We got an up close and personal look at a one-dimensional team Sunday at the Linc. The Arizona Cardinals entered ranked last in the NFL in rushing yards per game and second in passing. Not surprisingly, they ran for a measly 31 yards and threw for 276 very hollow yards in the Eagles' 34-7 throttling of Bruce Arians' crew.
They were easy to figure out on both sides of the ball. Arizona is headed nowhere fast. Their opponent, however, has begun to take flight. And one of the biggest reasons? Diversity. The Eagles can hurt you in many ways on both sides of the ball.
The Birds' offense ranks in the top 10 in the NFL in points per game (27.4), rushing yards (138.8), and passing yards (259.0). And they are converting third downs at 53.4 percent clip, best in the league this season. Carson Wentz yesterday was an unfathomable 11 of 12 for 229 yards and three touchdowns on third down.
One of the big concerns entering the season and really through the first two games was that the Eagles would be a one-dimensional team. The last three games have proven that not to be the case as the Birds have ripped off 502 yards on the ground. Couple that with a potent passing attack that can hurt you underneath with Zach Ertz or Alshon Jeffery, deep with Torrey Smith, or anywhere with the rejuvenated Nelson Agholor, and an offensive line that has proven to be one of the best in the game. Jason Peters is playing like he’s 25 instead of 35. Jason Kelce, written off by many, has come back with a vengeance. Lane Johnson’s presence, so missed last season, is clear as the entire line has bordered on dominant.
The maestro to this sweet sounding orchestra is Wentz, whose feel for the NFL after just 21 games is remarkable. So far through five games, he has taken that giant leap forward from Year 1 to Year 2. Major credit goes to Doug Pederson, whose play-calling and preparation have been spot on. He realized his mistakes in the Kansas City loss. He benched Isaac Seumalo and committed to balance. The result has been three straight wins.
The variety does not end on the offensive side though. The Eagles' defensive line rotation is deep and talented. There is little if any fall-off when Chris Long or Derek Barnett or Beau Allen enter the game. Jim Schwartz can constantly throw fresh legs — or “fastballs,” as he likes to say — at opposing offensive lines. That depth is how you survive and win without Fletcher Cox.
The linebacker play has been good all around and that includes Mychal Kendricks. An oft-injured enigma the last couple of seasons, Kendricks looks close to the guy the Eagles gave that big contract to a few years back. The Birds are allowing just 62.8 yards per game on the ground, second-best in the NFL. And while they rank 29th in passing yards per game, some of that is attributable to their stingy run defense making opponents one-dimensional and apt to throw a lot. But you also have to take into account injuries. They’ve played without No. 1 cornerback Ronald Darby nearly the entire season. They’ve also been without Jaylen Watkins and Rodney McLeod among others in the secondary.
How about special teams? Caleb Sturgis goes down, Jake Elliott delivers. Darren Sproles gone, Kenyon Barner steps in. While credit goes to the players, Pederson and the staff, Howie Roseman deserves serious kudos for his personnel moves, including the trade for Timmy Jernigan and signing of reclamation project Patrick Robinson. No to mention the bold vision to move up to secure Wentz, which is the catalyst for all their success.
The Eagles' diversity in all three phases is something that plays long term and should serve them well regardless of opponent, weather, injuries or whatever the next 11 games have in store.