Eagles analysis

Eagles-Cardinals player matchups to watch in Week 17

The Eagles host the Cardinals in Week 17. Here are some key matchups to watch.

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The Eagles (11-4) host the Cardinals (3-12) on Sunday afternoon at the Linc.

Here are some key matchups to watch:

Eagles’ pass rushers vs. Kyler Murray’s legs

The Cardinals’ offensive line isn’t very good but that’s just one part of bringing Murray to the ground. Murray is extremely fast and he has the ability to get away from rushers chasing him down. The Cardinals have allowed 40 sacks this year, which ranks as the 11th highest total in the NFL. Murray has been sacked 16 times in 6 games and his sack percentage is 7.2%, which ranks 22nd in the NFL.

But the point is that if Murray wasn’t so mobile, he’d probably be getting sacked even more.

Murray will also take off. While he hasn’t been running wild since his return from an ACL surgery, he has been averaging 31.2 yards per attempt.

“He does a great job with the angles,” Eagles de facto DC Matt Patricia said. “He manipulates the angles on the field, and you can see where his other sports athleticism comes into play here. He just does a great job, and he sets you up. He'll go and he’ll get real tall and then you start to rise up and all of a sudden he's gone. He's just down and he moves and he's quick.

“The biggest thing with him that's interesting since he came in the league that I've noticed is, he will hit top speed right now. Like there's no buildup to it. It's not like he has to get going for five yards before he's running full speed. He can just go. I think that's what surprises everybody right away is how fast he moves and how quickly he can get to that top speed. So, you start there obviously with him.”

Eagles’ linebackers vs. Trey McBride

The Cardinals granted Zach Ertz his release earlier this season but they have a really talented young tight end in McBride. The 2022 second-round pick out of Colorado State had a quiet rookie season but has come on in Year 2. He actually leads the Cardinals in receptions and receiving yards, which is good for him but not a great sign for the team.

McBride has 72 catches for 743 yards and 2 touchdowns this season. The Eagles should be healthier at linebacker this week after both Nicholas Morrow and Zach Cunningham returned to practice this week. No guarantee they both play but getting back just one of them would be a boost.

The Eagles have been a middle-of-the-back defense against tight ends year. They have given up 76/766/6 to opposing tight ends, which ranks 20th in the NFL.

Aside from McBride, the Cardinals don’t have a lot of pass catchers who scare you. They have some undersized guys like Hollywood Brown, Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch. Their big target is Michal Wilson, who hasn’t caught a pass since November 12. Brown is their best receiver but over the last two games, he’s been held without a catch. Brown had 8 for 78 and a touchdown against the Eagles in 2022 in a 20-17 Eagles win in October.

Eagles’ run defense vs. James Conner

The Eagles have had some tackling issues this season and Conner is a big back at 6-foot-1, 233 pounds, who can run through some arm tackles. Sometimes, it’ll take gang tackles to bring down the 28-year-old, who is averaging a career-high 4.9 yards per attempt this season. He is up to 762 yards and 5 touchdowns in 11 games.

Last year when these two teams played, Conner had 9 carries for 55 yards. 

D’Andre Swift vs. Cardinals’ poor run defense

The Cardinals have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. Here’s where they rank in some key categories:

Points: 31st

Yards: 27th

Passing: 12th

Rushing: 32nd

Jonathan Gannon’s unit is giving up 4.7 yards per rushing attempt and they’ve allowed at least 110 yards in 13 of 15 games. They’re allowing 147 yards per game, which is the worst figure in the NFL.

Swift, meanwhile, is coming off a big game. He had 20 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Giants. Not only was it his best rushing day since Week 3 but he also carried the load down the stretch when the Giants knew it was coming. They still couldn’t stop it. This could be a big game for No. 0.

Jalen Hurts vs. Budda Baker

To put it simply, this just isn’t a very talented Cardinals defense. The one guy you really have to worry about is safety Budda Baker. He was the first guy head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson mentioned when asked about the Cardinals’ defense this week.

Baker, 27, missed some time earlier in the season but he’s healthy now. The five-time Pro Bowler is the top of player Hurts will have to find before every snap. He’s playing well but the stats aren’t there for Baker this season. He has no interceptions or passes defensed in his 10 starts.

Nick Sirianni vs. Jonathan Gannon

Without bringing up the drama of this past offseason, there’s still plenty of familiarity between Sirianni and Gannon. They coached together in Indianapolis and then again the last two seasons in Philly with Gannon working under Sirianni as defensive coordinator.

“Remember, he knows us, too, right?” Sirianni said. “I would say they're doing a good job as far as their schemes and different things like that. I'm very early in my studies there. Obviously, you come here, and you work on the kinks that you have to work out from last game, and now we're early in our studies of Arizona.

“They're doing some good things scheme-wise. They’ve got some good guys in place there. Budda Baker is a really, really good player. So, there is a, ‘hey, we know this in this scenario.’ Jonathan knows some of the things we know, and we know some of the things he knows about us. There is going to be a little bit about that. You can't think too much into that. You’ve got to account for it, but not let it completely dictate what you're doing offensively.

“But there is familiarity on both sides, and I think it's almost like -- the familiarity of the players is different, but it's almost like a division game in the sense of there is a lot of familiarity on both sides of what's happening.”

It’s not like the Eagles are going to become a completely different team in this game but going against a coach with this much familiarity might necessitate at least changing a few calls or breaking a few tendencies. Of course, Gannon could be thinking the same thing.

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