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Points allowed during 1st quarter this season by Penn State

Eagles-Cardinals preview: Battle of Carsons

Posted by Eric Fisher On October 7

The Eagles (3-1) appear to have a golden opportunity to improve to 4-1 Sunday (1 p.m.) when the Cardinals visit Lincoln Financial Field. The Cardinals are 2-2, with 3-point wins over the Colts and 49ers, two of the NFL’s worst teams.

Statistics back up the confidence in the Eagles. The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in eight straight games. They are averaging 25.8 points per game this season. The Cardinals have only reached 20 points once, scoring 23 during their season-opening loss to the Lions, which is also the game in which versatile running back David Johnson dislocated his left wrist.

Before we chalk this up as an Eagles blowout, however, we need to remember that two of the Eagles’ three wins came against teams that are still winless, the Chargers and Giants. Furthermore, some of Sunday’s matchups aren’t necessarily favorable for the Eagles..

Here are 10 questions to consider prior to and during Sunday’s game.

1. Which team has the better Carson?

The Cardinals have veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. The eagles have second-year quarterback Carson Wentz . Palmer has completed 108 of 183 passes (59 percent) for 1,282 yards and five touchdowns. Wentz has completed 89 of 147 passes for 1,058 yards (60.5 percent) and six touchdowns. But Wentz has only thrown two interceptions and doesn’t have any turnovers during the past two games; Palmer has thrown five interceptions. Another telling factor is that Palmer has been sacked 17 times, while Wentz has been sacked 12 times. Wentz is a much more mobile quarterback, which gives him the edge.

2. Can the Eagles generate a pass rush?

Although I just gave Wentz the edge over Palmer in the battle of the Carsons, Palmer is similar in style to Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, both of whom are relatively immobile quarterbacks who burned the Eagles for more than 300 yards passing in each of the past two weeks. With virtually no running game (58 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown run) for the Eagles to defend, Rivers completed 22 of 38 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. The Eagles need to get pressure on Palmer so he doesn’t have time to find receivers downfield, as Rivers did. The Cardinals have a mediocre-to-bad offensive line, and left tackle D.J. Humphries is out with a knee injury and guard Alex Boone is questionable for Sunday’s game with a chest injury. This would be a good week for defensive ends Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett and Chris Long to turn up the pressure.

3. How much will the Eagles miss Fletcher Cox?

The Eagles didn’t miss Cox much in their run defense against the Chargers, but they did not get enough pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers. Cox, who is sitting out his second straight game with a calf injury, often requires a double team. If the Eagles don’t get enough pressure this week, it will have to be attributed, at least in part, to Cox’s absence.

4. Should the Eagles blitz more to force Carson Palmer into turnovers?

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz prefers to generate a pass rush with his four defensive linemen. Dialing up a blitz every once in a while could keep Palmer off-balance, but a steady diet of blitzes could be a mistake. Palmer is a veteran quarterback with a terrific veteran receiver in Larry Fitzgerald. They could take advantage with big gains if Palmer recognizes the blitz is coming.

5. Can the Eagles continue to run the ball effectively?

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson shocked people last week with his commitment to the running game. The Eagles rushed for 214 yards against the Chargers, including 136 by LeGarrette Blount, who didn’t have any official carries two weeks earlier during a loss to the Chiefs. But the Chargers and Giants, the Eagles’ previous two opponents, have two of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Cardinals are ranked 10th, limiting opponents to 88 yards per game, so they should present more of a challenge. Don’t be surprised if the run-pass ratio is a little more unbalanced this Sunday.

6. If Wendell Smallwood can’t play, how much will the Eagles miss him?

Smallwood is listed as questionable with an undisclosed knee injury. He hasn’t practiced all week, which doesn’t bode well for his chances to play Sunday. From a style standpoint, Smallwood filled in some of the gaps created by the absence of Darren Sproles. Without Smallwood, the running game rests on the shoulders of LeGarrette Blount, rookie Corey Clement and the recently re-signed Kenjon Barner.

7. How dangerous are the Cardinals’ receivers?

Well, they can’t be too good if the Cardinals can’t score 20 points against the 49ers or the awful Colts defense, right? On the other hand, the ageless Larry Fitzgerald has 26 receptions for 276 yards. If speedy receivers John Brown (quadriceps) and J.J. Nelson (hamstring) play – both are listed as questionable after being limited participants in practice this week – the Eagles secondary could have a difficult challenge. The Eagles also need to be aware of Andre Ellington (19 catches for 192 yards) coming out of the backfield.

8. Will the Eagles’ veteran receivers make more of an impact?

Alshon Jeffery has a respectable 17 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns, but it’s fair to say that his production is at the low end of expectations. He hasn’t won many “50-50” balls or used his big body to dominate in the red zone the way many expected him to do. Torrey Smith has 10 receptions for 134 yards, with a ratio of one drop for every two catches. Smith described his performance as disappointing this week. With Patrick Peterson likely to shadow Jeffery, don’t expect a big statistical week from the Eagles’ veteran receivers.

9. Can the Cardinals cover Zach Ertz?

Ertz has 26 receptions for 326 yards. He clearly is Carson Wentz’s favorite receiver. The Cardinals may counter with free safety Tyrann Mathieu, strong safety Tyvon Branch or linebacker Deone Bucannon. The Ertz matchup is a crucial one to watch during Sunday’s game.

10. Who is that guy? He looks familiar.

“That guy” is rookie linebacker Haason Reddick, drafted 13th overall by the Cardinals at the NFL Draft on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Reddick, who was a star at Temple, is fourth in tackles for the Cardinals with 18.

Prediction: Turnovers may be the key to this game. If the Eagles can take advantage of the Cardinals’ injury issues on the offensive line and force Carson Palmer into throwing interceptions, this could be a blowout victory. If not, the Eagles could be dragged into another down-to-the-wire finish for the third straight week. If that happens, the Cardinals might have the advantage with the veteran Palmer and future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald. And if the Eagles lose the turnover battle, the Cardinals could prevail. Prediction: Eagles 26, Cardinals 24

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Carson Wentz owes Jake Elliott some money