With the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals scheduled to face off in a big game on Sunday, I reached out to our friends/enemies over at Revenge of the Birds. The great Jess Root kindly took the time to answer my questions.
Let's take a look at the answers.
1) For the second straight year, the Eagles will come off their bye week to play the Cardinals. This time around the game is in Arizona. Last season it was the Eagles who won after getting out to 24-7 lead. The Cardinals threatened late, however, and almost came away with the win despite some controversial calls that Arizona head coach Bruce Arians complained about following the game. This year's rematch feels like a revenge game for both teams: the Eagles want to assert their dominance and the Cardinals want revenge for what happened last year. Do you get this sense as well or is it "just another game"?
I don't know if it is viewed as a revenge game, but this game begins a very tough stretch for the Cardinals that will set them apart as contenders or pretenders. I have not heard any comments yet referring to last year's game, except from fans. Fans want revenge. The Cardinals go about things very workmanlike. So while it isn't "just another game," it does hold importance -- it is a home game in the conference and a chance to take control in the NFC by beating a team that could battle it in playoff seeding. Holding a head-to-head tiebreaker is a nice thing to keep in the back pocket.
2) The Cardinals offense doesn't look so hot. Arizona is averaging 317.3 yards gained per game, which ranks 28th, and 23.3 points per game, which ranks tied for 14th. With that in mind, starting quarterback Carson Palmer has missed some time. Does Palmer's return fix those issues or are other reasons for the team's struggles?
Yes and no. With Drew Stanton, the Cardinals struggled scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but it's not like the scoring went way up since Palmer's return.
What has been the issue? Mental breakdowns and the inability to run the ball effectively. They have had a number of penalties in the red zone. They don't have a good yard per carry average in the running game, and those bunch routes Bruce Arians likes in the passing game aren't nearly as effective with little field in front of the team.
3) As opposed to the Cardinals offense, the Arizona defense looks legitimate once again. The team is only allowing 19.8 points per game, which is good for 5th best overall, and also ranks 6th in Football Outsiders' Defense DVOA metric. How does this Cardinals defense match up against Philadelphia's offense?
Well, based on what the Philly offense has done so far, very favorably. They keep offenses out of the end zone and they stop the running game. Since Todd Bowles was hired as DC, only once has a running back rushed for 100 yards in a game. That was Frank Gore in Week 6 of 2013, when he picked up 101 yards in 25 carries. It was a volume game.
If you look at the one game where the Cardinals defense was beat up, it was Peyton Manning. Arizona will stuff the run and has the talent in the back end to avoid big plays. Losing DeSean Jackson, some of that big play threat down the field is gone. Arizona can be beat by tight ends and is vulnerable in the middle of the field if a guy can shake tackles.
Needless to say, I like how things stack up. Teams can rack up passing yards, but Nick Foles is having a down year and has been turning the ball over. He doesn't instill fear.
4) Name a Cardinals player on offense and defense that the Eagles need to watch out for.
On offense, watch out for Andre Ellington. He is coming off a 30-touch, 160-yard performance. He can beat you in the running game or the passing game. He is on pace for over 1700 yards from scrimmage. Also, rookie receiver John Brown has been a difference maker in some games. With the attention needing to be paid to Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, Brown has found himself open down the field. He is tied for the team lead in touchdowns.
On defense, Jerraud Powers is having a fantastic season in the slot. With Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie outside, Powers gets picked on a lot. He had one bad game, but has three picks on the year and has been making plays.
5) Let's hear a score prediction. Who wins this game and why?
Playing at home will be the difference. I expect a 23-13 win. The Arizona red zone woes aren't completely solved, but they score points. The defense shackles the running game and, outside of one big play by a tight end or Darren Sproles, keeps things in check.