This Eagles season really comes alive for me again if Jalen Hurts and the Eagles go out to Arizona and win, at a stadium where they have never won in four trips, including the NFC Championship Game following the 2008 season.
I don’t really expect that Sunday. Though the run game (sparked by Kyler Murray’s 712 yards on 115 carries) powers the Cards’ offense, their wideouts are DeAndre Hopkins, Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald. The Eagles’ secondary is extremely depleted. We know Rodney McLeod and Avonte Maddox are out. Signs are encouraging for Darius Slay,, but he hasn’t completed the concussion protocol.
Also, not a fan of Matt Pryor vs,. Haasan Reddick, though the Cards’ defense overall has been up and down. They’ve allowed 30 points or more five times, once more than the Eagles. You would never have known that from last week’s 27-6 victory at the Giants.
I think the 6.5-point spread is pretty generous, though, given that Arizona is 7-6.
Prediction: Cardinals 26, Eagles 21.
Just when the Eagles started getting healthy, and finally delivered a sound performance, the injury bug hit them again. They lost safety Rodney McLeod and right tackle Jack Driscoll for the season, will be without cornerback Avonte Maddox Sunday, and have a number of question marks, including top corner Darius Slay (concussion). Even if Slay is good to go, DeAndre Hopkins will be a tough cover and safety is a major problem if Jalen Mills has to move to corner.
The Eagles defense has to also account for the dynamic Kyler Murray and it hasn’t done especially well against mobile quarterbacks. I can see a fair amount of misdirection to take advantage of the personnel issues in the middle of the field. That being said, Jim Schwartz’s unit has been steadier, if not great, over the last month, behind a front that has the second-most sacks in the NFL.
Jalen Hurts tamed a mighty beast in the Saints, but I think the Cards’ 3-4 scheme could poise a stiffer challenge, particularly in the run game. I worry about Matt Pryor. Driscoll’s green, but Pryor can ruin a game. I’m sure Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has a few rush packages planned for the right tackle. He should see both Markus Golden and Hasaan Reddick.
Corner Patrick Peterson will likely shutdown whatever Eagles receiver he has to cover. Hurts didn’t exactly throw the ball downfield much against New Orleans. So a steady dose of Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders should be in the game plan. Doug Pederson will likely continue to keep the pass offense basic -- quick reads, screens, swings, RPOs -- but he can’t expect Hurts to run for over 100 yards every week. Maybe it’s possible, but Arizona has a lot of speed on defense.
I think the Eagles can hang with the Cards. But aside from the late comeback against the New York Giants, their three others wins have come against teams with backup quarterbacks. Murray’s a starter, he’s dangerous enough, and I just don’t think the Eagles have enough, even with Hurts lighting a match.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Eagles 19.
Can Jalen Hurts turn the spark into a flame?
Bad fire jokes aside, seeing how the Eagles’ coaching staff and Hurts respond to a defensive coordinator having some film on the new-look offense will be interesting to watch. It’s hard to imagine Hurts will have another 100-yard rushing performance, but Arizona hasn’t exactly shut down running quarterbacks recently.
They played against Russell Wilson and Cam Newton last month and each rushed for more than 40 yards. Newton had a handful of successful designed quarterback runs in the Patriots’ 20-17 win against the Cardinals in Week 12. That’s good news for Hurts, whose designed runs helped open things up for Miles Sanders against the Saints. The Cardinals are ranked 15th in the league against the run by Football Outsiders, so the Eagles can continue to resurrect the offense as long as the coaching staff can stay ahead of the defensive adjustments.
The Eagles’ passing game might be due for a slight improvement. Most of Hurts’ damage last week came because of blown coverages and there were still some missed opportunities. Maybe there will be more miscues this weekend, but I’d bet another week of reps between Hurts and the first-team receiving corps will iron out some of the problems. Because of Arizona’s unique defensive front, there’s a good chance the Eagles have a few plays that are dead-on-arrival, but I still think Hurts can continue to mitigate negative plays the way he did last weekend.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles secondary is once again counting on inexperienced players off the practice squad. With McLeod and Maddox expected to be out and Slay possibly slowed by knee and calf injuries, Hopkins could be in for a dominant performance against the likes of Kevon Seymour and Michael Jacquet. Murray hasn’t been as productive as a runner in recent weeks, possibly because of a lingering shoulder injury, but he might not need to be much of a threat running if the Cards can take advantage of the Eagles’ banged up secondary.
There’s plenty of reasons to pick the Cardinals, but the Eagles certainly have a chance if their defensive line continues to dominate and Hurts is able to limit negative plays and capitalize on what the defense gives him.
Prediction: Eagles 27, Cardinals 24
One of Doug Pederson’s coaching strengths is his ability to get his team to play hard just when you think they’re ready to quit.
Did it last year when they won their last 4 games and made the playoffs after being 5-7 in early December.
Did it in 2018 when they won their last 3 and made the playoffs after a 6-7 start.
Did it in his first year in 2016 when the Eagles won their last 2 games after losing 5 in a row.
Can he do it again this year? Who knows? But he benched Carson Wentz last week and replaced him with rookie Jalen Hurts and the Eagles went out and upset the 10-2 New Orleans Saints to put themselves back in the playoff hunt.
They pretty much need to win out, which means beating the Cardinals in the desert on Sunday. But hey, they’ve done it before.
The Cardinals are very beatable. Don’t put too much meaning until their lopsided win over the Giants last week. if the Eagles can find a way to keep DeAndre Hopkins from going wild, if they can force a couple of takeaways like they did last week against the Saints, if Hurts can build on his performance against the Saints and Miles Sanders can have another productive game, the Eagles can win Sunday.
But I’m just not confident that they’re going to be able to find a way to keep Hopkins in check, even if Darius Slay clears concussion protocol. I think they’ll keep it close. I think it still will be anybody’s game going into the fourth quarter. But I think Hopkins will be a difference-maker.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Eagles 23