Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals: Complete Week 8 Preview for Arizona

Shaun Church@@NFLChurchContributor IOctober 24, 2014

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals: Complete Week 8 Preview for Arizona

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    When the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, it will be the third time these two teams have met at Arizona’s new digs.

    Arizona won the previous two games.

    The first was the 2008 NFC Championship Game that was won when quarterback Kurt Warner hit running back Tim Hightower for an 8-yard score with three minutes left in regulation; the second came during the 2012 regular season and was never really in question as the Cardinals won going away, 27-6.

    This season, the Cardinals (5-1) host the Eagles (5-1) with big things at stake for both squads. A win on Sunday would help Arizona keep—and possibly extend—the lead it has in the NFC West; an Eagles victory would keep the pressure on the NFC East-rival Dallas Cowboys (6-1), who hold a half-game lead over Philadelphia going into play this weekend.

    It’s a premier matchup featuring two very good teams in the comfort of home, where the Cardinals are 9-2 under head coach Bruce Arians—3-0 this season. Here is your in-depth preview of the Cardinals as they face the Eagles.

Cardinals’ Week 7 Review

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    Arians called the win at Oakland the best game the defense has had mentally, according to ArizonaSports.com. He was displeased with the offense’s performance, however:

    Defensively, this was our best game as far as mental errors, but offensively we still continue to run a route short, line up wrong, do some things that are uncalled for. We need to sharpen ourselves up offensively. We had a sack because of miscommunication on who the ‘Mike’ linebacker was. Little things like that are hurting us offensively.

    Any win is a good win in the NFL. Win-loss records do not always indicate the talent level of the team on the other side of the ball, and that’s the case with the Raiders.

    They’re the only NFL team still without a win in 2014, but they appear on the verge of putting it together. Does that mean they’ll win their final 10 games and get into the playoffs? Absolutely not.

    But the Raiders are not the worst team in the NFL, despite what injured defensive tackle Darnell Dockett thinks. That was hilarious, by the way:

    .@ddockett finishes a game long conversation with Raiders fans. #AZvsOAK pic.twitter.com/TqLiHElNjT

    — Darren Urban (@Cardschatter) October 19, 2014

    The offense, mental errors and all, put up big numbers in the run game against Oakland. Running back Andre Ellington led the way with 88 yards on the ground and 160 yards from scrimmage, while backup Stepfan Taylor had a career day, netting two total touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) and a career-high 40 yards rushing.

    Palmer was efficient for the most part, completing 22 of 31 passes (70.9 percent) for 253 yards, two touchdowns and the team’s first interception of the season for a 103.3 passer rating.

    The sack Arians referred to was the only one surrendered by the offensive line.

News and Notes

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    No. 1 Run Defense Needed Against Philly

    The Cardinals rank No. 1 against the run through Week 7, allowing just 3.15 yards per carry and 72.5 yards per game on the ground. That’s not by accident. Arizona led the NFL last year in run defense, and defensive end Frostee Rucker explained to Kyle Odegard of AZCardinals.com the coaching aspect of turning a poor run-stopping defense into the league’s premier unit:

    [Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles] were very direct in what we wanted to do. They had a plan. I think we were dead last against the run before [they arrived], and that had to stop. People had excuses. People thought their wrongs were right before. Bruce and coach Bowles have done a great job finding that “It” in what we need to do. If it’s this or that, they found what we needed to do and they harped on it. And it’s been working for us.

    It indeed has worked for the Cardinals. And they’ll need “It” against LeSean McCoy and Co. on Sunday. More on that to come.

    Palmer at "Full-Tilt" during Practice

    Bob McManaman of AZCentral.com reported Wednesday that Arians said quarterback Carson Palmer is at “full-tilt” at practice, meaning he’s throwing much more than he had in the past five weeks and is even able to work out as he usually does:

    I’m actually able to lift with my upper body, which I wasn’t able to lift for five weeks or whatever it was. I definitely had a lot of atrophy, so I’m starting to get some strength back and put a little extra weight up top, which is good.

    You get sick of going into the weight room and not being able to do things. There was a month of that and it’s good to be able to get back in there and do something.

    Getting the strength back in his upper body means we probably won’t see the uncharacteristically inaccurate throws down the stretch from Palmer we’ve seen over the past two weeks. It’s the reason he threw his first interception of the season during the Week 7 victory over his former team, the Raiders.

    He threw wildly to tight end John Carlson, who was running a dig route over the middle. Veteran defensive back Charles Woodson made easy work of the errant pass, recording his 58th career interception.

    Cardinals Spreading the Wealth

    The Cardinals do not have a wide receiver anywhere near the top of any receiving lists this season, save for Michael Floyd ranking fourth in the league with his 18.6 yards-per-catch average. That’s not because of poor quarterback play, however. It’s the exact opposite, actually. Palmer explained the passing-game philosophy the team brings every Sunday, according to Adam Green of ArizonaSports.com:

    I’ve been in offenses where the majority of the plays are designed to go to one guy. This is not the case [here in Arizona]. This system is not designed to go to the X or the Z or the Y. It depends on the coverage. If they’re going to take this away, here’s our answer for that. …

    It’s definitely easier when you have one guy [on a team who gets] 60-70 percent of the balls to key on him and double him and not worry about anybody else. But in this system, you’ve got running backs who can catch it and go the distance; you have receivers that can do that, tight ends who can do that, so there are a lot of guys you have to cover.

    Spreading the wealth has helped Palmer complete 66.1 percent of his passes in three games this season.

