Larry Fitzgerald

Eagles-Cardinals: Roob's 10 observations

Eagles-Cardinals: Roob's 10 observations

BOX SCORE

Third-down insanity from Carson Wentz, strong stuff from the secondary, big touchdowns from Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith, Rodney McLeod's effort on a meaningless play and much more from the Eagles' third straight win — 34-7 over the Cards at the Linc (see breakdown).

Enjoy the 4-1 start and enjoy Roob's Observations!

1. I was thinking Sunday morning that, by any measure, the Eagles were the superior team and should blow out the Cards and that this was a game that would really show me how far the Eagles have come. I've seen signs the past few weeks that this group has really matured and really developed into something special. But lose to a bad Cards team at home and I knew I'd have to reevaluate. But I picked Eagles 30, Cards 10 because I just sensed that this team had grown to the point where, when faced with a clearly inferior opponent, they would pounce. And pounce they did to the tune of 21-0 after the first quarter, only the ninth time in franchise history they've led a game by 21 or more points after the first quarter. The Eagles showed me a lot Sunday. They got up early, then they pounded the Cards and finished them off. They're now 4-1 with three straight wins, and they've got to be mentioned in any conversation about the best teams in the NFC. You know what I like best about this team? They've been ravaged by injuries — from Darren Sproles to Fletcher Cox to McLeod and played much of the game Sunday without Lane Johnson — but you haven't heard one person in that locker room whine about it or try to use injuries as an excuse. This team is mature, it's serious-minded, it's together, it's driven. It's a beautiful thing to see.

2. Wentz's third-down work Sunday was astonishing (see report card). He was already among the best in the NFL coming into this weekend — his 107.2 passer rating before Sunday was sixth-best in the NFL. Then he went out and went 10 for 11 for 207 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions just on third down in the first three quarters Sunday, with nine of those 10 completions resulting in first downs. His third-down numbers now on the season: 36 for 51 for 573 yards, with six TDs, one INT and a passer rating of 138.8. Insane. This is a guy who ranked 28th in the NFL last year on third down. Wentz said when last year ended he wanted to focus on improving on third down, and his third-down numbers are now off the charts. Spectacular stuff.

3. Wentz was pretty good on the other downs, too. In fact, this was his best game as a pro. Other than one ill-advised interception deep in Cards territory just before halftime, Wentz was brilliant Sunday. He became the first Eagles QB with four TDs in a game since Nick Foles in Oakland back in 2013 and the first to do it here in Philly since Donovan McNabb against these same Arizona Cardinals on Thanksgiving Day in 2008. And Wentz hit the deep ball, becoming the first Eagle QB to throw two TDs of 50 yards or more in a game since McNabb had a 55-yarder to Correll Buckhalter and an 84-yarder to Donte Stallworth in a game against the Redskins in 2006. Wentz was 21 for 30 Sunday (70 percent) for 304 yards with four TDs and an INT. Five games in, Wentz has completed 62 percent of his passes with 10 TDs, three INTs and a passer rating of 97.7. This is your quarterback.

4. Let's talk the Eagles' secondary. The last three weeks, they've faced three quarterbacks who've combined to throw for more than 140,000 yards and nearly 1,000 touchdowns. Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer are all potential Hall of Famers. And it wasn't always pretty, but the Eagles got through that minefield of high-powered All-Pro quarterbacks with a spotless 3-0 record. Say what you will about the Eagles' secondary. They've given up some yards, given up some touchdowns. But out-manned, out-gunned, banged-up, young, inexperienced — they made the plays they had to each week against some pretty darned good QBs. And trust me, that would not have been the case the last eight years. Even Eagles killer Larry Fitzgerald was just another guy Sunday, with six catches for 51 harmless yards and nothing longer than 15 yards. Palmer threw 44 times Sunday but didn't have a single completion of 30 yards or more. Really strong stuff from this secondary.

5. One guy in particular who really stood out Sunday was Patrick Robinson, who was just making plays all over the place. His progress from struggling veteran in training camp to the Eagles' best cornerback right now has been so impressive. He just gets better and better. This is a 30-year-old guy who's with his fourth team in four years and who really I thought this summer was in jeopardy of being out of the league. But once he grew comfortable in Jim Schwartz's defense, he just started making plays, and Sunday he was the Eagles' best defensive player. Remarkable performance.

