Larry Fitzgerald

Eagles-Cardinals 5 matchups to watch

Eagles-Cardinals 5 matchups to watch

The Eagles (3-1) are riding high after returning from Los Angeles with their second road win of the season. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals (2-2) come to the Linc after an 18-15 overtime win against the 49ers at home. In fact, both of the Cardinals' wins have come in overtime. 

This Arizona team isn't the same one that won 13 games in 2015. The Cardinals have fallen off a little bit, going 7-8-1 last season. But they still have good players at key positions. 

Here are five matchups to watch on Sunday: 

Jared Veldheer vs. Brandon Graham 
The Cardinals' right tackle has struggled this season and is going against the Eagles' best edge rusher. Veldheer has given up two sacks, three QB hits and 16 QB hurries so far this season, according to ProFootballFocus. He really struggled against Cowboys DE Demarcus Lawrence.  

On a conference call with Philly reporters earlier this week, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said QB Carson Palmer is in the best shape he's ever been. 

"We've just got to quit getting him hit so much," Arians said. 

Palmer has been sacked 17 times through four games. That's more than any other quarterback in the NFL and just the eighth time in the last 10 years a QB has been sacked that much through four games. 

Meanwhile, the Eagles had eight sacks in the first two weeks of the season but have had just two over the last two weeks. Graham might have a chance in this one. 

Cardinals' running backs vs. Eagles' run defense
The Cardinals have the worst rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 57.0 yards per game. They're clearly missing David Johnson, who is out with a wrist injury. In his place, the Cards are using a combination of senior citizen Chris Johnson and former starter Andre Ellington. It hasn't gone that well. 

On the flip side, the Eagles have the second-best run defense in the league, giving up just 70.8 yards per game. 

Arians said he would like to be more balanced and run the ball but fourth quarters have dictated their lack of run game. They might try to get it going in Philly on Sunday but it won't be easy. 

Larry Fitzgerald vs. Patrick Robinson
Fitzgerald is 34 years old and is still the Cardinals' best receiver. It's pretty insane. This season he has 26 catches for 276 yards and two TDs. He's on pace for what would be his ninth 1,000-yard season and his third straight. He should be slowing down, but the move into the slot a couple years ago has really given his career some extra length. 

Arians said most teams elect to use their slot cornerback against Fitzgerald and if the Eagles do that, it means Robinson will give it a go. Robinson came in as an outside starter for the Eagles but got bumped inside after they acquired Ronald Darby. Robinson's been great there so far this season. 

Now, in the past, Malcolm Jenkins has enjoyed this matchup against Fitzgerald. And there's a chance he might play there some on Sunday, but it'll depend on the health of Corey Graham. Graham has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. If Jenkins moves into the slot, the Eagles need Graham to take his spot at safety. 

"It would be a huge benefit to get Corey in there," Doug Pederson said. "And it does give Malcolm flexibility to move down into the box and play some nickel if need be." 

Alshon Jeffery vs. Patrick Peterson
Jeffery has been somewhat underwhelming through the first quarter of his first season with the Birds. He has 17 catches for 215 yards and two touchdowns. He's on pace for 68 catches, 860 yards and eight touchdowns. Not bad, but not WR1-type numbers either. 

And this week, it won't get any easier. Peterson is one of the NFL's best cover corners. This is his seventh NFL season and he's already been to the Pro Bowl six times and has been All-Pro three times. Expect to see him stick with Jeffery all afternoon on Sunday. 

Jason Peters vs. Chandler Jones
The Cardinals lost Markus Golden for the season to an ACL tear but they still have Jones, their best pass rusher. He already has four sacks this season and is on pace for his third straight double-digit sack season. Jones is a handful. 

Most of Jones' snaps this season and all four of his sacks have come from the right side, which means he'll be going against Peters a lot on Sunday. But Peters has been incredible through four games. He has yet to give up a sack or a QB hit and has given up just four QB hurries. 

So maybe, the Cardinals want to move Jones over to the right tackle. The problem there is that Lane Johnson has been nearly as good. Either way, it'll be a good battle.

Fantasy implications in Eagles' Week 5 matchup with Cardinals

Fantasy implications in Eagles' Week 5 matchup with Cardinals

There are plenty of startable fantasy players in the Eagles' Week 5 home game against the Cardinals, especially because of bye weeks for the Saints, Falcons, Broncos and Redskins.

Let's take a look at Sunday's matchup from a fantasy perspective:

WR Alshon Jeffery
If you have Jeffery, you're most likely starting him unless it's a 2-WR league and you're just super deep at wide receiver.

But temper your expectations for Jeffery this week. He'll be shadowed by Cardinals star cornerback Patrick Peterson, who followed Dez Bryant all over the field in Week 3.

