The Cardinals terrorized Michael Vick and the Eagles during a dominating 27-6 victory. Turnovers continued to be a problem for the Eagles, who lost three first-half fumbles.
After escaping the first two weeks with two victories despite turning the ball over nine times, the Eagles vowed to turn over a new leaf on the first weekend of fall.
A leaf is just about the only thing they didn’t turn over during Sunday’s first half.
The Eagles turned the ball over three times during the first half, including a devastating fumble that safety James Sanders returned 93 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the half, during a horrific 27-6 loss to Arizona.
To describe the first half as ugly would unfairly give ugly a bad name. Nothing worked for the Eagles during the first half, which ended with the Cardinals (3-0) holding a 24-0 lead.
The Eagles’ first-half woes were symbolized by the final play of the half. Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes, who saved a touchdown three plays earlier by stopping DeSean Jackson at the 1-yard line, blitzed from Vick’s left side on third-and-goal with 6 seconds remaining. Vick never saw him. The ball popped loose, and Sanders scooped it up and raced 95 yards for a 24-0 lead. The 14-point swing on the final play of the half essentially ended the Eagles’ chances to win.
“I’ve got to do a better job getting my team ready to play,” Eagles head coach Andy Reid said. “I did a terrible job this week.”
On the positive side, Vick didn’t throw an interception after throwing six during the first two games. Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the positives for the Eagles’ offense, which entered the game as the NFL’s top-ranked offense.
Vick lost two fumbles during the first half. Receivers couldn’t get open. LeSean McCoy carried the ball just four times. The Eagles called 25 passing plays and just five running plays during the first half.
“In hindsight, we could have run the ball a little more,” Reid said.
Even more alarming than the lack of productivity was that Vick continued to resemble a human piñata. An unofficial count credited the Cardinals with 21 hits on Vick. It’s difficult to imagine Vick lasting through half a season if he continues to be hit as frequently as he was by the Cardinals on Sunday.
“I’m not concerned all,” said Vick, who might be the only one who isn’t concerned.
Vick was hit frequently for numerous reasons. He held the ball too long as he tried to keep plays alive. One reason he had to extend plays is the receivers, which didn’t include the injured Jeremy Maclin, had difficulty getting open against the Cardinals’ stout defense. Another reason is that Vick simply held onto the ball too long or, as happened on the final play of the first half, he didn’t recognize the defense or call the proper protection.
“We have to play better,” Vick said. “That starts with me.”
Another contributing factor to Vick getting hit so often is the Eagles’ imbalanced play-calling. With McCoy only carrying the ball four times during the first half, the Cardinals didn’t have to respect the running game. They certainly didn’t have to respect the Eagles’ feeble play-action fakes.
“(Vick) got hit too much,” Reid said. “I can help out with that. Part of that is my responsibility.”
The Eagles finally started running with regularity during the second half. During the Eagles’ first scoring drive, which culminated in an Alex Henery’s 36-yard field goal with 5:09 remaining in the third quarter, McCoy (13 carries, 70 yards) actually carried the ball three times in four plays, only one less carry than he had during the entire first half.
The Eagles’ imbalanced offense was off the field quickly during the first half. Three-and-out on the first possession gave the Cardinals the ball at their own 35-yard line. The Cardinals advanced as far as the 17 before a 4-yard loss and a Jason Babin sack forced Arizona to settle for a 47-yard field goal.
The Eagles achieved a first down on their next possession, but, following a sack of Vick, a short run and another incompletion, the offense was back off the field.
The Eagles initially forced Arizona to go three-and-out, but Damaris Johnson fumbled the ensuing punt, giving the Cardinals the ball at the Eagles 38. The Cardinals mixed runs and passes over the next eight plays. Kevin Kolb’s final pass on the drive was almost intercepted by DeMeco Ryans, but the ball popped up in the air, where receiver Michael Floyd corralled it in front of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and strolled into the end zone for a 10-0 lead. Kolb, the former Eagles quarterback, completed 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
Then turnovers continued to rear their ugly head. Vick fumbled on a scramble when tackled from behind by linebacker Daryl Washington, who was all over the field all day. The replacement officials ruled that Vick was down by contact, but the call was correctly reversed via replay.
The Cardinals didn’t score right away after the turnover, but the change in field position came in handy after the Eagles went three-and-out with three straight passes yet again after taking possession at their own 9.
The Cardinals took advantage with a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kolb to Larry Fitzgerald (9 catches, 114 yards) down the center of the field, increasing their lead to 17-0. Safety Nate Allen bit on a pump-fake by Kolb, leaving cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha without the help he expected in deep coverage down the middle.
The Eagles appeared on their way to ending a dreadful half on a positive note with one of their customary end-of-the-half drives. The Eagles almost scored when Vick connected with Jackson (3 catches, 43 yards), but Rhodes stopped Jackson dead in his tracks at the 1. The Cardinals’ pressure and coverage forced two Vick incompletions, setting up Rhodes for the jarring hit that led to Sanders’ touchdown romp and virtually sealed the Eagles’ fate.
The Eagles can’t afford another lackluster effort against the Giants in an NFC East showdown next Sunday (8:20 p.m.). They must fix their protection schemes and establish balance in their offense against the pass rush-happy Giants.
“This is a very resilient group of guys,” Vick said. “We stick together no matter what.”
If the Eagles don’t fix their problems, Vick is going to stick to the ground on one of these hits and not be able to get up without assistance.