By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles were no match for the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Cardinals blasted the Eagles, 40-17, on a night Philadelphia lost the football four times and gave up over 200 yards of rushing offense. The Cardinals ended up clinching the NFC West with the win, securing their spot in the postseason, while the Eagles are still in a mad scramble to grab the NFC East. As if the loss was not bad enough, there were plenty of negatives to take away any momentum the Eagles could have had coming into the final two games of the season, which are now must-wins if the Eagles are to reach the playoffs this season.
The Eagles were shut down in the red zone by the Cardinals. On the first offensive drive of the game for the home team, the Eagles reached the Arizona 18-yard line with a first down and got no further and settled for three points. Later in the first half, the Eagles once again reached the end zone and got as close as the 8-yard line. Rather than kick a field goal to cut the Arizona lead to 17-13, the Eagles put the ball in the hands of Ryan Mathews, who was stuffed for no gain and a turnover on downs. After halftime, the Eagles punted, fumbled on two straight possessions and lost an interception on the next, which was returned for a touchdown. Sam Bradford was picked off twice, fumbled once, sacked twice and under pressure from start to finish. As a team, the Eagles rushed for just 74 yards, with Ryan Mathews leading the way with 58 yards on 11 carries. DeMarco Murray carried the ball twice for three yards.
Jordan Matthews was the lone bright spot for the Eagles, with eight catches for 159 yards and a touchdown, although the touchdown came on a 78-yard play with the game well in control by Arizona in the fourth quarter. Nelson Agholor once again was a no-show and Zach Ertz only caught eight of 13 passes in his direction.
The defense may have been a bit banged up, but the Eagles simply did not play good fundamental defense. The tackling was very poor by the Eagles defense, and that cannot happen against the best teams in the NFL, Arizona included. The Cardinals picked up 28 first downs, 15 through the air and 12 on the ground (and one via penalty). The Eagles defense could not get off to a good start either as Arizona drove 78 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. The Eagles did get to Carson Palmer at times, sacking him twice, but the veteran quarterback distributed the ball well across the field with seven different players catching a pass. Larry Fitzgerald was held in check for much of the evening, but the Eagles were unable to stop the run. Arizona’s David Johnson rushed for 187 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries.
Mychal Kendricks led the Eagles with 11 tackles, including nine solo tackles. Fletcher Cox had one sack and Marcus Smith and Connor Barwin combined for another.
Special Teams: C-
From a kicking standpoint, the Eagles special teams specialists continue to be the most dependable players on the team. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was only called on for one field goal, from 36 yards, and a pair of extra-point attempts, and he converted all three kicks for five points. Punter Donnie Jones averaged 49 yards per punt on his three punting opportunities. Two of those punts were pinned inside the 20-yard line. The return game failed to provide any sparks this week, with Josh Huff averaging 23.6 yards per kickoff return (five return opportunities) and Darren Sproles with just 12 punt return yards from two returns.
There was no shame in losing to the Arizona Cardinals, because there was no question they were the better of the two teams appearing on the field in Philadelphia on Sunday night. There is, however, reason to be discouraged by the coaching in this latest game. Chip Kelly said the plan was to rotate running backs against Arizona, but Murray carried the football just twice in the game. A decision to go for a first down on a late fourth and short in the first half backfired, and it would be fair to suggest Arizona came out in the second half far more prepared after halftime than Kelly’s Eagles. So get ready for another week of Chip Kelly-bashing in Philadelphia.
The NFC East is still there to be won by the Eagles, but the results of Sunday’s action around the NFL means the Eagles must win next week against Washington in order to set up a possible division clincher the following week on the road against the Giants. Win or lose, things are not looking very pretty in Philadelphia when it comes to the Eagles.
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.