    The only area he can afford to improve upon is spreading that wealth in the red zone. Of 31 red-zone targets this season, Ellington and Larry Fitzgerald have 14 of them (45.2 percent). Michael Floyd and rookie John Brown have a combined eight (25.8 percent), and six other players have a total of nine (29.0 percent).

    Tight ends have three of the 31 targets (9.7 percent), which is where I believe the problem is with the red-zone offense. Entering play in Week 8, the Cardinals rank 31st in red-zone scoring at just 41.2 percent. (Incidentally, only the Eagles—at 38.1 percent—are worse.)

    Arizona’s tight ends are big. Rob Housler and John Carlson are the smallest of the bunch, each coming in at 6’5” and 250 pounds. What’s crazy? Carlson, the starter at tight end all year, has been targeted once in the red zone, and that was a pass behind the line of scrimmage that went for a loss. He hasn’t even had the ball thrown to him in the end zone yet.

    If the Cardinals want a more successful red-zone offense, then Palmer better start getting the ball to his tight ends down there. You cannot waste that size and expect to be successful in the red zone.

Birdgang Boo-Boo Brigade

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images
    PlayerPositionInjuryWednesdayThursdayFridayGame Day
    John BrownWRAnkleLPLP--
    Calais CampbellDEKneeDNPLP--
    Andre EllingtonRBFootLPLP--
    Rashad JohnsonFSKneeLPLP--
    Troy Niklas TEAnkleDNPDNP--
    Frostee Rucker DECalfFPFP--

    All injury statuses gathered from AZCardinals.com.

X-Factors and Matchups to Watch

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    Norm Hall/Getty Images

    Front Seven vs. LeSean McCoy

    This guy is shifty. He’s made a living in the NFL making people miss before they can get their hands on him. Everyone knows that, but if any defense can stop him, it’s Bowles’ defense.

    In Philly’s only loss this season (at the San Francisco 49ers), McCoy was virtually eliminated from the Eagles’ offensive game plan. He carried 10 times for 17 yards (1.7 yards per carry) and was not targeted in the passing game.

    Head coach Chip Kelly will test Bowles’ defense early by featuring McCoy heavily on the first couple of drives. If it goes well for the Eagles, it could be a long day for the Cardinals. Setting the tone defensively means keying on McCoy and shutting him down before he can get going.

    Fitz and Floyd vs. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher

    Among starting cornerback duos in the NFL, Williams and Fletcher are the third-most targeted, with a combined 96 passes going their way, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). They have allowed three touchdowns each, and neither has picked off a pass.

    Over their respective careers, Williams and Fletcher have faced Fitzgerald and Floyd only a few times, and these are the results:

    • Fitzgerald has been targeted three times with Williams in coverage and has caught one pass for two yards; he’s had Fletcher in coverage four times and has caught two passes for 16 yards—Fletcher picked off Max “Moxie” Hall in 2010.
    • Floyd has been targeted twice with Williams covering him, hauling in one pass for 16 yards; Fletcher has had Floyd in coverage on five targets with the receiver catching two of them for 44 yards.

    Given these players have seen each other a few times before, it will be interesting to see who emerges on top this time around. To this point, the cornerbacks have outperformed the receivers.

    Cardinals’ X-Factor to Watch: Jerraud Powers

    Powers leads the team with three interceptions this season. That does not tell the entire story, because he has allowed a lot of receptions too. This week, his assignment is to cover outstanding rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews. This is a scary proposition for Powers, who struggles against speed.

    Not only is Matthews fast—he clocked a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine—but he is big as well. He stands 6’3” and weighs 212 pounds. He is essentially Michael Floyd as a rookie but a bit lighter and with better short-area quickness.

    If McCoy gets the Eagles’ ground attack going early, it will be tough for the secondary around Powers to help with Matthews. This matchup should worry everyone reading this.

Prediction

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Cardinals do not allow big gains in the run game this season. They just don’t do it. They have the shortest rushing play allowed, at just 20 yards. Then there are these rushing stats.

    Arizona’s defense has allowed the:

    • Fewest gains of five-plus yards (35)
    • Third-fewest gains of 10-plus yards (12)
    • Third-fewest gains of 15-plus yards (4)
    • Fewest gains of 20-plus yards (1)

    To be successful against the run means the Eagles would have to be one-dimensional, which is an instant advantage for the Cardinals. Expect that.

    But you should also expect Matthews to have some success. He could end up with a career day working against Powers in the slot.

    To date, Matthews’ best game came in a win over Washington, when he recorded eight receptions for 59 yards and his only two touchdowns this season. He may not haul in multiple touchdowns on Sunday, but expect anywhere from six to 10 receptions for a boatload of yards (yes, “boatload” is an official yardage prediction).

    When the Cardinals are on offense, you should expect a heavy dose of Ellington. After a career-high 30 touches last week and 55 over the past two weeks combined, he was without a walking boot at Wednesday's practice. Considering his foot issue is a lingering one, that’s a great sign given his workload of late.

    Bruce Arians says Andre Ellington is not in a walking boot, "which is a nice thing for a Wednesday."

    — Adam Green (@theAdamGreen) October 22, 2014

    When it comes right down to it, this game will hinge on the quarterbacks making plays when their teams need them to. And just like in three previous games this season, Palmer will be the quarterback making those plays, while Bowles’ defense will do just enough to halt Nick Foles—who has more than tripled his interception total from last year in 80 fewer attempts—down the stretch.

    Prediction: Cardinals 23, Eagles 21

    All stats gathered from Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.

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