The national pundits will finally take us seriously if we can get to 4-1 by beating the Arizona Cardinals at home this weekend.
How well the critics remember the Eagles’ stumbling and bumbling after a 3-1 start last season.
That was then, this is now…
Put a lot of the burden on the Eagles defense for this one— that’s because the Cardinals’ offense is super fast and super deep.
“They can put a 4×100 relay team together. They’ve got a lot of speed,” Eagles DC Jim Schwartz said. “And a quarterback (Carson Palmer) that I know coach (head coach Bruce) Arians has said is playing at a level that he hasn’t seen him play at before. They’ve had their struggles here and there but I think he’s really playing good football.
“We have our work cut out for us.”
“It can’t be about one player. If you make it that way you are going to be susceptible to other things,” Schwartz said, “and we’ve got to do a better job of not being susceptible to other things.”
Schwartz is referring to the Cardinals’ big playmakers on offense. According to Dave Spadaro at PE.com, this is what we’re up against:
“Arizona features Eagles-killer Larry Fitzgerald, a first-ballot Hall of Famer someday who has a 5-2 record against the Eagles in his career with 41 receptions for 693 yards and eight touchdowns. But as Schwartz said, the Cardinals are more than one player. They’ve got speed at receiver with Jaron Brown, John Brown, and J.J. Nelson. Replacing star running back David Johnson hasn’t been easy, but the Cardinals split Johnson’s duties with veterans Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington, who is particularly dangerous catching the football out of the backfield.”
So once again the Eagles have no wiggle room for a less-than-total effort.
Balanced excellence in execution among all three phases of the game will be put to the test against the Cardinals. Here’s Tommy Lawlor’s take on that:
“This Eagles team shows good balance. The defense made the huge play to seal the opener. Special teams made the critical play to beat the Giants. The offense finished off the Chargers. You love when a team shows the ability to make key plays in all three phases.
“The coaching staff is off to a good start in 2017. I worried about the Eagles’ ability to put the dramatic Giants win behind them. Going on the road to play a winless team on the West Coast in a soccer stadium isn’t a normal situation. Pederson had the team locked in from the opening kick and the Eagles completely dominated the first half. Pederson made the switch at left guard and that has worked well. Coaches have had to deal with all sorts of injuries, but replacements have stepped up to get the job done. The assistant coaches are getting their guys prepared to play.
“Think about Dave Fipp for a second. He’s established himself as the best special teams coach in the NFC, quite possibly the entire league. Fipp is breaking in a new long snapper this season. Fipp lost his kicker and punt returner to injuries. The Eagles surprised people by signing some kid named Jake Elliott to be the team’s kicker, but he’s been great. He hit the 61-yard bomb to beat the Giants and then was 4-for-4 on Sunday. Fipp has had to deal with a lot this year and his special teams unit continues to perform at a high level.”
“The offensive line is coming off a great couple of games. The Eagles ran for 407 yards over the past two weeks. Those teams have some big-time defensive linemen, but the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage in each game. Wentz had time to throw and the runners had room to run.
“There are plenty of things Jim Schwartz would love to get fixed with this defense, but he would be the first to point out that they’ve played well enough for the team to win three out of four weeks. That’s the key stat.”
Granted we are far from a perfect team, but the “want-to” is not in question. For every deficiency there is an equal and opposite effort to make up for that deficiency this season, it seems. The test of that hypothesis will come this Sunday against the Cardinals.
The Cards are 2-2 coming into this game at the Linc. They had to extend themselves to beat the 49ers 18-15 in overtime. The one telling weakness I saw was in their offensive line. Carson Palmer took a beating at QB.
Whether the Cardinals can find a way to solve their protection problems long-term is yet to be determined, and the way Carson Palmer was whacked around much of Sunday was not what coach Bruce Arians wants to see. But there the line was working in overtime, the Cards trailing the 49ers by three at University of Phoenix Stadium with a little more than two minutes left. The highlights will lead with the ageless Larry Fitzgerald leaping to high-point a game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass, or Palmer dealing his way down the field.