6. I wasn't crazy about Doug's play-calling late in the second quarter. I understand he loves being aggressive, and that's fine, but be smart too. You're up 21-7, you're already in field goal range, take the three points and be happy with a 24-7 halftime lead. That doesn't mean just run the ball, but run high-percentage stuff mixed in with the running game. Try to score but don't put the ball up for grabs. I'm big on momentum. Wentz's pass intended for Zach Ertz that Antoine Bethea picked off in the end zone really had very little chance of succeeding. As it turned out, Robinson bailed out the Eagles, blocking a Phil Dawson field-goal attempt just before halftime. But it never should have gotten to that point. There's a time to be aggressive. And a time to just be happy with a 24-7 lead.

7. Gotta give big props though to Pederson for running the ball in the second half once the Eagles built a big lead. Arizona is very good against the run. The Cardinals came in with the NFL's No. 10 rush defense and were allowing just 3.2 yards per carry and 88 rushing yards per game. But for the third straight week, Pederson showed a real commitment to the run. The backs had just 10 carries for 44 yards in the first half but had 16 carries for 114 yards in the second half, and that's the most success any team has had on the ground against the Cards this year. LeGarrette Blount, with just two carries for six yards in the first half, finished with 74 rushing yards on just 14 carries.

8. How about Kenjon Barner setting up a touchdown with a 76-yard punt return a week and a half after being out of work and living in Southern California hoping for another chance to play professional football? Barner is a veteran and knows how to take care of himself (he reported in tremendous shape) and despite not even being with a team the first few weeks of the season, he turned in a pivotal big play in that 21-point first quarter that got the Eagles going. The Eagles were down three running backs Sunday — injuries to Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood left Barner in a key role, and he responded with five carries for 23 yards rushing and three punt returns for 110 yards. Props to the Eagles' pro scouting staff for plucking Barner out of Orange County and to Duce Staley and Dave Fipp for getting him ready.

9. Great to see big contributions from Agholor and Smith. Agholor had the biggest game of his career, with four catches for 93 yards, including that career-long 72-yard touchdown, the longest TD catch by an Eagles wide receiver since Jordan Matthews' 78-yarder from Sam Bradford against the Cards two years ago. Agholor doesn't make that play last year, catching the ball and then putting some moves on a couple defenders on his way to the end zone. And Smith, who's been plagued by drops this year, finally showed what kind of player he is, with three catches for 70 yards, including a 59-yard TD of his own. On a quiet day from Alshon Jeffery (three catches for 31 yards), it was great to see Agholor and Smith pick up the slack.

10. You know what I flat-out love? McLeod's play to save a touchdown on what was a meaningless play late in the game. With the Eagles up 34-7 and Cards receiver J.J. Nelson about to score along the left sideline in the final seconds, McLeod ran across the field and blasted Nelson like inches before he hit the end zone. The ball came loose and bounced into and then out of the end zone, which makes it a touchback. McLeod could have easily given up on the play and nobody would have ever known. The Eagles would have won 34-14. But this is what I love about this team. McLeod didn't care about the score or how much time was left or what the situation was. He just made a play because he's programmed to make a play. He made a play because that's what he does.

Eagles-Cardinals thoughts: Slowing down Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona pass game key to victory

Eagles-Cardinals thoughts: Slowing down Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona pass game key to victory

Eagles (3-1) vs. Cardinals (2-2)
1 p.m. on FOX
Eagles -6.5 

Here’s an opponent that’s actually won some games — barely. After back-to-back contests against clubs still in search of their first victory, the Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 5.

The Cardinals fly into town with a 2-2 record, but those wins were hard to come by. Both required overtime and were at the expense of clubs that share just one win between them.

On paper, the Eagles sure look superior. They’re 3-1 with a clear advantage in terms of point differential, turnover ratio, run defense and just about every offensive category. They’re also in sole possession of first place in the NFC East and looking like one of the league’s ascending franchises.

In other words, there’s an expectation the Eagles will take care of business Sunday. Of course, in the NFL, wins rarely come easy.

