Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Les Bowen: Eagles-Cards: A battle of unbeatens not without flaws

LUCKY or good?

Trent Cole and the Eagles look to remain unbeaten as they travel to face the Cardinals. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Trent Cole and the Eagles look to remain unbeaten as they travel to face the Cardinals. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

LUCKY or good?

That's a question being asked of both the Eagles and of Sunday's opponent, the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams are 2-0, thanks to two close wins. The Cards have been a total of six points better than the Seahawks and Patriots. The Eagles have been only two total points better than the Browns and Ravens, making them the first team in NFL history to start the season with a pair of one-point wins.

Both teams achieved "validating" victories over well-regarded AFC opponents last week, despite key turnovers, and maybe with a little help.

The Eagles, who turned the ball over four times, saw a fourth-quarter Ravens touchdown wiped out by a replacement ref's offensive pass interference call.

The Cards were even more fortunate when they fumbled the ball away at their 30 with a little more than a minute left at Foxborough. Danny Woodhead's touchdown run was called back by a hold, then the Pats missed a 42-yard field goal try with 1 second remaining.

So, lucky or good?

"Certainly fortunate, with nine turnovers, your defense and special teams have to give you an opportunity to win," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said of his team Thursday. "And they did that . . . Bad teams turn the ball over. Really good teams can overcome it on occasion. We overcame it twice."

Mornhinweg's point would be that the turnovers are detracting from some really good work, as you might infer from the Eagles' offensive ranking of first in the NFL. But it's also true that it's really, really hard to win averaging 4.5 turnovers a game, that luck is involved whenever something like that happens, and that if the Eagles don't take care of the ball Sunday, they likely no longer will be undefeated.

"We're playing just the way the players want to play, how the players expect themselves to play, the coaching staff, how we expect them to play, with the exception of a host of turnovers," Mornhinweg said. "Certainly, if we get that cleaned up, we've got an opportunity to be pretty good."

This has been left guard Evan Mathis' favorite sermon topic ever since the five-turnover extravaganza in the opener at Cleveland.

"If you're turning the ball over that much, you're not going to be that good in the long run," Mathis said. "That's the most telling stat in football - the more turnovers you have, the more football games you lose.

"Both teams this weekend are teams that have earned the 2-0 record, very good teams. We worked hard for ours, had to overcome a lot of turnovers, it took a lot of yards to do so. The Cardinals, they have a lot of talent on their team, they have an incredible defensive front, they have a really good scheme, so they've worked hard for what they have, too."

It's interesting that both teams seem to be riding rolls that began in the second half of last season. The Eagles, you might recall, started out 4-8, then won their final four, giving them a six-game winning streak, including this season. The Cards started out 1-6 in 2011, then won seven of their final nine, including a Nov. 13 game at Lincoln Financial Field in which Cards linebacker Daryl Washington broke two of Michael Vick's lower ribs in a 21-17 Arizona victory. Add in this season and the Cards have won nine of 11, six in a row at home. And their defense has allowed two touchdowns or fewer in 11 games in a row.

You might think one way the Eagles might keep better track of the ball would be to play a little more conservatively, but that was not Mornhinweg's focus Thursday.

"Why would you ever do that?" Mornhinweg asked. "Really, you have to score points in this league, typically . . . if your defense is real good, you can take more calculated risks, 'cause they're going to cover it up. That's the way I think.

"Certainly, when you turn the football over three times in or near the red zone, you've got to fight that [tendency toward a] conservative approach. You've got to trust the players. It's just that simple. You can't get anywhere if you're concerned about not doing the right thing . . . you've got to trust the players and expect that they'll get it done, that they'll correct any mistake they've made in the past."

Tight end Clay Harbor said that without so many turnovers, he thinks the Eagles would have "three, four more touchdowns on the board," which would offer a much clearer picture of where they are and what they have.

"We don't feel like we have to convince anybody but ourselves," Harbor said. "At the end of the season, people aren't going to say, 'Hey they won this game, but they had four turnovers, so this one doesn't count.' "

Harbor said Vick and the offense will face not so much a lucky bunch of Cardinals as "one of the best defenses I've seen . . . they fly around."

Vick had trouble last season with getting passes batted down. The Cards have one of the best at that in the NFL, 6-8 defensive end Calais Campbell.

"He had 10 [batted down] last year, second in the league, and he gets his paws on the ball," Mornhinweg said of Campbell. "He has an excellent feel. You don't do those things by accident . . . If he thinks he's getting there, he'll get there. If not, then he softens up, then tries to time his arms in there, in many cases with a jump. So, yeah, that'll be part of the game for us."

Other than that late Ravens TD that was called back Sunday, there has been little reason to consider the Eagles' fourth-ranked defense lucky.

"There ain't no such thing as luck in this game," defensive end Trent Cole said Thursday. "You gotta beat the man across from you. Who's gonna win the battle? What team's going to execute, go out there and not have mistakes, not have turnovers, and play a solid game?"

Contact Les Bowen at Follow him on Twitter @LesBowen. For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' blog at