Just a few years ago, the Eagles found themselves matched up with quite a Cardinals team, squaring off with Arizona in a fight to reach their second Super Bowl in five seasons. The Birds, both of the NFC East and West, will be back at it on Sunday for Week 10 action, but each side has changed dramatically since the last time they met. The stakes aren't exactly as high, either, or at least in the eyes of the Cardinals, who have stumbled to a 2-6 start on the season. The Eagles haven't exactly been much better with just three wins halfway through the season, but remain in the race for a division title with the Giants and Cowboys.
A win against Arizona, which, frankly, is expected due to the general incompetence of the Cardinals through the first half of 2011, would keep the Eagles' playoff hopes alive, even though Philadelphia has struggled to maintain consistency thus far. After dropping four of their first five games on the season, the Eagles rebounded with convincing performances against Washington and Dallas, seemingly placing themselves back among the league's elite contenders. Against the Bears on Monday night in Week 9, however, Michael Vick and the Eagles came up short, blowing a fourth-quarter lead in a tight prime time showdown with Chicago.
Losing to the Cardinals, who aren't expected to have the services of former Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb (turf toe), wouldn't mathematically eliminate Philly from playoff contention, but falling to 3-6 after nine games would essentially require the team to win the remaining seven games on its schedule, which includes mathchups with highly-regarded clubs like New England and New York. Fortunately for the Eagles, the Cardinals haven't been very impressive in 2011, despite acquiring Kolb in an attempt to rejuvenate a well-stocked offense that also features perennial Pro-Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
To gear up for Sunday's Week 10 showdown of the Eagles and Cards, let's take a look at some key storylines and players to keep an eye on:
Eagles-Cardinals Key Questions:
- Can the Eagles take advantage of Arizona's poor defense? The Eagles went up against an inexperienced secondary vs. Chicago in Week 9, but couldn't get the deep ball to DeSean Jackson...or any of the other receivers for that matter. The Cardinals have given up an average of more than 24 points per game, so it could be crucial for Philadelphia to get back in a groove offensively, whether it means making big plays or working methodical drives to wear down the defense.
- Will Patrick Peterson play a role for the Cardinals against the Eagles? Peterson has been admirable on defense at cornerback, but he's made bigger contributions on special teams as Arizona's punt returner. Through eight games, the LSU product has already taken three kicks back for touchdowns, and while the Eagles were able to contain the Bears' Devin Hester last week, Peterson could pose a new problem, especially if the Cardinals' offense can't get much going on the scoreboard.
- How will Juan Castillo run the defense against the Cardinals? Castillo seemed to redeem himself with strong defensive outings against the Redskins and Cowboys, but the unit reverted to its old ways against Chicago, faltering against the run and blowing coverages on multiple third-down situations. With or without Kolb, the Cardinals have an abysmal offense, but the Eagles haven't exactly dominated on defense for the majority of the year, so it will be interesting to see what approach Castillo takes, especially with Beanie Wells boasting decent stats out of Arizona's backfield.
Players To Keep An Eye On:
- RB LeSean McCoy: He's been the Eagles' offensive MVP thus far and could add to his league-leading rushing total against a Cardinals defense that's ranked among the worst in the NFL.
- WR DeSean Jackson: He was all but a non-factor against the Bears, but could find success on deep passes against the Cardinals' secondary.
- DE Trent Cole: Against tackle Levi Brown, who's reportedly been nothing but horrendous up front for Arizona, Cole could have a chance to make up for last week's quiet game.
- CB Nnamdi Asomugha: Asomugha has been up and down this year, but when he's been on, he's been dominant. He could have a tough task handling Larry Fitzgerald, though.
- RB Beanie Wells: Wells has been limited by knee injuries this year, but remains on pace for over 1,000 yards and is powerful enough to rattle through the Eagles' questionable LB corps.
- WR Larry Fitzgerald: Must this be explained? Fitzgerald is consistently a threat, and against a secondary that's been inconsistent, he could give the Cardinals some offensive life.
- TE Todd Heap: Sure, Heap is nearing the end of his career, but he's still part of Arizona's offense...and the Eagles have had trouble containing tight ends in the past.
Game Prediction: The Cardinals will probably give the Eagles more grief than expected, but Philadelphia has far too much talent to lose to this 2-6 Arizona team. Predicted score: Eagles 38, Cardinals 17