Clear70° WeatherClear70° Weather

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals NFC Championship Game preview

Cardinals: 5 things to know

1 Warner is unflappable: "It's hard to shake (Kurt Warner). If he has a bad play, he's gonna come back and say, 'So what? I'll throw a touchdown on the next play.' He's playing with a great deal of confidence." — Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith

2 Their defense is different now: The Cardinals struggled against the run for most of the season. But in the past few weeks, the front seven have been noticably better, which will be key in containing Donovan McNabb. "The thing that jumps to my mind, they're not nearly as predictable as they were," CBS analyst Phil Simms said. "I thought for a lot of the year, they were too much about their schemes, too predictable. … Now, they're trying to mix it up, catching more teams by surprise."

3 Adrian Wilson IS THE bully in THE box: At 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, Wilson, right, is a safety in a linebacker's body. And he's sometimes at his best near the line of scrimmage, where he has developed into a dangerous pass rusher (18.5 career sacks).

4 Their crowd plays a role: The noise at University of Phoenix Stadium gave the Cardinals an advantage against the Falcons, allowing them to get a read on their snap counts.

5 They're running with more conviction: In the regular season, the Cardinals were last in the NFL in rushing (73.6 yards per game). But in the playoffs, Arizona is averaging 115.5 yards. The difference? The re-emergence of Edgerrin James from the coach's doghouse, more rushing attempts (35.5 per game versus 21.25 in the regular season), and they're playing with the lead (35 percent of the yards came in the fourth quarter).

Eagles: 5 things to know

1 Dawkins is everywhere: Safety Brian Dawkins, right, is the heart and soul of the Eagles defense, equally effective against the run or pass. "You definitely have to know where Dawkins is at all time," Redskins OT Jon Jansen said. "He's a playmaker and guy who will come up and hit anybody. He's the QB of that defense."

2 Avant is big on third down: Jason Avant, a physical slot receiver, is Donovan McNabb's go-to-guy on third down; nearly half of his catches this season came on third down. He's quick, and can get open in tight spaces.

3 Their defensive ends are dangerous: Defensive ends Juqua Parker and Trent Cole might not get the hype, but they're part of a front four that is a big reason the Eagles were the third-ranked defense in the NFL. They attack the gaps well, and get good penetration. "You've got to look at their two ends, both of those guys can get pressure on the quarterback, and they hold up pretty good against the run," Redskins OT Jon Jansen said. "Their movement up front is what makes them dangerous."

4 They HAve a local: DT Brodrick Bunkley, right, a former Tampa Chamberlain High and Florida State standout, plays a significant role as a disruptive run-stopper (more than 80 tackles in first two seasons as starter).

5 Jackson is a triple threat: Rookie WR DeSean Jackson isn't only the Eagles' leading receiver (62 catches, 912 yards), he can score TDs rushing and returning punts. He has also passed from the Wildcat set and, to top it off, learned the defense to make himself more versatile. "It's rare," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid told the Delaware County Daily Times, "for a young guy to do that."

X-factor

Eagles RB Brian Westbrook

There is a reason Giants defensive coodinator Steve Spagnuolo told his team, "Twenty-two eyes on (No. 36)" before playing the Eagles last week. Westbrook is arguably the Eagles' biggest playmaker. He did reveal this week he has a high ankle sprain and lingering knee soreness that forced him to miss practice time. How healthy Westbrook is — and how effective he is — could be the difference in whether the Eagles advance. Westbrook is averaging just 1.9 yards per carry in the playoffs, but as Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith pointed out, it only took one play against the Vikings (a 71-yard TD on a screen pass) for Westbrook to change the game. "If I was starting a football team today, and you give me one running back," Smith said, "I want Brian Westbrook. He's a guy that makes you hold your breath every time you give him the ball."

Will the Eagles be able to stop the Cardinals' prolific passing attack?

With veteran QB Kurt Warner, a former Super Bowl MVP, playing some of the best football of his career, he can pick apart defenses thanks to his main weapons, Pro Bowl receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin.

NFL network analyst Rod Woodson, a former Pro Bowl safety, breaks down the receiving duo:

Said Woodson: "Larry is probably the biggest, most agile receiver I've seen in a long time – probably ever. You look at Randy Moss, he's tall and thin. Larry is thick. He has the best hands and great hand-eye coordination. … Boldin loves to run over people. He's built for it. I think they fit each other perfect. If Boldin plays, how do you roll a coverage on (Fitzgerald)?"

