Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals: ITB Scouting Report
The Eagles (4-8-1) travel to Glendale, Ariz., to take on the Cardinals (7-6) Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
While the Cardinals continue their chase for a playoff spot, the Eagles suddenly find themselves in contention for postseason glory following an improbable win against the New Orleans Saints.
The Cardinals are riding high off a 26-7 thumping over the Giants, while the Eagles have new life with rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts at the controls.
Eagles Offense vs. Cardinals Defense
QB Jalen Hurts vs. S Budda Baker: Baker is a versatile chess piece who serves as the quarterback of the defense. The fourth-year pro does a tremendous job reading the quarterback’s eyes. Combating Baker’s football intellect, range, and closing speed will be a critical test for Hurts. The rookie signal caller can’t afford any egregious errors, such as late throws over the middle, or Baker will make him pay.
WR Jalen Reagor vs. CB Dre Kirkpatrick: Kirkpatrick is a lengthy cornerback who plays a physical brand of football. However, the veteran is short on long speed and relies on size and technique to win his matchups. Kirkpatrick lacks discipline and can be handsy against speedy receivers, so the Eagles would be wise to test him deep early. Hurts delivered a 34-yard sideline strike to Reagor against Green Bay, and there should be similar opportunities to exploit the speed deficient Kirkpatrick.
Eagles Defense vs. Cardinals Offense
CB Darius Slay vs. WR DeAndre Hopkins: Slay is officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game, as he works his way back from a concussion. If available, Slay will be tasked with slowing Hopkins. Explosive, big-bodied receivers have given Slay fits this season, but with Avonte Maddox out for the season, the Eagles desperately need their No. 1 cornerback available. Nickell Robey-Coleman, Michael Jacquet, Kevon Seymour, and Jameson Houston are the remaining corners.
DT Javon Hargrave vs. Cardinals’ interior OL: Hargrave has been on a tear the past five weeks, accumulating 19 tackles (4.0 for loss), 3.5 sacks, and 11 combined QB pressures and hits. Expect that trend to continue this week against a vulnerable Cardinals interior. Inside pressure was the key to keeping the elusive Taysom Hill at bay last week, as it moved him off his spot and prevented him from stepping up in the pocket. If Hargrave can generate pressure up the middle early, it will alter the game plan and flush Murray out of the pocket, where Hargraves’s teammates can reap benefits.
The shifty, compact Chase Edmonds (questionable) handles kick returns and the fleet-footed Christian Kirk doubles as the Cardinals’ punt returner.
Edmonds averages 23.2 yards per return on 18 opportunities, while Kirk currently sports a 6.6 average on 20 attempts. Against the Giants, Kirk returned six punts for 77 yards, including a long of 24 yards. This week, former Cardinals safety Rudy Ford returns to bolster the Eagles’ coverage units. When healthy, Ford has been a third phase difference-maker.
Miles Sanders ranks 2nd among NFL running backs in rushing average (5.7), behind Nick Chubb (5.9). In Week 14 vs. New Orleans, Sanders recorded an 82-yard rushing TD, marking the fourth-longest rushing play in Eagles history. He is the first NFL RB to have three rushes of at least 70 yards in the same season since 2012, when Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson, and Adrian Peterson each accomplished that feat.
Philadelphia’s defense ranks 2nd in the NFL with 43.0 sacks, trailing only Pittsburgh (45.0). Since Week 10, Fletcher Cox ranks first among NFL DTs with 4.0 sacks, while Javon Hargrave is tied with Aaron Donald and Leonard Williams with 3.5 sacks.
Eagles WR Quez Watkins: Not only did Watkins dress over John Hightower, but he also played over J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and nearly doubled Travis Fulgham’s snap share. Sure, Watkins didn’t factor much into last week’s game plan – he hauled in one reception for three yards – but his speed and short-area quickness could be called upon this week. Aside from Jalen Reagor, Watkins could be the only other speed receiver active on Sunday. With hardly any tape on Watkins, perhaps we’ll see some screens, crossers, or deep heaves scripted.
Cardinals WR Christian Kirk: Kirk is an explosive No. 2 option who can stretch the field and feasts on single coverage. While Kirk’s last noteworthy stat line came in Week 9, the third-year wideout finds himself in an opportune spot to return to prominence against the inexperienced Kevon Seymour. The game plan will undoubtedly center around slowing Hopkins, but the Eagles must be mindful of Kirk’s long speed.
While the Eagles’ offense improved by leaps and bounds last week, it was the defensive line dominance that stalled the high-powered Saints’ offense and fueled the upset.
Given the depleted state of the defensive backfield, the front-four must elevate its play to steal a win in the desert.
Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are poised to generate interior pressure with regularity against left guard Justin Pugh (questionable), center Mason Cole, and right guard Justin Murray. Cole, in particular, gives up considerable size and strength along the interior.
Perhaps the most favorable matchup, however, will be Brandon Graham against right tackle Kelvin Beachum, who struggled mightily against power rushers last season with the Jets. Graham has been relatively quiet the past two weeks but look for his overpowering bull rush and relentless motor to keep Beachum off balance.
The decimated Eagles secondary will struggle to contain DeAndre Hopkins. Still, the surging pass rush will again rise to the occasion, pouncing on the evasive Kyler Murray and a faulty offensive line. Jalen Hurts delivers as a dynamic dual-threat once again, catalyzing an improbable win.
Eagles 26, Cardinals 24
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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