Eagles vs. Cardinals: the key matchups Print
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Thursday, 15 January 2009 11:08
NFL Headline News

 Matchups for the NFC championship game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:
When the Eagles have the ball
Much of the lip service on Arizona's side will be about stopping RB Brian Westbrook (36), and he often has been the key to Philadelphia's attack. But not as much recently with QB Donovan McNabb (5) becoming the main playmaker. Against the Giants, Westbrook gained a total of 46 yards, while McNabb was dynamic. The 10-year veteran has significantly improved his play since a second-half benching against Baltimore, and the Eagles are 6-1 since that loss.
Westbrook and backup Correll Buckhalter (28) are effective, and the Eagles will attempt to run, something Carolina failed to do last weekend against Arizona's front led by tackle Darnell Dockett (90), and an active linebacker corps featuring Karlos Dansby (58) and Gerald Hayes (54). Atlanta had little luck on the ground versus Arizona in the wild-card round.
e has more spark. WRs Kevin Curtis (80), Jason Avant (81) and rookie DeSean Jackson (10) have worked well lately with McNabb, and tight ends L.J. Smith (82) and Brent Celek (87) also have been effective.
But so has the Cardinals' secondary. Arizona had five interceptions of Jake Delhomme at Carolina last week and is getting superb work from safeties Adrian Wilson (24) and Antrel Rolle (21), versatile DB Rod Hood (26), a former Eagle, and rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (29).
Philadelphia's offensive line has been outstanding over the past six weeks, particularly in two victories at Giants Stadium in which it allowed no sacks. The Cardinals have found a pass rush behind Dockett and ends Antonio Smith (94) and Bertrand Berry (92). They will be tested by tackles Jon Runyan (69) and Tra Thomas (72), center Jamaal Jackson (67) and guard Todd Herremans (79).

When the Cardinals have the ball
Throw, throw, throw. And throw some more.
Well, maybe a couple of months ago that was the philosophy. But the Cardinals rediscovered their running game when they dusted off veteran Edgerrin James (32) and handed him the ball. The blocking, led by tackles Mike Gandy (69) and Levi Brown (75) and guard Reggie Wells (74), has been outstanding.
The invigorated James is not the threat he was in Indianapolis, but remains productive. He's backed up by a fine rookie, Tim Hightower (34).
ey will be challenged by all three units on the Philadelphia defense. Safety Brian Dawkins (20) is one of the best run-support tacklers in the league, and the linebackers, particularly Chris Gocong (57), plug holes well.
Of course, at some point, QB Kurt Warner (13) is going to air it out to his three 1,000-yard receivers: Larry Fitzgerald (11), Anquan Boldin (81) and Steve Breaston (15). That is, if Boldin's strained left hamstring has healed.
Fitzgerald is a matchup nightmare for anyone, and if CB Asante Samuel (22) can't slow him without a lot of help from Dawkins and the other safeties, that makes Breaston even more dangerous. Add in a close-to-healthy Boldin and the Cardinals can dominate the passing game, with the amazing Warner close to his MVP form of 1999 and 2001.
Fortunately for Philly, it has a staunch secondary with Samuel, Dawkins, Sheldon Brown (24), Quintin Mikell (27) and Joselio Hanson (21).
So will the Eagles find the pass rush that could rattle Warner? They will need to get it from Trent Cole (58), Darren Howard (90) and Juqua Parker (75). The more time Warner gets, the more chance Fitzgerald and company will decide the NFC champion.
Special teams
back, with one TD.
The Eagles allowed only 41 punt returns, a very stingy number, on 78 total punts. They gave up one kickoff return TD in 75 runbacks.
David Akers (2) is a very reliable left-footed kicker who made three field goals in the tricky Meadowlands winds last weekend. He led the NFC in scoring with 144 points, was 33-for-40 on field goals, and has an NFL record of 18 straight in the postseason.
Sav Rocca is a solid punter.
Arizona's kicking game isn't as strong, even though PK Neil Rackers (1) and P Ben Graham (5) rarely deal with the elements. Rackers made 25 of 28 field goals, which is excellent, but he isn't as dependable in big spots as Akers. Graham took over the punting duties late in the season and has been excellent in the playoffs.
Where the Cardinals could stand out is kick returns with J.J. Arrington (28) and Breaston, who also is dangerous on punt runbacks.
Coaching
Heading into Thanksgiving, few fans in Philly were offering Andy Reid cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. The Eagles were coming off a distressing tie at lowly Cincinnati and a blowout loss to Baltimore in which McNabb was benched at halftime.
coordinator Jim Johnson overseeing an aggressive and versatile defense, the Eagles are in good hands.
So are the Cardinals under Ken Whisenhunt, who won a Super Bowl after the 2006 season when he was offensive coordinator with the Steelers.
Whisenhunt's best work has been erasing a losing culture in the Valley of the Sun - helped, of course, by veteran leaders such as Warner, Wilson and James. With the Cardinals' defense just about matching the offense in swagger, Whisenhunt has remade one of the worst franchises in sports.
Intangibles
Both sides are loaded with positive intangibles.
The Cardinals staggered to the finish line after an early clinching of a weak division in which they went 6-0. But they have been sensational in the playoffs, their confidence buoyed by two relatively dominant performances. Many thought they would be satisfied getting into the postseason, then building from there.
No way. They believe they are good enough to win it all.
Oddly, the Phillies might have helped the Eagles when they won the World Series, removing that dreaded burden of 25 years without a Philadelphia championship. Having been this far - and beyond; they lost the Super Bowl to New England in January 2005 - the Eagles won't be in awe or intimidated. And they won two away games already, including eliminating the defending champion Giants.
 

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