There are 79 cornerbacks so far this season who've played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, and Peterson has allowed the second-fewest catches (5) and third-fewest yards (56). If you're basing your wide receiver decisions on what has happened the first four weeks, then Peterson is the top shadow corner to avoid.

No. 1 outside receivers just haven't fared well against the Cardinals. Marvin Jones had two catches for 37 yards in Week 1. T.Y. Hilton had four catches for 49 yards in Week 2. Bryant had two catches for 12 yards and a TD in Week 3, but the touchdown was a 5-yard pass over the middle that Bryant caught before morphing into beast mode and carrying tacklers into the end zone. 

The Eagles don't move Jeffery around a whole lot. He has lined up on the outside in nearly nine of every 10 snaps.

Projected Jeffery stat line: 4 catches, 45 yards

• • •

WR Larry Fitzgerald
You're obviously starting Fitzgerald this Sunday, so we're mentioning him here only to note that he could be the top wide receiver play in the NFL this week.

The ageless Fitzgerald has had just one quiet game out of four this season. He went 6-for-74 against the Lions, 3-for-21 against the Colts, 13-for-149 with a TD against the Cowboys and 4-for-32 with a game-winning TD against the 49ers.

This week, he'll face Eagles cornerbacks who will simply be overmatched. The Eagles have been burnt by enormous gains from slot receivers in back-to-back weeks. Sterling Shepard had the 77-yard TD two weeks ago. Tyrell Williams — who wasn't technically the slot receiver on the play but did line up inside the numbers — caught a 75-yard pass over the middle for a TD last week. Keenan Allen later added a 50-yard catch-and-run out of the slot.

Fitzgerald lines up all over the place and Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer get him involved early and often. Fitzgerald already has 41 targets through four games.

The Eagles are pleased with how Patrick Robinson has adjusted to the slot, but this is a journeyman going up against a Hall of Famer.

The last time the Eagles faced Fitzgerald (Dec. 20, 2015) was the first time he faced them and didn't score. In the previous seven meetings, he had 47 catches for 802 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Projected Fitzgerald stat line: 7 catches, 110 yards, 2 TD

• • •

RB Wendell Smallwood, RB LeGarrette Blount
Smallwood had an impressive day in Los Angeles with 79 total yards, four catches and a rushing touchdown. He will still cede most of the goal-line work to LeGarrette Blount, but Smallwood last Sunday got his short rushing TD after a long run by Blount and a few failed attempts by the bigger back.

Smallwood owners will like the fact that he led the Eagles' backfield in snaps in Week 4, got 10 rushing attempts and six targets in the passing game. With Darren Sproles out for the season, it looks like Smallwood will benefit the most with checkdowns, which gives him additional value in PPR leagues.

Statistically, this doesn't look like a great matchup for Smallwood or Blount. The Cardinals have allowed the eighth-fewest rushing yards and receiving yards to running backs this season. Ezekiel Elliott had 22 carries for 80 yards and a TD against them in Week 3, and Carlos Hyde had 22 touches for 95 total yards in Week 4. It seems unlikely that Smallwood or Blount will accrue 22 touches in this game.

I'd start Smallwood and Blount this week over guys like Doug Martin, Joe Mixon, Latavius Murray, Isaiah Crowell and any Seahawks running back.

Projected Smallwood stat line: 60 total yards, 4 catches

Projected Blount stat line: 55 total yards, rushing TD

• • •

TE Zach Ertz
Starting tight ends have not fared well against Arizona. Aside from Colts TE Jack Doyle's 8-catch, 79-yard performance in Week 2, tight ends have combined for five catches and 47 yards with no TDs against the Cards. That's 2-for-15 per game. Yuck.

Granted, Eric Ebron, Jason Witten and George Kittle aren't nearly as threatening as Ertz.

Ertz has been targeted between 8 and 10 times each game by Carson Wentz. He's gone 8-for-93, 5-for-97, 8-for-55 with a TD and 5-for-81. Ertz has been the most consistent option in the league at a volatile fantasy position.

With Wentz unlikely to test Peterson by targeting Jeffery often, he'll need to find his yards somewhere. That will mean more targets than usual for Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor, but it should also mean another heavy dose of Ertz.

Projected Ertz stat line: 6 catches, 66 yards

• • •

WR Jaron Brown
Jaron Brown, not John Brown, was a popular waiver-wire pickup this week because of how heavily involved he's been in Arizona's aerial attack the last three weeks. In those three games, he's drawn 29 targets and caught 14 passes for 205 yards and a TD.

With John Brown (quad) and J.J. Nelson (hamstring) banged up, Arizona's passing game isn't nearly as crowded as usual. This figures to be another high-volume game for Jaron against a shaky Eagles secondary.