Playing keep away
Here’s a number that may surprise some people based on coach Doug Pederson’s lopsided pass-run ratio the first two weeks of the season. The Eagles lead the NFL in time of possession, and it’s not particularly close.

The Eagles' offense has had the football an average of 35 minutes, 29 seconds per game. The next closest team, the Houston Texans, comes in a minute-and-a-half back at 33:52, while the third and fourth place teams are nearly three minutes off of that pace.

Running the football successfully the past two weeks helps. The Eagles’ ground attack is tied for third with 143.0 yards per game. However, the ability of quarterback Carson Wentz to keep the chains moving on third down has been huge as well, as the offense is converting 50.9 percent of the time — good for second in the NFL.

That’s obviously a great sign, but Wentz needs to continue picking up first downs, and most of all, play turnover-free ball Sunday. Because the last thing the Eagles can afford to do is give the Cardinals extra chances.

The Fitzgerald Factor
It’s almost impossible to talk about the Cardinals and not immediately think of Larry Fitzgerald — especially when the conversation involves the Eagles. Not only is Fitzgerald a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and future Hall of Fame player, but the 6-foot-3, 218-pound slot receiver routinely cooks the Birds.

In seven career games against the Eagles, Fitzgerald is averaging 5.9 receptions for 99.0 yards with eight touchdowns. Not coincidentally, the Cardinals are 5-2 in those meetings.

Fitzgerald is in his 14th season and 34 years old now, but still going strong. He’s coming off back-to-back 100-reception, 1,000-yard seasons and currently is on pace to eclipse said milestones again. The Eagles likely will use some combination of Patrick Robinson and Malcolm Jenkins to try to slow him down.

Pick your poison
The trouble is the Cardinals' passing attack has more than one way to beat a defense. If it’s not Fitzgerald controlling the middle of the field, it’s tremendous speed outside the numbers.

Fitzgerald has size and great hands, but Jaron Brown, John Brown and J.J. Nelson are fast, faster and faster still on the perimeters. All three can run a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash, with John Brown officially timing at 4.34 seconds and Nelson at 4.28 seconds and the 2014 and 2015 NFL scouting combines, respectively.

The Cardinals rank second in the NFL with 292.2 passing yards per game and third with 20 completions of 20 yards or more. The Eagles rank 30th allowing 285.0 passing yards per game and have allowed five receptions of 40 yards or more — tied for most in the league. Can this secondary handle all these weapons?

Why this one could come down to the wire
Everything about this matchup potentially sets up for another nailbiter in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles' defense has been getting shredded in the final period, to the tune of 17.3 points per game in their last three. The Chiefs hung 14 on them. The Giants racked up 24. The Chargers scored 14 as well.

It’s certainly been a problem, though there’s no big secret why. The last two games, in particular, the Eagles had the lead late, forcing the other team to throw. They’ve had injuries, most notably to cornerback Ronald Darby and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, both out this week.

The Cardinals are built very similarly to the Eagles’ last two opponents, the Giants and Chargers. Arizona has no running game. The offensive line stinks. The defense is good enough to keep them in the game. And the quarterback, Carson Palmer, and his receivers can light up the scoreboard in a hurry.

There’s no magic formula. The Eagles' D is shorthanded again, and the Cardinals will need to throw the ball to score and keep up. It’s probably going to be a tightballgamee, right up until the end.

The difference this week
There is at least one notable difference between the Cardinals and the Eagles’ last two opponents. Arizona’s offensive line might be even worse, and Palmer will hold the ball and get sacked.

No quarterback in the league has been sacked more than Palmer this season — a whopping 17 times. Sixteen of those sacks have occurred in the last three weeks alone. Palmer has also thrown five interceptions while running for his life.

Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries was ruled out with a knee injury, and Alex Boone is questionable with a chest injury that limited him all week in practice. Even if Boone plays, the O-line is a sieve.

The Eagles may not have Cox, but they can get to this quarterback and force him to make mistakes. If there’s any hope of avoiding late theatrics this week, it’s the offense playing keep away from the Cardinals, and the defense pounding Palmer into submission.

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.