Behind Enemy Lines: Philadelphia Eagles prepare to host Cardinals
It’s been a long time since the Arizona Cardinals sported a record above .500.
They’ll try once again to climb over that hurdle Sunday when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles have won two straight, including a 26-24 “road” win in Los Angeles against the Chargers. Carson Wentz threw for a touchdown, Wendell Smallwood scored on a touchdown run and rookie Jake Elliott booted four field goals for the Eagles in the game, which was attended by thousands of Philly fans in the 27,000-seat Stub Hub Center in Carson, Calif.
All week long, we’ll take you to Philadelphia to give you an inside look at what’s happening with the Eagles as they prepare to host the Arizona Cardinals (2-2).
It’s Behind Enemy Lines…
Saturday, Oct. 7
The Eagles’ official injury report says Wendell Smallwood is questionable to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals with a knee injury, but other evidence points to a bleaker status.
And if Smallwood remains sidelined, the Birds (3-1) would have to replace a second-year running back who fills a variety of important roles for the team.
Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery played all 16 games of a season just twice during his first five years in the NFL, all with the Chicago Bears, and both times he topped the 1,100-yard mark.
Jeffery’s supporters flaunted that stat this offseason when Philly signed the 6-foot-3 receiver to a one-year deal worth up to $14 million. If he can stay healthy and avoid another suspension, many analysts and fans said, he’ll be in line for a stellar season as the explosive outside presence the Eagles have lacked for several years.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz stands roughly the same height as his counterpart this week. He has a similar haircut and shares a first name with the Cardinals’ Carson Palmer, too.
One difference, though? Palmer, 37, has about 13 years on Wentz and began his NFL career when the Eagles’ signal-caller was just starting middle school in North Dakota, long before legitimate professional aspirations began to materialize or a life as one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable faces seemed possible.
Depending on how the season plays out, Sunday’s trip to Lincoln Financial Field could be the final trip to Philadelphia for Larry Fitzgerald, a future Hall of Famer. Fitzgerald’s path to the NFL went through Valley Forge Military Academy which is only about a 30-minute drive away.
Thanks to their 3-1 record, the Eagles are now viewed as one of the top teams in the NFL. This isn’t uncharted territory for this squad, however. They started last season 3-0 and finished with a 7-9 record.
• Eagles, 3-1 again, say they’re different this time (Philly.com)
Brent Celek has been down this NFL road before. He has had to navigate a few on the opposite side, as well. In fact, the tight end has nearly seen it all in his 11 seasons.
Peer back through the swirling mists of time, to a long-forgotten era when the Eagles roster boasted five healthy running backs. You know, a month ago.
Well, now they have two, it would seem, for Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals – LeGarrette Blount and undrafted rookie Corey Clement.
• Eagle Eye: Carson Wentz Must Be Prepared For Arizona’s Exotic Pressure Schemes (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
After looking at Arizona’s explosive offense and what the Cardinals will likely look to do against the Eagles on Sunday, let’s now focus on the other side of the ball. Arizona’s defense is a high-volume pressure team that ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in terms of the number of blitzes this season.
• Lawlor: Crazy Things Happen When The Eagles And Cardinals Get Together (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
The Eagles have had some early in 2017. Everyone wanted to see if this team could win on the road. The Eagles are 2-1 so far. Would the Eagles do better in division games? They are 2-0. Could the Eagles overcome injuries to key players? The team has had players step up at cornerback, running back, linebacker, kicker, and defensive tackle.
• DE Derek Barnett Knows QB Sacks Will Come (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
It is about, Derek Barnett says, “cleaning up little things” in his game and that’s what he works on every day in practice leading up to gameday. The Eagles’ first-round draft pick, No. 14 overall, Barnett has yet to record a quarterback sack leading some to wonder how he has performed in four games.
The truth is, he’s played like a rookie: Some good and some not as good.
Friday, Oct. 6
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the team will be without two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox for the second straight game Sunday, when he’ll sit out a contest against the Cardinals with a calf injury.
• Eagles pass rushers should feast against Cardinals (Eagles Wire)
The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the most talented defensive lines in the NFL. Their pass rushers should be able to get to the quarterback frequently when the Cardinals come to town on Sunday.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz hasn’t thrown an interception the past two weeks and, for the most part, he’s avoided the type of head-scratching miscues that often nag young signal-callers.
