Five things to watch for in the Cardinals-Eagles game Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia:
Here comes the run
The Cardinals have been good against the run. Corey Peters has had a solid year, Bruce Arians was giving out gameballs to linemen Xavier Williams, Rodney Gunter and Olsen Pierre, and the Cardinals have allowed only 88 yards on the ground per game. But the Eagles are the best running team the Cards have seen, running for 143 yards a game and helping create an offense that is third in the league in yards per game at almost 400. LeGarrette Blount is averaging almost six yards a carry, a big battering ram even though he's only averaged about 10 carries a game. The Cards must stand stout or it could be a big problem.
Replacing a Junkyard Dog
With one of their pass-rushing bookends done after Markus Golden tore his ACL, the Cardinals have to figure out the best plan to fill an every down spot. Kareem Martin figures to start and play in the base defense, with rookie Haason Reddick getting work in passing down situations. Losing Golden will put more pressure on Chandler Jones – who is off to a good start – but the Cards don't want to rush Reddick in a position he has not played in the NFL yet. The one plus about a versatile defense is that while Reddick gets up to speed, and with Martin having some years in the defense, defensive coordinator James Bettcher can mix-and-match some packages to try and hide any short-term shortcomings.
Enough time to find the weakness?
Eagles coach Doug Pederson had a long pause this week when asked how his young cornerbacks were doing. There is an opening there for the Cardinals to exploit, especially if John Brown and J.J. Nelson creep closer to being fully healthy. The Cardinals have been throwing the ball fairly well – when they can throw it. But if Carson Palmer has no time to throw, Pederson's pauses won't matter much. After getting hit 43 times in four games and sacked 16, that's not enough time to throw, regardless of what's available down the field.
Another version of the offensive line
The Cardinals still don't have everyone healthy on the offensive line. Tackle D.J. Humphries is still trying to recover from his knee injury. Mike Iupati is on IR. Alex Boone maybe could play, but when you're dealing with a pectoral injury, that's an iffy proposition. Earl Watford just signed this week, but at least he knows the offense and would seem to be a possibility to start if Boone can't go and you don't want to run rookie Will Holden back out there. At least right tackle Jared Veldheer played better last week – OL coach Harold Goodwin said he was "pleased" – but the mixing-and-matching has made it tough.
Timing is everything
If it's a road game, it must mean a 10 a.m. Arizona start. The Cards will be 3-for-3 in that regard, after the trips to Detroit and Indianapolis earlier. It won't be used as an excuse – not that excuses mean anything in the standings anyway – but the Cards have to find a way to not let it derail the game early. The Philadelphia crowd will be into the game. The Cards can have a say in what way that crowd bends. A decent start of their own, and the crowd may turn.