“Everyone,” right tackle Jared Veldheer said, “was fighting their butts off.”
That’s the mindset the Eagles have to overcome this Sunday. There ain’t no quit in this Cardinals group.
“I told our guys on Friday that this is the game I wanted to see, I wanted to us to get in a game that was going to go to the wire, and see what we’re made of,” Arians said.
The notion was understood in the locker room – “I get where he’s coming from (but) I would love a blowout, you know what I’m saying?” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said — but any kind of win was necessary for the Cardinals. That was especially so after both teams each kicked four field goals in regulation and spent the game unable to threaten any chances at actual touchdowns.
The Cardinals came the closest, but an initial drive was thwarted when Palmer, about to be sacked, tried to throw a pass into the end zone from the San Francisco 4 and had the ball tipped and intercepted. (Running back Andre Ellington also had a near-touchdown reversed on replay, a decision Palmer was puzzled about after.)
The 49ers (0-4) got the ball first in overtime needing a touchdown to end the game. Defensive penalties helped San Francisco convert their first two third downs – Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden also injured his knee on one of the plays, and his status is unknown – but as the Niners moved closer to the end zone, they went conservative.
Eventually, the 17-play drive ended with Robbie Gould’s fifth field goal of the game, giving the Cardinals a chance.
“We were trying to play to win the game,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
“I couldn’t tell you the 49ers mindset but I can tell you our mindset was to defend every blade of grass, whether they were going for the touchdown or the field goal,” linebacker Kareem Martin said. “We can’t really worry about what they were trying to do. We just knew if we forced a field goal, we had another opportunity.”
That came from Palmer, who for the game completed 33-of-51 passes for 357 yards as the running game once again struggled (51 yards, 2.3-yards per carry). In overtime, Palmer completed 6-of-7 passes for 77 yards, including his strike to Fitzgerald. He was sacked once on the drive, the sixth one he absorbed in the game, but the passing game actually looked like the one that had been envisioned in training camp.
“I was just thinking, ‘We can’t tie again,’ ” Palmer said, referencing the 2016 overtime tie against the Seahawks.
It wasn’t Fitzgerald but John Brown in his return that looked like the initial hero, making an amazing grab of a 25-yard toe-tapping touchdown that was initially ruled out. Replays seemed to show Brown got a second foot down, but the play stood.
No matter. Fitzgerald, tightly covered the whole game and held to three catches, popped up.
“Here’s an expert piece of inside information,” Dawson said. “When the game is on the line, go to #11. “
Palmer said the 49ers had some defensive backs switching across the field with each other on the play that won the game. Seeing that “miscommunication” and noticing the coverage on Fitzgerald was not the same as most of the game when Fitz was the target.
“They weren’t doing what they were doing earlier (on Fitzgerald),” Palmer said. “Obviously, he made a great play.
“We finally got him in a one-on-one situation, and he does what he did.”
It was the only time the entire game the Cardinals held the lead — as it ended. Fitzgerald got the big play at the end, but Brown had nearly 100 yards combined on receiving yards plus penalty yardage drawn, while Jaron Brown (eight catches for 105 yards) and Ellington (nine catches, 86 yards) had big roles too. Palmer said the 49ers’ decision to play a soft zone in overtime helped.
I guess my main point is this game against the Cardinals is really going to be a test of our defense. If we are 4-1 worthy, we have to prove we can limit a fast passing game which features a proven Eagles-killer by the name of Fitzgerald and a gunslinger named Carson Palmer. As for our own scoring ability, I am counting upon at least 20 points which will come from pounding the running game and getting timely receptions off the play-action passing of Carson Wentz.
Beware the moors—and turnovers. It’s time to prove we can turn the corner. 4-1 would be huge going into the next quarter of the season. We haven’t seen that friendly stat in a while. The Cardinals are going to do everything in their power to keep that stat from happening.