I know a lot of people are picking the Eagles today, and by association, many of them disrespecting the Arizona Cardinals. This is a dangerous game for the Birds though, and not just because the Cards upended New England last week, or because they've won nine of their last 11 games going back to last November.
This has some of the makings of a letdown game for Philadelphia -- coming off of a huge victory over a potential Super Bowl contender in the home opener, playing in a dome two time zones away, and looking ahead to next week's primetime battle against the rival New York Giants.
Obviously Arizona is a bit limited offensively, although they do possess a dangerous secret weapon in Larry Fitzgerald, but the defense is for real, and there are simply too many game-changing plays made by special teams for it to be mere coincidence. As long as they can hang in there until the fourth quarter, it's a mix that has the potential to swing the momentum on any given snap.
The Eagles are no slouches either, and certainly have all the pieces in place that they might beat the Cardinals soundly. Just saying, it's not necessarily going to be easy, and there aren't many reasons to believe it will be. If this is going to be a walk, the Eagles are going to have to execute in a manner they haven't yet this year. Thus the keys to this contest are fairly simple.
Pressure Kevin Kolb
Kevin Kolb disputes the notion that he plays scared, but there are three simple facts he can't ignore:
1. Arizona's offensive line is not good.
2. Philly's defensive line is great.
3. Any quarterback will get rattled under constant pressure.
Kolb is no different, and that's speaking from first-hand knowledge of the way he operates. To counter, the Cardinals receivers will run a lot of routes that develop quickly, but if the back seven can keep a lid on the short and intermediate stuff, the Eagles front should be able get Kolb's feet moving. That's when he starts pulling out early and running for his life.
The O-line is pretty porous all around, but Trent Cole will be working against D'Anthony Batiste, Levi Brown's replacement at left tackle. Cole already has two strip sacks in two games this season (one negated by a penalty), so this would appear to have big day written all over it.
Simplify the Offensive Game Plan
Jeremy Maclin is out, as are King Dunlap and Jason Kelce on the offensive line. That means less firepower in the passing game, and a new left tackle and center going against a strong defensive front that will create confusion by blitzing.
The last thing the Eagles can have happen is Michael Vick dropping back three out of four times in an attempt to press the Cardinals secondary vertically similar to what they did in Cleveland. There's no telling what kind of pressure the quarterback will be under as Arizona uses different packages to cross up the protection calls and get free rushers after Vick.
Second, the Eagles can't afford to turn the ball over four or five times again this week. The Cardinals have become an extremely opportunistic team, thriving and almost relying on getting extra chances off of their opposition's giveaways. It's bad enough they'll probably create an advantage for themselves with a special teams play at some point, but hand them extra chances will only set you up for failure.
Control the ball, and let the big plays take care of themselves. Settle for a punt when necessary, and make the Cardinals offense drive the length of the field.