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Position Breakdowns: How the Eagles stack up against the Cardinals

Position Breakdowns: How the Eagles stack up against the Cardinals

The Eagles and the Cardinals may be close in the standings, but have the looks of two teams going in different directions. The Eagles feel like they are on the rise, while the Cardinals are just trying to weather a really bad storm.

That might seem unfair, but consider the circumstances. The Eagles are 3-1, winners of two straight and two of three on the road to begin the 2017 season. Arizona is 2-2, with both victories coming in overtime, against teams with one win combined.

This wasn’t necessarily supposed to be the case when the season began. There was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the Eagles. The Cardinals were supposed to be better than this. Where exactly is the divide?

QUARTERBACKS

It’s a battle of Carsons under center. Carson Wentz is having the much better season than Carson Palmer thus far. Wentz has a higher completion percentage (60.5 to 59.0), yards per reception (7.2 to 7.0) and fewer turnovers (3 to 5) through four games, not to mention brings mobility to the table. Palmer is stuck behind a crummy offensive line, which may be largely to blame for his struggles this season, but he’s also a statue in the pocket and approaching 38 years old in December. At this stage of their careers, Wentz is the more dynamic of the two.

Very slight edge: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

Both clubs are down a back, but the Cardinals losing David Johnson is a much bigger deal than the Eagles losing Darren Sproles. Johnson had become the key component of Arizona’s offense, leading the NFL with 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns in 2016. The likes of Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington can’t begin to replace that. The Eagles could be minus Wendell Smallwood as well, but got LeGarrette Blount back on track the last two weeks. Blount is the most effective back on the field, perhaps followed by Corey Clement, also for the Birds.

Edge: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Statistically speaking, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz is the most productive player on either side, but Cardinals slot receiver Larry Fitzgerald isn’t far behind. Ertz has the edge in yards (326 to 276), Fitzgerald in touchdowns (2 to 1). The comparison boils down to which supporting cast is better. In terms of name recognition, that would be the Eagles with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith. Arizona has a ton of speed on the outside, though, between J.J. Nelson, Jaron Brown and John Brown. It’s close, but the Eagles’ targets are a bit more versatile.

Very slight edge: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

There’s really no comparison. The Eagles' offensive line has been living up to its reputation as one of the best in the NFL the past few weeks, protecting Wentz and paving the way for backs. The Cardinals' O-line is working on getting their senior citizen quarterback killed and has been unable to open up holes for ball carriers — not even David Johnson. Injuries are certainly part of the problem. Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (knee) hasn’t practiced all week, while starting left guard Alex Boone (chest) has been limited.

Very distinct edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVEN

Chandler Jones is a monster. With 4.0 sacks, eight tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits, the Cardinals' outside linebacker has been more disruptive in opposing backfields than anybody in an Eagles uniform. Meanwhile, Fletcher Cox is out again for the Birds, so it’s up to Brandon Graham and Tim Jernigan to provide the bulk of the push. Still, the Birds are deeper in the trenches, and perhaps superior overall, measuring up better both against the run (70.8 yards per game to 88.0) and in sacks (10 to 9).

Slight edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Eagles are certainly susceptible to the big play, especially through the air. It might make sense to play more two-deep safety and keep Malcolm Jenkins back deep against a speedy receiving corps, granted that will take away from what makes him special. Unfortunately, the secondary just doesn’t have anybody like Patrick Peterson, the Cardinals’ shutdown cover man who can take the opponent’s best receiver out of the game. The rest of Arizona’s cornerbacks aren’t so great, but you don’t see the unit surrendering 80-yard touchdowns on a weekly basis, either.

Slight edge: Cardinals

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Cardinals have absolutely no return game to speak of, and kicker Phil Dawson has been less than stellar from mid-range. Even without Sproles, the Eagles’ return units are dangerous, and Jake Elliott is just beginning to find his groove, nailing four field goals from long distance last week. The punters are comparable, but the Eagles’ coverage teams are also superior.

Edge: Eagles

COACHING

Doug Pederson might be starting to win some people over in Philly, but he still has a long way to go to have a resume like Bruce Arians. Arians was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year in 2012 and ’14 and picked up two Super Bowl rings as an assistant. His career is winding down, but it’s been a tremendous run, even speaking specifically for his time with the Cardinals. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is an easy choice over the relatively inexperienced James Bettcher on the opposing sideline, yet Arians still gets the nod.

