Eagles vs. Cardinals: 10 Keys for a Philadelphia Win

Randy JobstSenior Analyst ISeptember 21, 2012

Eagles vs. Cardinals: 10 Keys for a Philadelphia Win

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    The Kevin Kolb reunion commences on Sunday afternoon as his Arizona Cardinals host his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Kolb has had a miserable time since being traded to the Cardinals for Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round pick. Kolb needed an injury to current starter, John Skelton, in order to earn a starting role this season.

    Kolb took over for an injured Skelton during the second half of the first game against the Seattle Seahawks. He led his Cardinals to a narrow victory, only to do the same thing the following week against the Patriots.  

    Since Donovan McNabb was traded to the Redskins and Kevin Kolb was named the full-time starter for the Eagles in 2010, nothing has gone right for Kolb. It’s good to see him having some success, even though he has been more of a game manager than anything else.

    This will be a tough matchup for the Eagles. Arizona has a fierce defense and a special teams unit that made big play after big play last season. It’s never easy for an East-Coast team to win on the road against a West-Coast team. This game will answer a lot of questions for both teams. Is Arizona a legitimate contender in the NFC West? Can the Eagles actually limit their turnovers for once?

    Here are 10 keys for a Eagles victory on Sunday.

1. Limit the Turnovers

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    The Eagles are 2-0 despite turning the ball over nine times. Nine! Everyone knows that turnovers are usually the difference in any game. Turnovers either end a potential scoring drive or create a very short field for the opposition.

    Part of the reason the Eagles have won two games while turning the ball over nine times is because of the defense forcing six of its own. The fact that they have nine turnovers doesn’t seem quite as bad when the differential is only minus three.

    The Eagles' offense is explosive with playmakers everywhere. They can score a lot of points in a hurry and are built to overcome a slew of turnovers and still win a lot of games. Their defense is also pretty stout. They can prevent the opposing offense from taking advantage of all the turnovers.

    Arizona is the polar opposite of the Eagles in this regard. Its offense is not built to overcome too many turnovers. The Cardinals are a very good defense with an average offense.

    Actually, that is putting it lightly as the Cardinals are the 30th-ranked offense right now. Outside of Larry Fitzgerald there isn’t a lot of fire power. They won’t score 21 points in half a quarter without turnovers and special teams plays.

    The Eagles don’t have to be perfect in the turnover department and they don’t even have to win the turnover differential. They just can’t give Arizona easy points off the turnovers.

2. Run the Ball!

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    It’s important for the Eagles' offense to be balanced. It’s important for any offense. It keeps the quarterback off the turf, it forces the safeties to play closer to the line and allows the play-action pass to be a real weapon. Being a one-dimensional offense makes no sense. You want to be as balanced as possible.

    In Week 1 against the Browns, the Eagles had 56 passes and 30 runs. In Week 2 against the Ravens the Eagles passed 32 times and ran 41.

    Not all the runs were designed runs. That is what happens when Michael Vick is your quarterback. You saw a lot more balance in Week 2 and you saw a better played game by the Eagles' offense.

    The Cardinals may not be a great offense, but they have been terrific on defense so far this season. Balance will be key for the Eagles' offense on Sunday. They will need a consistent run game to keep that Cardinals' offense from playing too aggressive and focusing too much on their pass rush.

3. Demetress Bell

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    Demetress Bell has gotten off to a horrible start with the Eagles. He was signed as a free agent from Buffalo to earn the starting left tackle spot while Jason Peters is out with an Achilles injury. Not only did he not earn the job, he wasn’t even active in Week 1. Week 2 was a different story.

    Bell showed the coaching staff enough to dress for last week’s game against the Ravens. He took over for starting left tackle King Dunlap in the second half after Dunlap went down with a hamstring injury. Bell played well in relief against the Ravens, holding his own against their defensive ends and edge rushers.

    Bell was confident and made the best use of his athletic abilities. We didn’t see that in training camp or preseason. Sometimes in Howard Mudd’s blocking scheme a player will struggle to pick up the scheme early.

    Danny Watkins really struggled last season until about the halfway point of the season. He was more than capable of thriving in this blocking scheme physically, he just needed to get comfortable.

    Bell will have a tall task this week as he will be matched up at times against defensive end Calais Campbell and outside linebackers Sam Acho and O’Brien Schofield.

    It will be interesting to see if the Eagles feel comfortable leaving Bell alone at left tackle or if they give him help with a tight end. The important thing for the Eagles is to recognize who he handles in the 3-4 defense and knowing when to give him help in pass protection.

4. Prevent the Big Play

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    The Eagles can’t give up big plays against a so-so offense. It just makes their job that much easier. Philadelphia has to make those teams drive the length of the football field. Giving up a 40 plus-yard play to an offense that is struggling to move the football gives them a chance to play like a top-10 offense.

    Take last year’s Eagles-Cardinals games as an example. The Eagles were the better team, but a 146-yard, two touchdown performance from Larry Fitzgerald was the difference in the game. Arizona won the game 21-17 and really was the difference between the Eagles making the playoffs and finishing 8-8.

    This is the 30th-ranked offense in the NFL. They average 175 passing yards per game (27th) and 74 rushing yards per game (24th).  Philly has to make the Cardinals beat them with long drives for four quarters. The belief is that Arizona will struggle to finish out its drives and Philadelphia can keep them under 20 points with relative ease.

