Scouting report: Could be a rough day for DeSean
Eagles on challenges of Cardinals' defense
November 29, 2013, 4:15 pm
DeSean Jackson will almost certainly draw the coverage of elite Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson this Sunday. (USA Today Images)
The star of the Eagles’ offense during their three-game win streak was red-hot quarterback Nick Foles, who was named player of the month for November.
The unsung heroes for an offense that rolled up 1,359 yards during the streak were the members of the offensive line, who rounded into form against some very tough, very physical defenses during the streak.
That’s a positive for Sunday’s game, because the Cardinals have one of the NFL’s most imposing defensive fronts. If Foles is to have another banner game, he’ll need all five blockers up front -- and then some -- to fend off Arizona’s blitz.
And make no mistake, the Todd Bowles-coached Cardinals defense will definitely come after the Eagles.
Arizona has the NFL’s third-ranked rushing defense, which starts with their three impact down linemen -- Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and nose Dan Williams. These guys are big, athletic and imposing. They stunt and move around frequently, which makes them tougher to man up and isolate. These three have given the Eagles all sorts of headaches up front in previous matchups.
Dockett is as good of a run-stopping, gap-shooting three technique as there is in the NFL. Campbell’s length -- he’s 6-foot-8 -- makes him disruptive at scrimmage and a human flyswatter for passes across the middle. Dockett and Campbell have combined for 10 sacks. Inside linebackers Karlos Dansby (three sacks, two interceptions) and Daryl Washington just know how to get to the ball.
If the Eagles can get LeSean McCoy going early, even with four- and five-yard gains, they can push tempo and keep this fierce front seven on its heels. That’s their best chance to get Foles and the passing game going. When the Eagles are making positive gains and pushing pace with the no-huddle, there aren’t many front sevens that can stop them.
Teams that can’t run against the Cards fall into the trap of dropping back and trying to move the ball against one of the league’s best secondaries. Cards cornerback Patrick Peterson, in just his third season, is the real deal. He might be the best pure coverage corner in the league, and he’ll shadow DeSean Jackson on every down.
With rules favoring the passing game, Peterson can’t lock down half the football field the way Deion Sanders did, but Foles will have to pick his battles carefully and might need to rely more on secondary receivers and checkdowns.
Riley Cooper will have a big size advantage against 5-foot-10 corner Jerraud Powers. Jason Avant should draw rookie safety/slot corner Tyrann Mathieu, the once-troubled former LSU star who looks like a steal as a third-round pick.
The Eagles have done a nice job matching up McCoy against linebackers in the passing game over the past few weeks. They may need more from the NFL’s leading rusher in the passing attack to combat Arizona’s pressure.
Right tackle Lane Johnson is coming off his best three games, and the extra week to prepare should help. Johnson will get plenty of doses of Campbell and Arizona’s rush linebackers. On the other side, left tackle Jason Peters will see veteran pass rusher John Abraham, who at 35 still has plenty left in the tank and leads the Cards with seven sacks.
Bowles, who’s repairing his image after a nightmarish half-season as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator, is showing his acumen as a play-caller for a defense that he designed and implemented.
He’s throwing the kitchen sink at quarterbacks, which has produced a defense that’s ranked eighth overall and is top-10 in takeaways. Only three NFL teams have more takeaways than Arizona's 23.
Bowles will rush more than five frequently, so it’ll be interesting to see if Chip Kelly keeps a running back or tight end to block more than he usually does or if he trusts Foles to find hot routes and checkdowns without taking too many hits.
The Cards, who are tied for the league’s second-most interceptions, have produced at least two turnovers in seven games and have twice totaled four takeaways in a game. They’re unbeaten in three games when they’ve won the turnover battle.
This will be a big game for interior linemen Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. If they can keep Foles upright, the Eagles should be able to make plays. If they’re overpowered, Foles will come screaming back to Earth.