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Cardinals Search For Lost Magic Against Eagles

Team would love to find the rhythm it had in Philadelphia in 2015


Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson enjoying the blowout victory against the Eagles in 2015.

PHILADELPHIA – The Cardinals were as crisp as the autumn air the last time they were here.

Running back David Johnson emerged as a true superstar, the high-flying passing game continued its trapeze act and the defense dominated. The Cardinals clinched the 2015 NFC West title with a 40-17 win over the Eagles in that nationally televised December affair, and only a season-ending knee injury to Tyrann Mathieu kept them from exuberantly enjoying a terrific night within an enchanted season.

But that was seasons ago. The magic has since faded, and as the Cardinals prepare for their Week 5 game on Sunday in Philadelphia, they are in search of tricks up their sleeve.

"We've just got to stay the course," tight end Jermaine Gresham said. "Keep knocking on the door until we knock it down. We've played well in spurts. I think if we just stay consistent and hone in on what we need to do, I think we can start clicking again."

An overtime victory over the 49ers last time out helped the Cardinals return to .500, but did little to engender confidence. The team's two wins this season have come against subpar opponents – winless San Francisco and the 1-3 Colts – and in neither case did it have a lead until the final play of the game.

Johnson is still sidelined and won't be back for weeks, while protection issues have reduced the offensive capacity. The defense absorbed its first big injury blow on Sunday when outside linebacker Markus Golden was lost for the season due to a torn ACL.

After a losing season in 2016 and this slow start, the Cardinals no longer resemble that 2015 juggernaut. While they are only a game out of first place in the division and in the middle of a muddled NFC, the team must find some sort of rhythm to become a viable playoff contender.

"I think we're closer (than believed)," offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. "I just think we need to have some things go good early to get that momentum going, instead of being in those situations where something goes bad, and we're kind of like, 'Here we go again.' I think we need some early momentum, scoring on the first drive, and being able to run the ball. I think last time we went there we rushed for over 200 yards. God, I'm hoping for that."

The running game is only averaging 2.7 yards per carry, and while quarterback Carson Palmer is second in the NFL in passing yards, he's also averaged 45.8 pass attempts per contest, the most in the NFL.

The Eagles are allowing 6.2 yards per play this season, third-worst in the league, will be missing star defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and have some issues at cornerback. A normal Cardinals offense would salivate at the thought, since its deep-ball can be fearsome, but without adequate pass protection it will be hard to connect.

"It is frustrating because we were behind (the 49ers) three times wide open the other day, and we dumped two to the backs and made 10 yards, but those were 40-yard downfield chunks with a little more time," coach Bruce Arians said.

The Eagles are 3-1 and have talent on offense, and in order to pull the upset, the Cardinals likely need to force second-year quarterback Carson Wentz into a poor performance. He is the former No. 2 overall pick who has shown flashes of potential, but has also thrown 16 interceptions in 20 career starts.

The Cardinals have only three takeaways this season, although they had a chance at four turnovers on Sunday alone against San Francisco. Safety Antoine Bethea picked off a pass, but cornerback Justin Bethel and linebacker Karlos Dansby couldn't catch their attempts, and a forced fumble by safety Tyvon Branch was recovered by the 49ers.

"They come in bunches, and we need bunches," Arians said. "We've been close too many times now. We need one of those games where they bounce our way."

The Cardinals enter this game with optimism. The season is still young, and they aren't the only team attempting to work out the kinks. But the process has to get smoother for expectations to rise.

"Honestly, I think we are right where we need to be," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "Obviously, we want to be 4-0 in the first month of the season, but at the end of the day, we're right in the middle of the pack. We've still got three months of football left. This is the part of the season where you start separating yourselves.

"It's a great test for us. It really is. I believe it's going to give us the opportunity to see what type of team we have early, and see what we can build on going forward."

Images of key players on this week's opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles

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