So how do you shut those receivers down?

Pressure, ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said. Warner is poised in the pocket, but if you can pressure him up the middle and knock him down, he can be baited into making some bad decisions.

Also, use double teams. With Boldin out last week (strained hamstring), the Cardinals made it tougher for Fitzgerald to get double-covered by putting him in motion often, sending him on short crossing routes. Expect some of the same today, and with Boldin expecting to play, the Eagles have to make sure Fitz­gerald doesn't beat them: "With Fitzgerald, you've got to roll a guy on him, double him," Woodson said. "Like a box-and-one in basketball, you should have a box-and-10. Someone should have to be on him at all times."

Player's prediction

Redskins veteran OT Jon Jansen, who played against all four remaining teams this season, says: "I think the Eagles are going to come out on top. If they can make it a physical game, if they can take the game to Arizona, establish the run game, let McNabb establish a passing game with rhythm and get some of those 7- to 10-yard pass completions, I think you'll see they'll wear Arizona down."

Final score: Eagles 24-17

Stephen F. Holder's prediction

Eagles 24, Cardinals 20



Cardinals: 5 things to know

1 Warner is unflappable: "It's hard to shake (Warner). If he has a bad play, he's gonna come back and say, 'So what? I'll throw a touchdown on the next play.' He's playing with a great deal of confidence." — Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith

2 Their defense is different now: The Cardinals struggled against the run for most of the season. But in the last few weeks, the front seven have been noticably better, which will be key in containing Donovan McNabb. "The thing that jumps to my mind, they're not nearly as predictable as they were," said CBS analyst Phil Simms. "I thought for a lot of the year, they were too much about their schemes, too predictable. ... Now, they're trying to mix it up, catching more teams by surprise."

3 Adrian Wilson is bully in box: At 6-foot-3, 230-pounds, Wilson is a safety in a linebacker body. And he's sometimes at his best near the line of scrimmage, where he has develope dinto a dangerous pass rusher (18.5 career sacks).

4 Their crowd plays a role: The noise at University of Phoenix Stadium gave the Cardinals an advantage against the Falcons, allowing them to get a read on their snap counts.

5 They're running with more conviction: During the regular season, the Cardinals were last in the NFL in rushing (73.6 yards per game). But in the playoffs, Arizona is averaging 115.5 yards per game. The difference? The re-emergence of Edgerrin James from the coach's doghouse, more rushing attempts (35.5 vs 21.2 in the regular season), and they're playing with the lead (35 percent of the yards came in the fourth quarter).

Eagles: 5 things to know

1 Dawkins is everywhere: Safety Brian Dawkins is the heart-and-soul of the Eagles defense, equally effective against the run or pass. "You definitely have to know where Dawkins is at all time," said Redskins OT Jon Jansen. "He's a playmaker and guy who will come up and hit anybody. He's the QB of that defense."

2 Avant is big on third down: Jason Avant, a physical slot receiver, is McNabb's go-to-guy on third down; nearly half his catches this season came on third down. He's quick, and can get open in tight spaces.

3 Their defensive ends are dangerous: Defensive ends Juqua Parker and Trent Cole may not get the hype, but they're part of a front four that is a big reason the Eagles were the third-ranked defense in the NFL. They attack the gaps well, and get good penetration. "You've got to look at their two ends, both of those guys can get pressure on the quarterback, and they hold up pretty good against the run," said Jansen. "Their movement up front is what makes them dangerous."

4 They've got a local: DT Brodrick Bunkle, a former Tampa Chamberlain and Florida State standout, plays a significant role as a disruptive run-stopper (over 80 tackles in first two seasons as starter).

5 Jackson is a triple threat: Rookie WR Desean Jackson isn't only the Eagles leading receiver (62 catches, 912 yards), he can score TDs rushing and returning punts. He's also passed from the Wildcat set and, to top it off, learned the Eagles defense to make himself more versatile. "It's rare," Andy Reid told the Deleware County Daily Times, "for a young guy to do that."

Carries

233

Yards

936

average

4.0

TDS

9

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals NFC Championship Game preview 01/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 17, 2009 8:05pm]

© 2014 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...