On The Edge Blog

Saturday, January 17, 2009

NFC title game preview

24 hours!

The Eagles are 24 hours away from playing a game that none of us expected them to take part in two months ago.

Having already disposed of the Minnesota Vikings and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, tomorrow’s battle with the Arizona Cardinals should be a welcome site for the Eagles’ offense, especially the rushing attack.

We have to give credit to Andy Reid for opening up the passing attack by handing the ball off 46 times against two of the top defenses in the NFL, despite a lack of results. The Eagles picked up just 110 yards on those 46 designed runs, but now they will go up against a defense that has all of the national media singing their praises, but is not nearly as good as they have looked the last two weeks.

In the playoffs, Arizona held Michael Turner, who ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards this season, to just 42 yards, and then held the Panthers “Smash and Dash” combo to 75 yards. The Cardinals have also forced nine turnovers in their two playoff games. However, this is still the same defense that ranked 19th in the NFL, but has taken advantage of two very favorable matchups, and one big early lead against Carolina.

So what is the difference between the Eagles and the Falcons/Panthers that will suddenly turn the Cardinals’ defense back into the middle of the pack unit from the regular season?

For starters, each of the last two weeks, I picked the Cardinals because of my lack of faith in their opponent’s quarterback. This week, the Cardinals face one of the least turnover-prone quarterbacks in history, and that means their defense suddenly has a real challenge on its hands, instead of rookie quarterback and then a bad quarterback.

Sticking with the passing game, unlike the Panthers and the Falcons, the Eagles spread the ball around, which will force the Cardinals to cover every receiver, and not just game-plan around the top guy.

Against the Falcons, the Cardinals left Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie one-on-one with Roddy White, who accounted for 40.1 percent of Matt Ryan’s passing yards, and he got burned to the tune of 11 catches for 84 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals made sure that everyone else was covered, and hoped White wouldn’t beat them so badly that they couldn’t out-score the Falcons. Last week, the Cardinals took the opposite approach and consistently had two or three players watching Steve Smith. That forced Jake Delhomme to throw to receivers who he may or may not have even known were on his team. Smith accounted for 43 percent of Delhomme’s passing yards this year, and the Cardinals made Delhomme read progressions and throw to unknown players, which resulted in a five-interception performance.

The Eagles don’t have that situation. Finally not having a number one receiver might pay off! DeSean Jackson, the Eagles’ leading receiver, accounted for just 22 percent of the Eagles’ passing attack, which means the Cardinals are going to have to cover every player on every play, because Donovan McNabb likes to spread the ball around. In the playoffs, Jackson leads the team in receiving yards, but Jason Avant, Brent Celek and Kevin Curtis all have more receptions than him, and McNabb has completed passes to ten different players in two games.

On the ground, the Panthers had no trouble running the ball on their first drive, but once the game got out of reach due to Delhomme’s turnovers, the Panthers stopped running. The Eagles should have no problem running the ball, as long as they keep the game close. The Cardinals are not the Vikings or the Giants, so I would expect to see Westbrook and Buckhalter (yes, he’ll get a few touches) racking up the yardage, if for nothing else than to keep the Cardinals’ offense off the field as much as possible.

On the other side of the ball, on early downs the Eagles should be able to stop the worst rushing attack in the league with six-man fronts, which would put an extra man in the secondary to help contain the Cardinals’ trio of 1,000-yard receivers.

On obvious passing downs the Eagles will have to walk a fine line on how to stop Kurt Warner from converting on third downs. Either they will put seven men in coverage and hope they get pressure from their front four, or they will leave Asante Samuel, Sheldon Brown and Joselio Hanson in man-to-man coverage and blitz seven or eight guys to move Warner out of his comfort zone and force him to make a mistake with the ball. The key will be how those three cornerbacks will fare without help over the top from safeties. I think that Samuel, who has picked off passes in seven of his ten career postseason games, will do well, but I’m not nearly as confident about Brown and Hanson going against whoever lines up across the line of scrimmage.

Overall, I have no worries about the Eagles’ offense in this game, as they are going to score points, but I am concerned about the defensive side of the ball. I’m sure that Jim Johnson is going to have a solid game plan for slowing down the Cardinals’ high-powered offense, but it is going to be challenge to keep Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston from scoring at will. Luckily for us, the Eagles have a great pass rush and star-studded secondary, so if there is one team that can at least slow them down, the Eagles are that team.

I’m sticking with Eagles downing the little red birds 34-24. Unlike my further delving into Eli Manning’s statistics last week, I haven’t seen anything this week that would shift my prediction either way.

Pittsburgh 16-12 over Baltimore: I’ve picked Baltimore in both of their wins, but I think their luck runs out this week. These two teams are essentially the same, but Pittsburgh is just a little bit better at key spots. The defenses are one and two in the NFL, but with all else being equal you have to like Ben Roethlisberger and his wide receivers over Joe Flacco and his one wide receiver.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I was busy today. Did Donovan lose another NFC title game?

January 18, 2009 7:04 PM  
Anonymous climb back in your hole said...

What do you call fifty millionaires watching the NFC championship on TV? The New York Giants.

January 18, 2009 9:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, that was hilarious.

What do you call a franchise that has watched 41 of 43 Super Bowls on TV? The Philadelphia Eagles.

January 18, 2009 9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seriously you have to stop living in the past. The difference between ignorant New York fans and the bulk of fans for the rest of the league is come day one of a new season we know that last season doesn't mean shit. When April rolls around you won't hear us saying how the Phils are the world fucking champions and that is why we dominate the league, and all that bullshit. We will all be 0-0. However to New York teams you have to live in the past because its so rare your future looks bright. I remember when you said you wouldn't post anymore, can't you at least keep that promise?

January 19, 2009 3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The difference between ignorant New York fans and the bulk of fans for the rest of the league is come day one of a new season we know that last season doesn't mean shit. When April rolls around you won't hear us saying how the Phils are the world fucking champions and that is why we dominate the league, and all that bullshit."

You are so full of shit, I'm willing to wager you have brown eyes. Mets fans will hear about the 2008 Phillies all season long.

Yankees fans have to live in the past when they have a $300 million payroll that now includes Sabathia, Burnett and Teixeira?

Mets fans don't have much of a past to look at, so I have no idea what you're thinking there. Same goes for the Jets.

The Giants have one of the youngest and deepest teams in the league. They will make the playoffs again next season with a healthy Osi Umenyiora back in the fold.

If you promise to stop making such ridiculous comments, I'll promise to keep the insults down to a minimum. All I ask is that you have a clue as to what you're talking about.

January 19, 2009 3:52 PM  
Anonymous uh yeah... said...

Stop. Just stop. Give up the notion and the self-dilution that everyone is like you. I guarantee you that come opening day all the Phils will be talking about is the next game. Like Charlie says, its one game at a time, what happened last year is old news. I don't want a team that is focused on the past, they get distracted and fall apart, much the same way the Giants did this year. When will you realize winning something last year doesn't entitle a team to anything when a new season starts.

January 20, 2009 11:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I never said that it entitles anything to anybody. You're putting words in my mouth.

But if you think that I bought a ticket to a Mets-Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in 2009 and wouldn't hear a peep from anyone about what the Phillies won last year, you're delusional.

And if you think there won't be Phillies fans at Citi Field this season, gloating about 2008, you don't get out much.

January 20, 2009 3:14 PM  

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Name: Matthew Fleishman, Yardley News Editor
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