Very slight edge: Cardinals

OVERALL

At full health, these two teams might stack up pretty close. Of course, the NFL is a war of attrition, where nobody is ever at full health, and in this case, the Cardinals are more shorthanded. The offense is missing one of the best players in the entire league and multiple offensive linemen, and an aging quarterback simply can’t compensate. Add that Arizona has to travel, and an Eagles squad that’s playing at the level we’ve seen through four weeks should be able to dispatch of a weakened and vulnerable opponent.

Edge: Eagles

Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

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Jerry Jones goes after Roger Goodell over Ezekiel Elliott suspension

Jerry Jones, the NFL's most outspoken troll, just wants to watch the world burn.

After weeks of talk and escalation, the Cowboys' owner is ready to go to war with Roger Goodell and the league's other owners over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension.

According to an ESPN report, Jones threatened the commissioner on a conference call after Elliott's suspension was announced, saying, "I'm gonna come after you with everything I have. If you think (Patriots owner) Bob Kraft came after you hard, Bob Kraft is a p---y compared to what I'm going to do."

For weeks now, Jones has tried to disrupt talks of a contract extension for Goodell, promoted objectively bad pizza in the name of football, and landed himself in hot water with the other owners. So much so that there has reportedly been talk about removing Jones as the Cowboys' owner.

It's hard to pick a side here. Jones — the long-lost twin of Emperor Palpatine — and Goodell — a man with rulings more inconsistent than Pete Morelli. You don't really want to root for either of them, but it is fun to think about the extremely unlikely chance that Jones loses the Cowboys. 

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

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USA Today Images

Cowboys just another inferior opponent to Eagles

It was only a few weeks ago when it appeared this first meeting between the Eagles and Dallas Cowboys was shaping up to be a battle for NFC East supremacy. Now that we’re here, the Cowboys are just trying to save their season, and the Eagles just want to take care of business against an inferior opponent.

That’s not a stretch. Are the Cowboys a good team? Well, they’re not bad, at least based on their 5-4 record. They certainly would be a lot better were it not for injuries and suspensions. But as the team is currently constructed right now, Dallas is not on the Eagles’ level.

Name one thing the Cowboys do better than the Eagles in 2017? That’s going to be a struggle, because aside from maybe punting, or maybe having a marginally superior pass rush, or maybe running the football before Ezekiel Elliott was sent packing, there’s really nowhere Dallas possesses an edge at this point.

Doesn’t mean the Cowboys won’t pose a threat to the Eagles or even win on Sunday night. It’s simply a difficult scenario to envision when we break down the matchup on paper.

QUARTERBACKS

We’re probably going to be having this debate for many years. One-and-a-half seasons certainly isn’t enough to settle it. That being said, there’s no question who’s playing better right now, as in ‘17. Carson Wentz might be the NFL’s Most Valuable Player through 10 weeks. Wentz has thrown for more yards (2,262 to 1,994), a higher yards per attempt (7.8 to 6.9), and found the end zone with greater frequency (23 to 21) – including rushing touchdowns – compared to Dak Prescott. The Eagles’ signal caller also has just one more turnover (7 to 6) and 26 fewer yards rushing (211 to 237). Ultimately, the stats are all pretty close, but Wentz also has the more important number over Prescott right now: Wins, eight to five.

Slight advantage: Eagles

RUNNING BACKS

It’s safe to say that any combination of Alfred Morris, Darren McFadden and Rod Smith (not to be confused with Broncos great Rod Smith) is a massive drop-off from Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys simply can’t replace the explosive element Elliott brought to their offense, not with this collection of has-beens and one nobody, anyway. Not one of those ball carriers has the pure ability of a Jay Ajayi at this stage of their careers, and the Eagles wouldn’t swap LeGarrette Blount or Corey Clement with Dallas, either. Fun fact about the Cowboys backfield: The unit’s leading receiver is Smith with 38 yards.

