By Kevin McGuire
After a week off to assess the first part of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles head out to Arizona to take on the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are 5-1, which means this could be considered a possible playoff preview, but this week each team will just be focused on improving to 6-1 on the season.
The Arizona Cardinals enter this match-up with a 5-1 record and a two-game advantage in the loss column in the NFC West standings over the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals are now in position to jockey for home field advantage in the NFC with games against the Eagles and Cowboys coming up. Arizona is 3-0 at home and 3-0 in the NFC this season.
The Eagles and Cardinals have a long history and have split the all-time series 55-55-5 dating back to 1935. The Eagles have not won at Arizona since 2001, winning 21-7 with Brian Mitchell returning a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and Donovan McNabb passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles won last year’s meeting in Philadelphia, 24-21.
Cardinals on Offense
Arizona’s offense has been struggling to put up impressive numbers this season, but it has managed to do enough to get by and scratch together a 5-1 season. Veteran Carson Palmer returned to the offense a couple of weeks ago and he still has one of the best targets in the game, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, in his 11th season. The Cardinals are starting to mix in some younger offensive talent as well, including second-year running back Andre Ellington out of Clemson and third-year receiver Michael Floyd from Notre Dame. Floyd leads the Cardinals in receiving yards, followed by Fitzgerald. Ellington also does his part catching footballs as well and is third on the team in receiving with 260 yards and a touchdown.
Cardinals on Defense
On defense the Arizona Cardinals run a base 3-4 defensive formation. It seems to be working well, because the Cardinals enter this weekend with the NFL’s eighth-ranked defense. Only three teams have allowed fewer points this season than Arizona’s 119 points (Baltimore, Detroit and San Diego). The Cardinals may lack to record many sacks, they have 11.0 sacks this season (Eagles have just 7.0), but the Cardinals do manage to shut down running offenses. The Cardinals are allowing a league-best 72.5 rushing yards per game. It is the passing game that is extremely vulnerable in Arizona. The Cardinals have plenty of talent in the secondary with Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie on the outside and Rashad Johnson and Tony Jefferson at safety positions, but Arizona ranks 31st against the pass, which seems like a good recipe for the Eagles.
Cardinals Players to Watch
Andre Ellington, Running Back: Years ago the Eagles used Brian Westbrook to run the football, but they also used him to catch passes and make something happen. That is pretty much exactly what Arizona looks to do with Ellington, a running back measuring just 5’9”. Ellington has accounted for 653 yards of total offense this season.
Patrick Peterson, Cornerback: The Cardinals have been struggling against the pass this season, but there are some players still capable of making things frustrating for opposing offenses. Patrick Peterson seems to be one of those kinds of players. Peterson is currently probable for this weekend’s game, but should be expected to play. The Cardinals are waiting for Peterson to have as much of an impact on defense as he did two years ago. After seven interceptions in 2012, Peterson had just three last season and is still searching for his first pick of 2014.
The Cardinals are 5-1, but they have not necessarily been as good as the record might suggest. What is fair to say is this team is resilient and has learned how to win some close games and close out tight games. That is to be respected, and why the Eagles will have to find a way to start and finish strong, as they did against the New York Giants. The Eagles have not won in Arizona in a long time, but Chip Kelly has. Before taking the Eagles job in Philadelphia, Kelly’s last coaching victory in college came in University of Phoenix Stadium when he led the Oregon Ducks to a victory over Kansas State in the 2013 Fiesta Bowl. That went much better than his previous trip to the stadium, which resulted in losing the 2011 BCS National Championship Game to Cam Newton and Auburn. If the Eagles can find a rhythm out of the bye week against the Cardinals pass defense, Kelly could once again lead his team to a victory form the sidelines in Arizona.
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Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.