Projected Brown stat line: 5 catches, 85 yards

• • •

Eagles D/ST
This is a great spot for the Eagles' fantasy defense against a bad Cardinals offensive line that has allowed 16 sacks in its last three games and a turnover-prone Palmer who already has five interceptions and a fumble.

The best way for Palmer to combat the Eagles' pass rush will be to replicate Eli Manning's method of getting the ball out ASAP. That will mean checkdowns to Andre Ellington and quick slants to Fitzgerald. But you can't do that for four full quarters, and it's pretty tough to imagine a washed-up Chris Johnson gouging the Birds on the ground to help Palmer.

I predicted a big game from the Eagles' D/ST against the Giants and it didn't happen, but the stars are all aligned in this one. Palmer is also significantly worse on the road.

Projected Eagles D/ST stat line: 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, fumble recovery, defensive TD, 17 points allowed

NFL Notes: As Cowboys prep for training camp, Jerry Jones backs Ezekiel Elliott again

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NFL Notes: As Cowboys prep for training camp, Jerry Jones backs Ezekiel Elliott again

OXNARD, Calif. -- Jerry Jones interjected some bad-boy anecdotes from his youth, smiled at the thought of life before social media and even asked a couple of questions himself Sunday at his annual training camp opener with reporters.

When the topic is the multitude of off-field issues confronting the Dallas Cowboys -- headlined by star running back Ezekiel Elliott -- their owner, president and general manager can dance with the best of them.

"I can give you the same old excuses -- young, aggressive, got a lot of energy," Jones said. "Hard to paint that picture of the days when it won't be this easy, they won't be as pretty and they won't have the money. Somehow you've got to paint the picture."

Elliott is still waiting for clearance from the NFL on a year-old domestic violence case that prosecutors didn't pursue. The NFL rushing leader last season as a rookie, Elliott didn't help himself with his involvement in a bar fight a week before the Cowboys flew to California for camp.

Jones reiterated his belief that Elliott wasn't guilty of domestic violence in a dispute with his ex-girlfriend last summer in Columbus, Ohio, where he starred for Ohio State. But the Dallas owner still wouldn't speculate on whether Elliott will get suspended.

The Cowboys will have two suspended defensive players when the season starts in pass rushers David Irving and Randy Gregory. Two more could be: cornerback Nolan Carroll (drunken-driving charge) and linebacker Damien Wilson (aggravated assault charges).

Receiver Dez Bryant was late to report at the team's practice facility in suburban Dallas on Friday, a day before he was on the team flight to California. Irving decided to stay in California rather than report in Texas, and running back Darren McFadden missed the charter flight (see full story).

Cardinals: Larry Fitzgerald motivated by quest for championship
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Training camp is a drag at this point in Larry Fitzgerald's long and accomplished NFL career. Of course, the quest for the ring is the main reason the 14-year veteran continues to play.

The longtime Arizona Cardinals wide receiver isn't sure what his future holds as far as retirement.

"That's the only reason I'm playing at this point," Fitzgerald said Sunday, the second day of Cardinals training camp. "From a personal standpoint, things I've accomplished, they're fine. But the thing that you will say is out of your control because you're in a team sport is a championship."

Fitzgerald said he feels good, and when retirement comes there won't be a podium or tears because "that's not who I am."

Yet it is important to him to still be productive as a player when he decides to step away. Fitzgerald admitted it would be a struggle to accept a diminished role due to not being able to give 100 percent.

"The end is never really pretty for elite athletes. It never looks good. You watch Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform or see Tony Dorsett playing for the Denver Broncos. ... It's weird because you're used to seeing them at their most dominant stage," Fitzgerald said. "For me, I really want to do things at a high level and be able to walk away and still be someone who can play at a high level."

Fitzgerald has asked others who are closer to retirement or have retired about their thought process going into it. He's been doing that for the last few years, checking in with the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Tony Gonzalez.

For now, he still enjoys being around teammates and staff, asking questions in an effort to improve as a player and setting an example and providing leadership for young players (see full story).

Browns: Rookie Peppers signs, full class under contract
CLEVELAND -- Browns rookie defensive back Jabrill Peppers has signed and now Cleveland's entire draft class is under contract.

Peppers and the Browns had been haggling over guaranteed money on his four-year-deal, which is worth $10.3 million and includes a $5.6 million signing bonus.

The Browns chose Peppers -- one of Cleveland's three first-round selections -- with the No. 25 overall pick. The former Michigan standout played numerous positions for the Wolverines, but the Browns will try him at strong safety and as a kick returner.

Peppers may have been passed over by other teams after he had a diluted urine sample at the scouting combine. Peppers was placed in the first stage of the NFL's substance abuse policy, but he can be cleared from the program after 90 days if he has not positive tests.

Cleveland's rookies were scheduled to report to training camp Sunday night with the veterans arriving on Wednesday. The Browns will open their second training camp under coach Hue Jackson on Thursday.