If there is one chink in the armor of what has been a very impressive Eagles defense, it has been their inability to stop short yardage passes.
At times so far this season both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have played off of their man, and have been burned by quick crossing routes. Because of the team's improved tackling, it has not yet hurt the defense very much. No team has consistently attacked them that way and no team has shown they can dink & dunk the ball down the field against the Eagles.
If you can think all the way back to 2 seasons ago when Kevin Kolb was still being hailed as the next franchise quarterback, the two things Eagles fans were told was that Kolb was a quick decision maker and an accurate thrower. Since his departure from Philadelphia he has yet to show he can do that on a consistent basis, but since he took over for John Skelton, the Cardinals have been running an offense that is based on his ability to do so- and they have had some success.
Since Kolb took over, the Cardinals have not been going down the field, instead making short, quick throws.
Against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1, the Cardinals had 12 pass attempts between 0-9 yards. They completed 9 of them for 59 yards. With Skelton still playing most of the game, the Cardinals went down the field (pass attempts of 10 yards or more) 10 times, but completed only 5 of them- and none of over 20 yards.
With Skelton on the sideline against the Patriots, the Cardinals changed the style of their offense. Kolb attempted a whopping 16 passes of 9 yards or less, compared to only 5 attempts of over 10 yards- and none over 20. Kolb completed 11 of those 16 attempts for 107 yards and his only touchdown.
The style of offense is dramatically different than the one the Eagles have been running. In both of their games this season, the Eagles have attempted passes of 10 yards or more 17 times in both games. Which means they threw the ball down the field more times last week than the Cardinals have the entire season.
The dink and dunk style of offense has let the Cardinals manage the game, but has also diminished Fitzgerald's role in the offense. The Cardinals have targeted Fitzgerald only 13 times this year- good for 33rd in the NFL. To put that in perspective, the Eagles have targeted DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek all more than 13 times each.
If the Eagles let Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie play up on the line, they should be able to stop this Cardinals offense. Both are better suited to play up on the line rather than a few yards back. Short yardage passes have killed the Eagles in the past, so while it seems obvious that Juan Castillo will let his corners play up, there is no guarantee that he will.
If Castillo is stubborn and continues to play the corners off the line, it could be a long day for Eagles fans. If the Cardinals offense is able to move the ball down the field 5-6 yard passes at a time, they will control the clock and keep the Eagles offense off the field. The Cardinals defense is good enough to keep the Eagles unit in check, especially if they continue to turn the ball over the way they have the first 2 games.
The Eagles have the talent to keep this Cardinals offense in check the entire game and win on Sunday- it will be up to Castillo to game plan and make it happen.
Follow Eliot Shorr-Parks on Twitter at @EliotShorrParks