5. Get After Kevin Kolb

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    The Eagles' pass rush will be key against the Kevin Kolb-led Cardinals. Kolb really struggles against the face of a fierce pass rush.  I believe it is a confidence issue with him. He was awful against the pressure in preseason. He rushed to get the ball out quicker than he needed to and rarely was able to set his feet and deliver a good throw.

    The Cardinals have only given up two sacks during the first two weeks and Kolb has only been the recipient of one. This is pretty shocking for a team that gave up 21 sacks in five preseason games.

    This has been a major key to their success this season. They don’t have a great offensive line and neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb can make good throws under pressure. They weren’t going to get off to a good start without getting better pass protection.

    This is where the Eagles pass rush comes in. They have four sacks through the first two games, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story.

    This front four has been making a living in the opponents’ backfield and took Brandon Weeden and Joe Flacco completely out of their comfort zones. They have to do the same thing this week in Arizona.

    No pass rush means more time for Kevin Kolb to find favorable matchups, especially with Larry Fitzgerald.

6. Protect Michael Vick

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    The Arizona Cardinals upset the Eagles last season because of two reasons. One I already talked about, the big plays by Larry Fitzgerald. The other was the lack of protection Michael Vick received.

    He took a vicious shot early in the game, resulting in two broken ribs. He wasn’t the same player and struggled to complete under 50 percent of his passes while throwing two picks and zero touchdowns.

    The Cardinals have seven sacks through the first two games. They had three against Seattle and four last week against the New England Patriots. They are going to look to get after Vick early and often. That is the game plan for any defense facing Vick. If you can get in some good shots early, you can wear him down later in the game.

    A balanced offense, good play from the offensive line and plenty of protection adjustments should help to keep Vick off the turf.

7. Contain Larry Fitzgerald

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    Larry Fitzgerald has been eerily quiet this season. He has just five catches for 67 yards and zero touchdowns. He picked the wrong week to get back on track.

    The Eagles corners have held all the wide receivers they have faced to just 85 yards in Week 1 and 85 yards in Week 2. They like to press the wide receivers right at the line of scrimmage and really punish their opponent physically for four quarters.

    The Eagles aren’t a heavy-blitzing defense either. They don’t have to be. The Wide-9 scheme they employ with their front four gets plenty of pressure on its own.

    They like to let the linebackers and defensive backs handle all the receivers in man coverage. That means Fitzgerald won’t get very many one-on-one matchups deep. Even if he gets a step on the corner, the safety won’t be very far off.

    Fitzgerald will have to make every catch in traffic and right in the face of a corner and safety. It will be hard to repeat the success he had last season against the Eagles when he racked up 142 yards. He was able to find the hole in the zone and expose strong safety Jaiquawn Jarrett who was filling in for injured Nate Allen.

8. Get DeSean Jackson the Ball Early and Often

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    The DeSean Jackson who stayed away from any physical contact last season is gone. That is what a multi-million dollar contract will do for a 175-pound NFL receiver. He knows he will be taken care of financially regardless of what happens on the football field. Now he just wants to prove he is an elite NFL wideout.

    Jackson has 11 receptions for 191 yards this season. A big chunk of those catches have come over the middle. He is one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL right now, if not the fastest.

    Defenses can contain that speed pretty easily if they keep their safeties back, unless Jackson makes plays on shorter and intermediate routes over the middle of the field. Defenses really have no answer other than to try and jar the ball loose after he catches it.

    With Jeremy Maclin banged up with a hip pointer, Jackson has had to step up. Without his production, the Eagles might be sitting at 0-2 right now. Thankfully for this offense they have gotten plenty of production and are second in the league in passing yards per game and first overall in total yards per game.

9. Get Brent Celek the Ball over the Middle

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    Brent Celek is on fire right now. He has 12 receptions for 222 yards through the first two weeks. He also hurdled Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed like he was a foot stool. The Eagles have to ride this hot streak out for as long as they can.

    Celek is going to be a very important player for this offense going forward. He is their best possession receiver and will be the go-to guy on critical third-and-long situations. The Eagles need that type of player this season. Their red zone offense has struggled in the past under Andy Reid and third downs have gotten the best of them lately.

    The Eagles have converted 15 of their 34 third downs this season along with both of their fourth down attempts as well. This offense has become more efficient in all phases. They aren’t just a big-play offense anymore. They have become a clutch offense as well, which is evident by their two one-point wins this season.

10. Don't Lose the Game on Special Teams

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    The Arizona Cardinals won a handful of games last season because of late special teams touchdowns by Patrick Peterson. The defense kept them in the game while the offense couldn’t move the football. That is when Peterson took over and had clutch punt return after clutch punt return. This could come into play on Sunday.

    The Cardinals don’t have any returns for touchdowns this season. The Eagles haven’t given up any return touchdowns just yet this season, but they have given up an average of 12.4 yards on punts and 28.3 yards on kickoffs. Those numbers don’t exactly scream Bobby April, who is regarded as one of the best special teams coaches in the business.

    Special teams could decide this game if it is as close as I think it will be. Both defenses are elite and will probably cancel each other out. If the Eagles offense struggles, this will be a really tight game. A big special teams play at some point could decide this one.