lead, but that will need to continue against a Cardinals squad without many holes.
Let's take a look at what needs to be done to get the home win.
Pass Rush's Return to Form
The Eagles' front four began the season on a mission to prove they're the best unit on the team, and they did just that through the first two games.
In the two outings that have followed, though, it's been a different story.
Philly notched eight sacks through Week 2, before failing to sack Eli Manning in Week 3 and getting to Philip Rivers twice last week. Even amid defeat, the Giants put on tape the perfect way to stymie the Eagles' pass rush: Get the ball out lightning quick and rely on short passing as a faux run game.
Rivers had success with a similar blueprint, throwing for 347 yards while the run game amassed just 58. The Week 5 matchup with Palmer and a deep Cardinals receiving corps means the Eagles can expect more of the same from a pass-happy offense.
Although Palmer will be trying to get the ball out quick, the Eagles should be able to get to him plenty if coverage is decent. The Cardinals have given up 17 sacks through four games, the worst rate in the league.
CBs Keeping Cardinals' Weapons in Front of Them
The Eagles secondary is facing something of a double-edged sword in the form of the critiques they have received the last two games.
Against the Giants, Philly's cornerbacks were criticized for giving the cushion that allowed Manning to get the ball out quick and avoid pressure. In Los Angeles, the Eagles were more clinical with press coverage but got burned for two deep balls in excess of 50 yards.
In a perfect world, the secondary would excel at both. But the Eagles' secondary is far from perfect. Injuries have ravaged the unit, pushing Week 1 healthy scratches into starring roles, which hasn't gone as poorly as one might imagine.
Considering what they have been tasked with, the unit of Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas and Patrick Robinson have done pretty well. But dealing with a receiving unit that goes deep, both literally and figuratively, will be as big a challenge as they've faced all season.
Larry Fitzgerald, Jaron Brown and John Brown have all been hitting their strides over recent weeks with Palmer returning to his 2015 form. Production from at least one or two of them is inevitable, but limiting any big splash plays would be considered a huge win for the secondary.
Keep Pounding the Rock
It's common sense that a reliable run game will elevate a team's chances considerably, but the resurgence of the Eagles' rushing attack has truly redefined their 2017 aspirations.
An Eagles run game that didn't really exist through two games has been a machine over the last 120 minutes of play, racking up over 400 yards on the ground in that span.
The by-committee approach has been a dream in that span, with LeGarrette Blount rumbling his way for 136 yards last week and Wendell Smallwood offering a huge change of pace in Darren Sproles' absence. Corey Clement has been a revelation in short-yardage situations to keep Blount fresh.
Philly's run proficiency allowed it to hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes against the Chargers, which proved critical once the secondary started getting gashed on the other side. The Eagles need to replicate that against the Cardinals, keeping Palmer and their dangerous passing attack off the field as much as possible.
Arizona has proved pretty stout against the run so far, ranking sixth in yards per attempt, so scampering for 200 yards again isn't realistic. But it will be a critical advantage if they can gain enough on the ground to keep a lead in time of possession.
Utilize Depth at Wideout
While serviceable, No. 1 Eagles wideout Alshon Jeffery hasn't exactly been a world-beater through a quarter of the season.
He'll likely be shadowed by one of the NFL's premier corners in Patrick Peterson on Sunday, so nobody should expect big production from Jeffery in Week 5.
The Eagles focused this offseason on deepening their receiving corps, but nobody outside of Nelson Agholor has played up to expectation. That will need to change in Sunday's game for the offense to continue rolling.
As mentioned in the previous slide, the Cardinals have proved stout against the run. The Eagles shouldn't expect another dominating day on the ground. With the No. 1 receiver likely to be locked up, Torrey Smith will need to shake out of his funk and Agholor has to continue to prove reliable.
Only three Eagles wide receivers were targeted against both the Chargers and Giants. The pass offense works in backs and tight ends by design, but Philly needs more from its wideouts considering they combined for less than 100 receiving yards in Los Angeles.
With Smith struggling, it would be wise to incorporate Mack Hollins a little more. The rookie dazzled in preseason but only has three catches so far in the regular season, all of which came in a loss to Kansas City.
Continue to Win the Turnover Battle
The Eagles are 2-0 over the last two games and notched a positive turnover differential in both. Shocking coincidence, I know.
As cliched as it is, the Eagles have proved reliant on taking care of the ball as a means to win games. A costly pick-six in Week 1 allowed the Redskins back into a contest that Philly was pulling away in, and four combined turnovers in the opening two games signified the continuance of a trend that began in 2016.
However, after Wentz's 14 interceptions and three lost fumbles in 2016, things have been better thus far in his sophomore campaign. The Eagles played turnover-free last weekend in a game that one costly turnover would have likely resulted in defeat.
Numbers indicate the Eagles have an advantage in ball security going into this one, as the Cardinals boast a minus-three turnover differential and Philly is plus-two.
An interception or fumble at the wrong time would put pressure on a banged-up Eagles defense, which will already have its hands full dealing with Palmer and crew.
Put Special Teams Advantage on Display
Special teams are rarely delved into in game previews, but they often become a deciding factor. At least on paper, the Eagles have about as big a special teams advantage as one could imagine going into Sunday.
The Cardinals' special teams have been pretty ghastly since head coach Bruce Arians came to town, and they have ranked 30th in each of the last two seasons, according to Football Outsiders.
Most Eagles fans know about the advantage their special teams have given them since coach Dave Fipp took control of the unit, as Football Outsiders ranked them first in the league in two of the last three seasons.
Arizona got to overtime last week on nothing but field goals, but kicker Phil Dawson has been far from reliable in 2017. He's missed two field goals below 40 yards already this season, which should be an automatic range for a NFL kicker.
Meanwhile, kicking has been a pleasant surprise for Philly even after losing Caleb Sturgis to injury in Week 1. Rookie Jake Elliott played the role of hero with a 61-yard game-winner in Week 3, following that performance with a 4-for-4 outing and a 53-yarder in Week 4.
Philadelphia doesn't have Darren Sproles to rely upon in the return game any longer, but that shouldn't prevent the Eagles from flexing their special teams muscle whenever they can.
Defensively, Save the Best for Last
Simply put, the Eagles defense has fallen apart down the stretch this season. If they had faced better competition over the last two outings, it's safe to say they would probably be sitting on a 1-3 record instead of 3-1.
Philly has given up 52 fourth-quarter points through four games, the highest mark in the NFL. Despite coming into Sunday on a win streak, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has been left to answer for his defense's late struggles, per CSNPhilly.com's Reuben Frank:
"We were in the exact opposite position last year. Last year, we were struggling a little bit in the first half and second half we were pitching shutouts. I think there's a lot of layers to everything that goes on on the football field. Fifty-two points in any quarter is too many. Whether it's the first or the fourth, we've got to do a better job of keeping points off the board."
Schwartz later concluded it's not about fatigue, but regardless of what the crux of the issue is, it needs to be remedied. The Eagles are dealing with a lot of injuries on defense but that can't be an excuse when depth players are supposed to be relied upon for 60 minutes if the need is there.
The Eagles are lucky their offense has been clicking enough to nullify their fourth-quarter implosions on defense. When they go up against the Cardinals, it won't be as easy to churn out game-sealing drives on the offensive side of the ball, and the defense will have to be ready to win the game on their end.