Clear advantage: Eagles

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz is leads both teams with 43 receptions, 528 yards receiving and six touchdowns, and he even missed the Eagles’ last game. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor are second and fourth, respectively, with 500 and 428 yards receiving, and tied for second with five touchdowns each. The Cowboys’ top receivers haven’t been as effective at getting down the field or in the red zone, though it’s a deep group. Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley are essentially possession receivers at this point, and even speedy Terrance Newman is averaging a career-worst 11.8 yards per catch. Dallas’ best deep threat has been Brice Butler this season with 10 receptions for 243 yards and two touchdowns. Otherwise, the vertical game has been nonexistent.

Advantage: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINE

In retrospect, the Cowboys’ issues this season were easy to see coming. The retirement of right tackle Doug Free started a game of musical chairs up front, while the departure of guard Ronald Leary in free agency hurt the unit’s depth. Going from guard to tackle has been an adjustment for La’el Collins, and whether at left guard or left tackle, Chaz Green has been an abject failure. Dallas needs Tyron Smith healthy and covering Prescott’s blind side for this to even have a prayer of working. Meanwhile, the Eagles’ O-line keeps on ticking despite losing Jason Peters, which is a credit to Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s development. Peters or no, this continues to look like the best unit in the league.

Advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE LINE AND LINEBACKERS

The Eagles may have the best front four in the NFL, or one of them at least, but don’t discount the Cowboys here. Dallas is tied for fifth with 29 sacks, and Demarcus Lawrence leads the league with 11.5. The defense isn’t great against the run – 4.3 yards per carry allowed is tied for 23rd – but Lawrence, David Irving and Tyrone Crawford can all get after the quarterback. Of course, it’s not as if the Eagles aren’t scary rushing the passer, with just four fewer sacks, plus Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and company boast the No. 1 run defense as well. Even if the lines are considered even, there’s going to be some separation at linebacker, as the Cowboys are without the heart soul of their defense, Sean Lee (hamstring).

Slight advantage: Eagles

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Despite a solid pass rush, teams have thrown on the Cowboys’ secondary. In terms of opponents’ quarterback rating, Dallas ranks 23rd (96.4). It’s a young backfield, with rookies Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie – the latter returning from a hamstring injury – in outsized roles. The Eagles are young at corner themselves, with Ronald Darby finally back from an ankle and rejoining Jalen Mills, but have seasoned safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod over the top. The unit will give up some ground, coming in at 26th in terms of yards per game (249.4), yet is ninth in quarterback efficiency (81.2). Teams throw against this group because they have to, not because they want to.

Advantage: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

At one point, Dan Bailey may have been the best kicker in the league, but he’s coming off his worst season as a pro and is now sidelined by a groin injury. That was the Cowboys’ primary strength on special teams. Now unreliable Mike Nugent is handling the kicking duties. Dallas punter Chris Jones has been pretty good at pinning opponents deep, which is nice, because he’s getting a lot more opportunities this year. The Eagles routinely grade among the top units in all phases, and will get the nod over most opponents, even if there is a Pro Bowl kicker.

Advantage: Eagles

COACHING

Jason Garrett is the reigning NFL Coach of the Year. He doesn’t call the plays. He doesn’t run the defense. Heck, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones probably decides when to call a timeout or throw the challenge flag. Yet, Garrett has hardware saying he’s the best. To his credit, there is a good staff in place around him, particularly defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. But as of now, Doug Pederson is well on his way to winning Coach of the Year in ’17, and will do it while actually running a team, nor are there any weak links on his staff. With an unconvincing 62-49 record, including playoffs, we’ll go ahead and chalk up Garrett’s 2016 campaign as an anomaly.

Advantage: Eagles

OVERALL

The Cowboys went 13-3 in the regular season in ‘16 on the strength of a dominant offensive line, punishing ground attack and well-coached defense. While the latter is still in place, even that aspect of the equation benefitted from ball-control offense. But Dallas’ line is an injury away from being in shambles, and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion is suspended. That leaves a young quarterback with aging weapons and adequate protection at best, and a defense that can rush the quarterback but does little else. Meanwhile, the Eagles have the best record in the league right now at 8-1, and they were firing on all cylinders heading into their bye. This is a week-to-week sport, so everything can change in the blink of an eye on Sunday night. Going in, however, there’s no denying which side is superior.

Distinct advantage: Eagles