3TFO: Cardinals @ Eagles, Week 13
Two red hot teams will face off in Philadelphia on Sunday. John Castellane previews a game offering three big matchups that will determine the outcome.
3TFO: Cardinals @ Eagles, Week 13
There are only 30 days in the month of November, something that is very upsetting to both the Cardinals and Eagles, each of whom went undefeated in the month to position themselves for a playoff run that now must extend into December. Arizona has won four games in a row and is tied with San Francisco for the final wild card spot in the NFC. After beating up on some of the league’s worst teams, the Cardinals made a statement last week by blowing out the Colts, finally grabbing the signature win they have been seeking. The emergence of the now 8th ranked defense, led by ex-Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, and an offense that has scored at least 27 points in every game during the winning streak has been the winning recipe. Can they get to 27 again this week against a stingy Eagles’ defense after a cross country flight?
Philadelphia has won three in a row, but had to watch Dallas tie them for the division lead during their bye week. With Chip Kelly finally naming Nick Foles as his starting quarterback for the duration of the season, this will be a big week for the Eagles’ offense. They need to validate that decision to prevent the controversy from re-emerging. Foles has been great, but Arizona will be the best defense he has seen in a while and it will be important for him to stay hot and continue to not turn the ball over. Coming off a bye-week, the Eagles should be well rested, but if they don’t perform well in these key matchups it will be tough to beat the Cardinals.
Patrick Peterson vs. Desean Jackson
Not many teams in the NFL still have their top cornerback trail their opponent’s best receiver no matter where they line up within the formation. Arizona, however, is one of those teams and Patrick Peterson is the cornerback who does it. He will be matched up across from Desean Jackson this week, in what could be a battle between the NFL’s two fastest players. Part of what Jackson loves about the Chip Kelly offense is his ability to move around the formation and get favorable matchups, but with Peterson likely to follow him around that benefit could be minimized. On passes where Jackson is the target, Eagles’ quarterbacks have a QB rating of 129.8, which is the highest rating for any receiver in the NFL. He has caught 58 of his 85 targets, with seven touchdowns and just one pass intercepted that was intended for him. Jackson is second in the NFL with 2.61 yards per route run, behind only Calvin Johnson. For Foles to stay hot and the Eagles offense to be explosive against a tough Arizona defense, Jackson will have to be a factor and contribute a few big plays.
Peterson will be one of Jackson’s toughest tests of the season and won’t be intimidated by his speed. Peterson is one of the few corners who can keep up with Jackson and challenge all of his routes. Quarterbacks have a rating of 84.1 when throwing at Peterson and only Vontae Davis has allowed more than the six touchdowns that Peterson has given up in coverage. However, he is often covering the best receiver on the other team and has faced some elite wide receivers already this season. Peterson is allowing a reception every 13.9 snaps that he is in coverage for, ranking him seventh in the NFL and 0.98 yards per snap that he is in coverage for. The big play suddenness of Jackson will surely test these numbers this week and will certainly be a matchup to keep an eye on.
Calais Campbell vs. Evan Mathis
This is a matchup of two of the leagues best at what they do, within their team’s offensive and defensive units that excel in the run game. Arizona’s defense ranks 2nd in the NFL in rush yards per game allowed, 3rd in yards per rush allowed and 3rd in rushing touchdowns allowed. Conversely, the Philadelphia offense ranks 1st in rushing yards per game, 2nd in yards per rushing attempt and 10th in rushing touchdowns. Bottom line is that when the Eagles offense lines up against the Cardinals defense this week, the running game will play a major role and both excel in that area. Two of the key components of these respective units, Calais Campbell and Evan Mathis will see plenty of each other this week.
Campbell has been a rock for the Arizona defense for years now and continues his strong play this year. He ranks seventh among 3-4 defensive ends in Run Stop Percentage, making a stop on 8.9% of the run plays he is on the field for. He has 19 stops and 25 tackles in the run game, which is the sixth most among 3-4 ends. He is just as effective rushing the passer, he has 46 total pressures and seven sacks in 438 pass rushing opportunities, ranking him eighth in pass rusher productivity. His all-around ability has made him the 4th highest graded 3-4 defensive end with an overall grade of +24.1. He will need to be every bit of excellent this week, when facing the league’s best left guard, Evan Mathis.
Mathis has been entrenched atop the rankings for guards for three seasons now and consistently dominates in the run game. His +29.4 run block grade is almost double the second highest graded guard, who happens to be teammate Todd Herremans and his +31.7 overall grade is 12 points higher than the next guard on the list. While constantly dominating in the run game, Mathis has struggled at times in pass protection this year, allowing 18 total pressures and one sack ranking him 18th in Pass Blocking Efficiency among guards. The Mathis-Campbell battle is sure to be a treat and a pivotal one to the game’s outcome.
Cardinals Offensive Tackles vs. Eagles Edge Pass Rushers
To understand the importance of this matchup look no further than Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer’s stats when under pressure. Palmer has faced pressure on 41.7% of his dropbacks, the 6th highest percentage in the league and he is 70-146 with three touchdowns and eight interceptions on those plays. The main reason for the excessive amount of pressure that Palmer has seen is the low quality play the Cardinals have gotten from their tackles. Both left tackle, Bradley Sowell and right tackle, Eric Winston have struggled this season. Sowell ranks 58th out of the 59 qualifying offensive tackles in Pass Blocking Efficiency, surrendering 36 total pressures and five sacks on 268 pass blocking snaps. Winston hasn’t been much better, ranking 54th on the same list, allowing 48 total pressures and seven sacks on 423 pass blocking snaps. The good news for Arizona is that the Philadelphia pass rushers haven’t been great this year either.
Starting outside linebackers, Trent Cole and Connor Barwin have been decent, but not a major threat in the pass rush department this season. Cole ranks 30th out of 38 qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers in Pass Rushing Productivity, generating 34 total pressures and four sacks on 318 pass rushing opportunities. Barwin is even lower, ranking 33rd on the same list with 28 pressures and three sacks on 300 pass rushing opportunities. He does however lead all 3-4 outside linebackers with six batted passes. Philadelphia’s best option at rushing the passer has been seldom used Brandon Graham. Graham is 9th in Pass Rush Productivity with 17 pressures and a sack on 114 pass rushes. Maybe the Eagles will give Graham more of an opportunity after their self-scouting over the bye week. In this clash of struggling players, whoever comes out on top will majorly influence the Cardinals success or lack thereof on offense.
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