• Eagles prepare for athletic and aggressive Cardinals run defense (Eagles Wire)
The Cardinals bring a 2-2 record, and the NFL’s No.10 ranked rushing defense to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. The Eagles have morphed into a run-heavy team over the last two weeks, catapulting them to 143 rushing yards per game. Philadelphia is tied with the Broncos for the No.3 rushing attack in the league.
Larry Fitzgerald is the all-time greatest Arizona Cardinal, a 10-time Pro Bowl wide receiver who, at age 34, won last week’s game against the 49ers with a touchdown catch in overtime, for a team that never led.
• Is it a Blount-Clement RB Duo On Sunday? (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
Head coach Doug Pederson says it will be a “game-time decision” on running back Wendell Smallwood and his status for Sunday’s game against Arizona, potentially altering the three-back system the Eagles used with so much success last week in Los Angeles.
• Kudos to Some Under-The-Radar Eagles (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
Four games into the season and there are many things clear about this team, namely the rise of quarterback Carson Wentz, the performance of the offensive line, the belief in the running game, and the effort and relentlessness of the defense and special teams.
With all of that, there are some under-the-radar players who deserve to have a moment in the sun for contributions to a winning start.
Thursday, Oct. 5
• WR Torrey Smith Confident In Season’s Second Quarter (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
Smith hopes that Sunday, the start of the second quarter of the season, represents a fresh start.
• Haason Reddick’s New Role Makes Him An X-Factor (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
On defense, I’m going to say Haason Reddick because he will be trying to fill the pass rush part of Golden’s role, and the Cards will need him to aid Jones.
• Bruce Arians compares Carson Wentz to Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger (ESPN NFL Nation)
Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians had high praise for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, drawing comparisons to two of the better QBs he’s worked with over the course of his career.
• Haason Reddick expects a family affair in return to the Linc (NBC Sports Philadelphia)
Haason Reddick doesn’t know exactly how many family members and friends he’ll have at the Linc on Sunday afternoon.
All he knows is there will be a lot.
Arizona Cardinals coach and York High graduate Bruce Arians pulled through his third brush with cancer last year, took several trips to the hospital and tore his rotator cuff while hugging wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald during a game in December.
So how does Arians, who turned 65 this week, feel now?
So the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) won’t be able to waltz into Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday and roll through their visitors without resistance. Rather, they’ll have to win several daunting matchups to beat the Cardinals (2-2), who handed down a 23-point whopping the last time they visited Philly.
The play-action passing game should give Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz opportunities to connect against Arizona. The Eagles should get LeGarrette Blount involved early and use it to set up other facets of the offense.
• The Eagles will continue to rotate at left guard (Eagles Wire)
The Philadelphia Eagles have adopted an unusual approach to fixing their offensive line. Having two players split time at left guard is not the norm, but it’s worked for the Eagles through two games.
Wednesday, Oct. 4
The most important part of Carson Wentz’s first four weeks has not been the spectacular plays that lead the highlights. It’s been avoiding the negative plays that lead to losses.
The Eagles practiced Wednesday without starting defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan.
Cox has a calf injury that kept him out last week against the Los Angeles Chargers. Coach Doug Pederson said Cox is “day-to-day” and “progressing.” Jernigan has a heel contusion. Although Jernigan missed practice, Pederson said he’s not in jeopardy of missing Sunday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals.
• Carson Wentz excelling where it counts – on third down and in the red zone (Philly.com)But where Wentz is making noticeable strides in his development in this, his second season in the NFL, is in the situational aspect of the game, particularly on third down and in the red zone.
• Eagle Eye: Eagles’ Run Defense Has Been Underrated In First Four Games (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
Through the first four games of the season, the Eagles rank third in the NFL with just 70.8 yards per game allowed on the ground. Outside of a couple of long runs late in games, they’ve largely kept opposing backs under wraps. Because of the Eagles’ aggressive nature up front, there are certain schemes that every team will try to incorporate into the game plan. Any runs that try to get defenders flying upfield, only to sneak a runner through a gap and get offensive linemen up to the second level, is likely to be on the table when facing the Eagles.
Tuesday, Oct. 3
• Lawlor: What Do We Know About The Eagles? (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
The team is better this season. They are already 2-0 in the division. They went 2-4 last year, with both wins coming late in the season. The Eagles are 2-1 on the road, winning at Washington and on the West Coast. In 2016, the team was 1-7 on the road, with the only victory coming over the Bears, who finished 3-13. The Eagles’ only loss thus far was a wild affair at Kansas City, which is currently undefeated and might be the best team in the league.
