TEMPE — Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles offense have been the main starting points when it comes to describing the team’s 2021 success.
And while Hurts is playing at an MVP level in an offense tailormade for Philadelphia’s weapons, the defense deserves just as much credit for setting the tone on the other end.
It’s hard to find a better defense than the Eagles through four weeks. Entering the Week 5 tilt, Philadelphia sits above the rest in the NFL when it comes to sacks with 16 and is tied with the Baltimore Ravens in total takeaways with 10.
For the Cardinals to have a real chance at picking up a home victory, quarterback Kyler Murray and the offense will have to play their cleanest game of the year.
“Overall, it’s probably the most complete roster,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “I mean, at least in the top three that you see. … All three levels on defense are tremendous and great athletes. They really don’t have to bring a ton of pressure because they’re so good up front and then they play coverage behind some of the best DBs in the league.
“Schematically, they do a good job of mixing up coverages, disguising things and then they play really hard. I think that’s the most impressive thing when you watch their team overall, it’s just the effort that they play with and that’s a credit to their coaching staff.”
The Eagles defense is legit at all three levels, but it’s the defensive line led by Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, John Sweat and Javon Hargrave that really gets things going for the unit.
Combining for 9.5 sacks on the year, the quartet is forcing opposing offensive lines between a rock and a hard place: either focus on stopping the four up front or risk getting taken out off the edge by former Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick.
For the most part, neither option has worked well for Philadelphia’s opponents.
Leading the team with 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, with two apiece coming last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Reddick has continued his ascent since his departure from the desert following a 12.5-sack effort in his fourth and final year with the franchise.
After a failed move to inside linebacker in part of his career with the Cardinals, Reddick has found his NFL home rushing the quarterback off the edge.
It’s hard to argue with the move, with Reddick posting more sacks in the 20 games away from Arizona (14.5) than he did lining up mostly in the box for the Cardinals over his first three NFL seasons (7.5).
Reddick switched back to an on-ball pass rusher midway through Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s first year in 2019.
“You’ve got to have a plan for him, there’s no doubt,” Kingsbury said Wednesday. “It’s been great to see just his evolution and how he’s become one of the best pass rushers in the league. When I got here, he was a standup, and we were trying to make him a middle linebacker. Finally, we were like, ‘Hey, let’s try him where he played so well in college.’
“It’s just been awesome, he’s such a great person, to see the success he’s had. You’ve got to have a plan. He wrecked that game against Jacksonville last week creating those turnovers there late, so we’ve got to have some way to try and slow him down.”
And even when signal callers manage to escape the Eagles’ pass rush, there are Pro Bowl cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry to deal with.
Tied for fifth in the NFL with two interceptions apiece to go along with nine combined passes defensed, the pair has been key in the Eagles’ success of 2022.
The best ways for Arizona to counteract all the good the Philadelphia defense does is to get the ground game going early and then getting the ball out of Murray’s hands in a hurry unless the QB can make something happen with his feet.
This season, the Eagles are allowing just more than 100 rushing yards per game and have given up four touchdowns on the ground, presenting a window the Cardinals can utilize.
Arizona is coming off a strong showing in the run game last week in a win over the Panthers, recording 132 yards and a touchdown on 37 carries. The Cardinals saw four ball carriers tote the rock at least four times, with James Conner (15), Murray (12), Eno Benjamin (five) and Darrel Williams (four) all getting touches.
And above all else, Arizona must put together a complete game offensively. Another slow start at home is basically a death sentence against an Eagles team that has yet to trail at halftime and has outscored opponents 92-35 over the first two quarters.
“They’ve got a lot of great players over there,” Murray said Wednesday. “A lot of great players are flying around. They’re playing together and playing really good complementary football on offense, defense and special teams. There’s a reason why they’re 4-0. They’ve got some really good players over there.”