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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

The Roots rocked, peak Pederson, and marvelous Merrill

The Roots rocked, peak Pederson, and marvelous Merrill

The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.

Again, that's really fun to type. And there was so much fun to be had on Sunday when the Birds beat up on the Vikings to win the NFC Championship.

In the spirit of truly having a blast watching yesterday's game and partying on Broad Street after, here's some of the killer content the Eagles shared on their social media. Their social team was as red hot as Nick Foles. Tough to beat good access. This stuff is just fun to relive.

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Doug Pederson's postgame speech. The look on his face after he says it! Goosebumps.

The Roots! Many fans at home were bummed that the FOX telecast did not show The Roots halftime performance. Thankfully, you can watch it in full below. It ends with a fantastic rendition of the Eagles' fight song.

The Merrill Reese Cam. Needs no description.

Nick Foles just one more thing Chip Kelly got wrong

Nick Foles just one more thing Chip Kelly got wrong

Imagine having ever doubted Nick Foles. Well, OK, that puts you in a group with roughly 99 percent of the general public. But imagine having ever traded Foles away, thinking he wasn’t good enough to get the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

There are a select few talent evaluators on the face of this earth who have gone so far as to actually get rid of Foles, and just one man who swapped him for another quarterback. Take a bow, Chip Kelly. Your brief tenure as coach of the Eagles and even briefer stint as personnel czar only continue to look worse with time.

It’s not news Kelly was a failure as an NFL head coach or that his one year as the Eagles’ general manager was disastrous. Fans had to relive one mistake after another as vice president of football operations Howie Roseman spent the last two years undoing the damage, move by move.

Yet, little else was thought of Kelly’s call to send Foles packing, until now. To the contrary, it was one of the few decisions where the disgraced coach appeared justified. It took Foles less than one season to flame out with the Rams and wind up a journeyman backup. Anybody who thought it might be a bad idea at the time had no room to talk.

Now that Foles has done his part to guide the Eagles to a conference championship, it’s time to revisit that decision. And at the time Kelly traded Foles, he had a 14-4 record in his previous 18 starts. He had set an NFL record with a 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013 (since broken by Tom Brady). He walked off the field with the lead in a wild-card playoff game.

Maybe Foles was a victim of playing behind a patchwork offensive line in 2014 when he turned the ball over 13 times in eight games and suffered a season-ending injury. Maybe he seemed like a flash in the pan with the Rams because there was no talent around him in an offense that finished no better than 21st in the league from 2007 to 2016.

Maybe Foles has been pretty good all along, and Kelly and all the doubters were simply wrong. Actually, that’s a fact.

Not only did Kelly send Foles packing, he dealt him for Sam Bradford, who, ironically, was sitting on the opposite sideline in the NFC Championship Game. Bradford may, in fact, be more talented but was coming off consecutive ACL tears and hadn’t played competitive football in nearly two years. Bradford, who was on the Vikings’ sideline because he got hurt again.

It wasn’t even Foles for Bradford straight-up. Kelly agreed to send second- and fourth-round draft picks in the deal, too, getting only a fifth in return. Like almost all of his moves, this has not aged well.

Kelly traded a potential franchise quarterback, a guy who had won him a lot of games, who looked like he could win in the postseason. A perfectly safe, reliable option, if not exactly oozing greatness — all for a glorified lottery ticket.

Bradford was fine. If he could stay healthy, he would probably prove, like Foles, he never had a shot while playing for those awful Rams teams.

But was Bradford worth the gamble? Opinions were mixed at the time, but that’s because, like Kelly, there were a lot of folks who were ready to give up on Foles. Three years later, it was just one more needless, horrendous decision.

Fortunately, the universe has a way of correcting itself sometimes. Or maybe that’s just Roseman hard at work, the other enormous mistake in Kelly’s NFL tenure that went largely glossed over. Whatever. The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl, with Foles at the helm, and Kelly is back to coaching college football — which is the way it always should’ve been.