The Eagles lost a tough game on Monday night. Fans and the media can talk about playoffs, rebuilding, and/or firings, but the team must focus on the next game, the Cardinals.
Monday's loss to Chicago was highly disappointing, in both the result and style of play. The Eagles had looked sharp for a couple of weeks, but went back to the ways of the four-game losing streak. They were sloppy. They started slow and disappeared in the fourth quarter. That was a long, miserable night, but the team must put that behind them and focus on Sunday, and on the Arizona Cardinals.
The offense produced just 17 points last week. One of the touchdowns came on a short field. The offense must get going against Arizona. I think Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will really try to get the passing attack back on track. Michael Vick has gone three straight games without throwing for 300 or more yards. He only has one deep ball in those games, a 59-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin.
The vertical passing game has been missing this year. Part of that is due to coverages, but beyond that something just isn't clicking. The coaches need to go to the playbook and find something that the guys have had success with before and get that going again. The threat of the deep ball helps the offense even when they aren't being completed, but it's time for Vick and the receivers to deliver some big plays.
Can you believe LeSean McCoy is leading the NFL in rushing? That's just mind-blowing. He obviously will be a focal part of the offense. You need him running the ball to make the play-action fakes work. Defenses have been hesitant to come up this year for fear of getting beat deep. The Bears did play some eight man fronts, but the Eagles failed to make them pay.
One group that absolutely must play better is the offensive line. They had been on a roll heading into Monday, but the Bears got the best of them. Chicago controlled the line of scrimmage. That can't happen this week. The Eagles must win up front. Todd Herremans and Jason Peters must control the edges. The interior blockers will have their hands full with Darnell Dockett, one of the league's most disruptive defensive tackles. Making the situation even tougher is that King Dunlap will start at left guard. Evan Mathis is battling a turf toe injury so Dunlap will replace him. Dunlap has done well as a spot starter at tackle, but guard will be a whole new challenge. He's very tall, but will need to play with good pad level to be effective.
The offense got off to fast starts against Washington and Dallas, but not so on Monday night. They only posted three points in the first half. That is unacceptable. There is too much firepower for this group to be held to a field goal over two quarters. Obviously holding onto the ball would be a big help. Vick threw a terrible red zone interception in the Bears loss. That means the offense has red zone turnovers in all but the Dallas game. That is simply unacceptable. That must change. Vick must be judicious with his throws in the red zone. Don't guess. Don't take dumb chances.
The defense gets a huge boost by not having to deal with Mike Martz, Matt Forte, and Jay Cutler. Those guys all did a great job on Monday night. Martz had a great gameplan. Forte and Cutler executed it well, but then also improvised when that was necessary. That was a long night for the defense. This matchup is vastly different. Arizona is 25th in the league in yards and 22nd in scoring. This is a prime opportunity for the Eagles defense to get back on track.
The Cardinals have John Skelton at quarterback. He's going to be making the sixth start of his NFL career. Skelton has good size and a strong arm. He's got potential, but is a typical young quarterback. He can be impressive one moment and then really dumb the next. That all comes with learning on the job. It is up to the defensive line to get pressure on Skelton and try to rattle him.
Skelton is a big guy, but can run. He's got 87 rushing yards in his limited time and averages six yards per carry. The pass rushers have a big target to go after, but can't think of him as just a statue. Skelton isn't going to be nearly as good at throwing on the run as Cutler was. Skelton needs a cleaner pocket. Cutler is able to move around and throw "from different platforms", as the saying goes in footballspeak.
The goal will be to shut down Beanie Wells and the run game, forcing Skelton into known passing situations. Wells is big at 229 pounds, but isn't having nearly the kind of year that Forte is. Wells has totaled 205 yards over the last four games. He's getting carries, but the run game is struggling. The Eagles run defense has struggled this year. They have a favorable matchup in this game. Failure to keep Wells under control would be bad. Having problems with a red hot back like Forte is one thing. Having them with the Cards running game would be a troubling sign.
The one big name in the receiver corps is Larry Fitzgerald. I'm very interested to see how the Eagles try to defend him. Ideally you'd want Nnamdi Asomugha to take him one-on-one. I'm sure the Cards would prefer to have Fitzgerald go against Asante Samuel or the slot corner. I would love to see Juan Castillo let Asomugha shadow Fitzgerald all over the field. The other receiver to deal with is Early Doucet. He's more of a complementary player, but has almost as many catches and the same number of touchdowns as Fitzgerald.
Did you know Todd Heap is a Cardinal? Honestly, I'd forgotten about that move. Heap has dealt with a hamstring injury, but still has the ability to be a thorn in the Eagles side. We all know that tight ends can be a problem. Jamar Chaney did well with Jason Witten in the Dallas game. Maybe Chaney is ready to have another good showing while covering a tight end.
The Eagles special teams covered well vs the Bears. Devin Hester had one decent punt return, but that was it. The test this week is rookie sensation Patrick Peterson. He's got three punt return scores on the year, including the game winner from last week in overtime. Kickoffs aren't a cakewalk either. The Eagles need to keep LaRod Stephens-Howling under control. He averages 25 yards per kickoff return. Occasinally A.J. Jefferson will get a shot and he averages 29 yards per return. +
The Cardinals are very dangerous on returns and that will be a critical area on Sunday. A team that is struggling on offense and has a young quarterback needs all the help they can get. One way for them to make plays is in the return game. Bobby April will need another good gameplan and his cover guys will need to be just as good as they were against the Bears.
The Eagles are a much more talented team than the Cardinals, but only have a one game advantage in the standings. 2011 has been that kind of year. If the Eagles are unfocused or take the Cardinals too lightly, they could have the same record after Sunday. If the Eagles show up ready to play and put the pedal to the metal for 60 minutes, this could easily be another blowout win.
Needless to say, it would be very troubling if the Eagles came in with any sense of complacency and didn't play with a real spark. I don't anticipate that happening, but this is such an odd team that I'm no longer sure what to expect. One thing I do know, Sunday can't get here soon enough.