Birds Defense Implosion In 35-32 Loss To Cards; NFC East Lead Slips Away
PHILADELPHIA – The chorus of Tom Petty’s “Breakdown” reverberated throughout the parking lots upon arrival at the Linc on Sunday, perhaps foreshadowing the demise of a listless Cardinals team – or maybe an unfathomable loss for the home team.
The Eagles (11-5) managed to parlay an uninspiring, bumbling six-play, 24-yard drive into a go-ahead field with roughly two and a half minutes remaining, but the Cardinals refused to go quietly into the South Philadelphia night.
With 2:28 remaining, Cards quarterback Kyler Murray marched the offense 70 yards on seven plays to seize a 35-31 lead, with James Conner’s two-yard touchdown run capping the drive and leaving 32 seconds for the Eagles’ offense to manufacture a last-gasp effort that fell short.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts completed 16-of-19 pass attempts for 156 yards and three touchdowns, his final desperation heave picked off to end the game, while Murray completed 25-of-31 pass attempts for 232 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Cardinals (4-12). Cards running back James Conner erupted for 128 yards on 26 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
Eagles linebacker Nicholas Morrow led a subpar defensive effort for Philadelphia, collecting 14 tackles (1 for loss).
Let’s go ahead with the observations.
* Eagles inactives: CB Darius Slay, QB Tanner McKee (3rd QB), CB Bradley Roby, LB Zach Cunningham, OL Tyler Steen, DT Marlon Tuipulotu.
* Veteran CB Avonte Maddox (pectoral) returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Week 2, which explains Roby’s inactivity, though the lack of available slot depth was risky given Maddox’s sporadic availability. RB Rashaad Penny was up for just the third time.
* The Eagles took to the ground early, feeding RB D’Andre Swift on consecutive plays but a third-down dump-off to RB Kenny Gainwell came up short. Curious decision considering the early ground success.
* The Cardinals drained 7:46 of clock on their opening possession, featuring a heavy dose of bruising RB James Conner. Shoddy tackling once again plagued the Philadelphia defense. TE Trey McBride, the Cardinals’ primary offensive weapon, snared a paired of receptions for 30 yards on the drive.
* Rookie DT Moro Ojomo got some work on the Eagles’ opening defensive series.
* Heavy use of 12 personnel from Eagles once again. This was a recipe for success against the Giants on Christmas.
* The Eagles rebounded from a prompt three-and-out with a nine-play, 69-yard scoring drive which culminated in a 12-yard touchdown strike from Hurts to WR Julio Jones, who has convincingly put his stamp on the team’s fluid No. 3 receiver vacancy. Before the break, Jones reeled in his second touchdown of the afternoon – third on the season – extending the Eagles’ lead to 21-6. Worth noting that WR Quez Watkins has largely been a non-entity since the blunder in Seattle.
* The Eagles’ pass coverage offered little resistance to QB Kyler Murray and the Cardinals mid-range game, as McBride, Elijah Higgins, and Greg Dortch capitalized to extend drives.
* Newly appointed defensive play-caller Matt Patricia has done a nice job mixing-and-matching his backend personnel to accentuate what they do well. DBs Kelee Ringo, Sydney Brown and Eli Ricks have added some much-needed speed element to a sluggish unit.
* Speaking of Brown, the rookie plucked his first career interception on an ill-advised second-quarter pass from Murray that could’ve been miscommunication with his receiver. Resembling a centerfielder in baseball, Brown parked under the pop-fly and returned it 99 yards in the opposite direction for a touchdown.
* The Cardinals encountered little resistance moving the ball between the 20s but sputtered in the red zone early, mustering only a pair of field goals despite two possessions that covered over 60 yards, but finished 4-for-6 overall as the Eagles’ defense loosened up as the game progressed.
* Interesting wrinkle from the offense just before the break. Out of the team’s patented “tush push” formation, Gainwell took the snap and tossed a 17-yard pass to a wide-open WR DeVonta Smith. A play that has become virtually indefensible now has another dimension.
* Not a ton of push up front from the Eagles’ pass rush against an inferior offensive line. Rookie DT Jalen Carter notched a first-half sack, but it was it was another uneventful outing from the unit.
* Nifty footwork from Cardinals RB Michael Carter, who befuddled Ricks in the open field with a cross-over move en route to a 16-yard pickup. Carter found the end zone six plays later, courtesy of a six-yard pass from Murray. Arizona established an effective 1-2 running back tandem coming out of the break.
* Eagles reserve LB Patrick Johnson had a nice day on specials, collecting a tackle on kickoff and one on punt.
* Limited offensively, the Cardinals smartly leaned on Conner to keep the offense on schedule and drain clock. The big-bodied power runner trudged ahead for five yards at a time, wearing down the Eagles’ defense and setting up a chunk play. Conner one-handed a 5-yard touchdown pass to even the score at 21-21 late in the third. Murray did well to shake DT Milton Williams and get the throw off. The two-point conversion play successful, with Murray lofting a touch pass to big-bodied WR Michael Wilson, who gained a step on Maddox.
* The Murray-led Cardinals reminded me of the Cards offenses once engineered by QB Jake Plummer in the early 2000s, which were typically pesky and resilient. The red-hot Arizona offense flawlessly executed an 8-play, 48-yard scoring march to tie the game at 28, culminating in a 5-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Wilson, who got inside position on Ringo.
*Thought the onside kick was a shrewd move from Gannon in a ploy to increase the likelihood of possessing the ball last. The Eagles bumbled their way through their ensuing drive, yielding only a field goal, but left Arizona with 2:28 left to play.
*Trailing by three with 2:28 remaining, Murray orchestrated a masterful 7-play, 70-yard scoring drive which covered 2:01, which culminated in a 2-yard James Conner touchdown run. The run-pass blend kept a reeling Eagles’ defense on the ropes before eventually relenting.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.