• Eagles’ Lane Johnson using past suspensions as motivation (ESPN NFL Nation)
Around this time last year, the Philadelphia Eagles lost right tackle Lane Johnson. The Eagles were 3-1, as they are now, but proceeded to drop eight of their next 10 to fall out of playoff contention as Johnson served a second suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drugs policy.
Johnson says he still thinks about it every day, and is reminded of how he let his teammates down every time he walks into the team’s practice facility.
• Jim Schwartz Q&A: Missing Fletcher Cox, Kendricks’ frustration, facing Fitzgerald (NBC Sports Philadelphia)
Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz held his weekly media briefing Tuesday afternoon and addressed the defense’s fourth-quarter breakdowns, the absence of all-pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks’ frustration, facing future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald this weekend and much more.
Take a look at four statistics that offer insight into how the contest might unfold.
In the same breath Tuesday, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz poured praise on Larry Fitzgerald and warned against the danger of focusing too much attention on the Cardinals’ wide receiver.
Tuesday, October 3
The last two weeks, the obvious image is of LeGarrette Blount trampling puny defenders who lacked the good sense to flee when they realized they were blocking his path. But the game before that, Blount didn’t carry the ball once, and he was hardly the focal point of the season-opening victory at Washington.
• The Eagles are playing like a well-coached football team (Philly.com)
There’s a truism that armchair evaluators often overlook when delivering their periodic analyses of Doug Pederson’s job performance. In the NFL, play-calling ability is the most valuable coaching currency of all. The Rams did not hire 31-year-old Sean McVay to improve their fourth-down decision-making. The Giants and Bucs did not nudge out their well-respected incumbents to pave the way for assistant coaches who had more gravitas. Andy Reid hasn’t lasted 19 seasons as a head coach because of his ability to manage a clock.
• Eagles rank high in latest NFL power rankings (Philly.com)
National sports outlets seem optimistic as well, with the Eagles ranking among the top 10 in every NFL power ranking this week. Both CBS Sports and the Washington Post ranked the Eagles as the fifth-best team in the league, and only Bleacher Report had the team moving down in the rankings.
• Stock soaring for Eagles’ LeGarrette Blount, Zach Ertz (ESPN NFL Nation)
The Philadelphia Eagles have some playmakers worth paying attention to. That’s a big change from 2016, when the receivers finished 31st in receiving yards, quarterback Carson Wentz was on the rookie roller coaster and the running backs were wildly inconsistent. Offseason spending coupled with growth from several of the homegrown players has the Eagles offense looking up entering the second quarter of the season.
• Eagles’ LeGarrette Blount running like ‘a man possessed’ (ESPN NFL Nation)
Philadelphia Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount is running angry. That’s how his teammates described it following a 26-24 win at the Los Angeles Chargers, and that’s exactly what it looked like, particularly on a punishing 68-yard run in the fourth quarter that helped secure the win.
• Carson Wentz’s stats don’t tell the whole story (NBC Sports Philadelphia)
Carson Wentz isn’t putting up huge numbers, he isn’t carrying the Eagles on his back, he isn’t showing monumental statistical improvement over last year.
• Eagles turn to Corey Clement, not Blount or Smallwood, to run out the clock (NBC Sports Philadelphia)
Clement’s final numbers were pedestrian. Ten carries for 30 yards. But his performance was anything but.
Philly has won a couple close games and sits at 2-0 in the NFC East. Though blemishes have appeared and causes for concern exist, the Eagles sit in position to make a run at ending their three-year playoff drought.
So what have we learned about the Birds so far? And what questions do we still have?
• Things are falling into place for the Eagles after four games (Eagles Wire)
In Week 4, Philadelphia was gifted a bonus home game, as thousands of Eagles’ fans turned the 27,000 seat StubHub Center into “Lincoln Financial Field West”.
• Numbers Tell An Impressive 3-1 Eagles Tale (PhiladelphiaEagles.com)
Philadelphia is now 3-1 this season, including a 2-1 mark on the road and a 2-0 record in division games. The Eagles have won at least 3 of their first 4 games of the season in consecutive years (also 3-1 in 2016) for the first time since 2004-06 (4-0, 3-1, 3-1).
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