Background/Storylines: Eagles (2-0) and Cardinals (2-0)
The Philadelphia Eagles may have only won by one point against the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday, but it was a much different “one-point victory” than the Week 1 win over the Cleveland Browns. Even with the offensive issues that leave the Eagles with nine turnovers—the most in the NFL—through two weeks, they proved against Baltimore that they have the talent and coaching to beat the best teams in the league even when they aren’t at their best. With the turnover issues dominating the press lately, it’s easy to lose sight of the positives that have stemmed from the early stages of the 2012 campaign, but you simply can’t ignore what guys like Brent Celek, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie have done so far. The offense—especially Michael Vick—is turning the ball over with frequency, but improved performances from Celek and DeSean Jackson are the reason they’re 1st in the league in total offense. The defense has been even more spectacular, shutting down the Browns completely in Week 1 and then playing well against a good Baltimore offense last week. Overall, it’s been a nice start for Philly thus far.
The second unbeaten team the Eagles are playing in as many weeks—and the second straight team with another bird as its logo—the Arizona Cardinals have had their own coming out party thus far. After beating division rival Seattle in a hard-fought, 20-16 Week 1 win at home, the Redbirds shocked northeast America—the entire NFL, in fact—by knocking off the New England Patriots 20-18 in Foxborough. As can be inferred, the Cardinals are feeling pretty good about themselves coming into a showdown with a fellow 2-0 team even though starting QB John Skelton hasn’t managed to stay healthy; his injury opened up a spot for former Eagle Kevin Kolb, whose answered the ball and “managed” the game well enough to earn two wins. The Cardinals’ defense, however, has been the story so far, with young corner Patrick Peterson showing his talents and defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett thriving in their team’s 3-4 scheme.
Fantasy Watch: Damaris Johnson (PHI) and Larry Fitzgerald (ARI)
The Cardinals coaches will have been watching film all week and, like everyone, they saw two things: DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek are two Eagles you can’t take lightly. The two combined for 270-plus yards against Baltimore, so if defensive coordinator Ray Horton doesn’t focus on the two, his secondary will be eaten up. Luckily for him, he has young corner Patrick Peterson, one of the few CBs who can cover Jackson, and a 3-4 linebacking scheme that can bring the blitz; that will force Celek to be used primarily as a blocker. So, who steps in to pick up the slack this week? Damaris Johnson, who’ll likely get a majority of the reps across from Jackson with Jeremy Maclin out and Riley Cooper set to receive a limited number of snaps as he comes back from a collarbone injury. The speedy wideout is just a smaller version of Jackson, one who can stretch the field with the best of them. Sure, I liked what William Gay did as a nickel corner in New England, but I don’t that he can hang with someone like Johnson on the outside.
Larry Fitzgerald isn’t unknown like Johnson. He isn’t owned in 0.1% of NFL.com’s fantasy leagues like Johnson. He isn’t 5’8″ like him—in fact, he’s 6’3″. But what Fitzgerald does share in common with his Eagle counterpart in that he’ll have a breakout game here in Week 3. A top-three wide receiver choice in many leagues, Fitzgerald has struggled out of the gate thus far with only 67 yards—6.7 points in non-PPR leagues—through two games. He is in desperate need of a good performance to boost his confidence and that of his fantasy owners. Like last year, it’ll come against Philly. Even though Nnamdi Asomugha has the ability to cover a guy like Fitzgerald, he seems to be playing on reputation at the moment which will allow Larry to have a 150-yard performance.
Key Matchup: Demetress Bell vs Calais Campbell
The Philadelphia Eagles are superior in almost every matchup, but here is one that they will struggle in: containing the dangerous pass-rushing combo of Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Like the Eagles’ own Jason Babin and Trent Cole, the two are the ultimate DE combo: one loves to rush the passer (Campbell), and the other does the little things that makes him an All-Pro (Dockett). Just last week, Campbell helped stifle the Patriots with 10 tackles and two sacks. With Demetress Bell—an average pass blocker—filling in for King Dunlap, the Eagles are in a precarious situation. If Bell can’t keep Michael Vick on his feet more than half of the time, how can the Eagles win the game? The winner of this battle will likely be the winner of this game.
X-Factor: Dallas Reynolds (PHI) and Daryl Washington (ARI)
The Eagles’ OL woes don’t just end with the tackles. Even though guards Evan Mathis and Danny Watkins are playing relatively well, the injury to center Jason Kelce sets this unit back even farther. Not only is Reynolds inferior to Kelce in both run- and pass-blocking, but he still needs to develop chemistry with QB Michael Vick while picking up the blitz and organizing the offensive line. He played well against Baltimore, but he was running off of pure adrenaline. What will happen when he makes his first start as an Eagle against a blitz-happy Cardinals defense? His performance is key, so the Eagles better hope the week of preparation was enough to get him ready for what he’ll face on Sunday.
The Cardinals’ front seven is led by their defensive ends, but it’s rounded out by interior linebacker Daryl Washington, who was a 2009 All-American and the Cardinals’ leading tackler last season with 107 total tackles. His superior play was another reason New England only scored 18 points last week, and he is the perfect fit for Arizona’s Dick LeBeau-style 3-4 defense. He even reminds me at times of James Harrison; that’s not a comparison to take lightly. Washington will be key for Arizona in whether they can stifle the Eagles’ running game, which along with a strong pass rush, could force the Philadelphia offense into some bad situations.
Prediction: Eagles 21, Cardinals 16
Overall, the Cardinals certainly present a challenge for our Eagles, but their offense just doesn’t have enough firepower to put them over the top. I think the turnover woes will continue for the Eagles, but their defense will record a defensive TD and help them get over the hump in the third quarter; Kevin Kolb just can’t handle a pass rush as ferocious as what the Eagles bring to the table. The Eagles enter Giants week with a 3-0 record while the Cardinals suffer their first loss of the season.
Feel free to comment below with your own predictions and analysis. I love to hear from you, the readers!