McMullen’s Quick Hits: Powerful Cardinals Rout Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - There are excuses and then there's the truth.
You simply can't afford to lose both of your starting cornerbacks against the NFL's top-ranked offense and that's what happened to the Philadelphia Eagles as they were lapped by the powerful Arizona Cardinals, 40-17, on "Sunday Night Football" at Lincoln Financial Field.
Rookie Eric Rowe, already inserted in favor of the injured Nolan Carroll, left with a concussion early in the second quarter and Byron Maxwell tapped out with a shoulder injury moments later as Bill Davis was forced to use his fourth and fifth CBs, E.J. Biggers and Jaylen Watkins, against Carson Palmer and a receiving corps that includes future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, the big and physical Michael Floyd, and deep threat John Brown.
With the win the 12-2 Cardinals clinched the NFC West in the playoffs while the Eagles' future was clearly defined: beat both Washington and the New York Giants over the final two weeks and earn the NFC East crown or hibernate for the winter.
The Redskins beat Buffalo earlier Sunday to stay on top of the division at 7-7 while the Giants join the Eagles at 6-8 after their furious comeback attempt came up short against the 14-0 Carolina Panthers.
If Washington beats Philadelphia next Saturday night at the Linc, the 'Skins take the division and the Week 17 matchup against New York at MetLife Stadium is meaningless.
Sam Bradford probably has his most accurate day as the Eagles quarterback. finishing 28-of-41 for 361 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
Ryan Mathews carried it 11 times for 58 yards but also had an egregious fumble in the second half. DeMarco Murray was a non-factor, getting only two carries for three yards. The receiving game was led by a revitalized Jordan Matthews, who had eight catches for a career-high 159 yards and a 78-yard TD. Zach Ertz added eight receptions for 78 yards and a 22-yard score.
Rookie running back David Johnson amassed a career-high 183 yards rushing with three touchdowns for the Cardinals, and MVP candidate Carson Palmer had his usual, outstanding performance, connecting on 19-of-30 passes for 274 yards and a TD to Brown despite dislocating a finger in the second half.
"Very excited obviously about the way our football team played," Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said. "To come here against a first-place team and play as dominantly as we did in the second half was fun to watch."
THE CORNERBACK QUANDARY
Rowe left the game with a concussion early in the second quarter and Maxwell was also in-and-out before leaving for good with a shoulder problem, leaving the Eagles very thin at the position.
With Carroll already gone for the year and rookie Denzel Rice inactive, that meant Davis was forced to ride Biggers and Watkins against one of the best receiving groups in the game although the speedy Brown helped out a bit by dropping three passes, two of which would have been touchdowns.
The coverage was OK for the most part but there were issues as both Watkins and Biggers struggled in run support and were among half the defense that had a chance to bring down Johnson on a 47-yard TD run.
Watkins tried to strip in the football in the scrum, instead of wrapping up and Biggers was easily stiff-armed by the rookie running back down the field as he galloped toward the end zone.
"You already had matchups that you were concerned with," David admitted. "You don't want to be one-on-one with any of those three star receivers. When we started losing corners, we had to figure out a way to help while still trying to help the run game."
The health of both Maxwell and Rose will be monitored closely this week because its hard to imagine the Eagles winning their final two games without them.
BRADFORD MAKING HIS CASE
Bradford continued to improve as he pushes to become more than a one-and-done option as the Eagles' quarterback.
He threw the football brilliantly, especially in the first half when he completed 15-of-20 passes for 148 yards and the TD to Ertz for a 112.1 passer rating.
"I think we did some really good things," Bradford said. "I mean, that was a really good defense that we played tonight. We made some plays. I mean, it's not like they shut us down all night."
Things fell off in the second half as the Eagles fell further and further behind and both Deone Bucannon and Defensive Player of the Year hopeful Tyrann Mathieu picked off passes in the second half with Bucannon's going back 39 yards the other way for a pick-six.
"Just a bad play on my part," Bradford said of his INT returned the other way. ""I have to find a way to just throw that ball in the dirt right there."
Murray didn't enter Sunday's game until the 21st minute of game action and he never touched the football in the first half despite the fact Chip Kelly wanted to tie the game late in the second quarter and went for it on 4th-and-1 when Mathews was stuffed.
Despite all his struggles this season, Murray was 12-for-12 in 3rd- or 4th-and-1 attempts and trying to finally power football without your best back for it was the latest in a laundry list of mistakes Kelly had made with Murray this season.
"We had Ryan in there who is a 230-pound back," Kelly said. "We thought we were going to get it on 4th-and-1. ...You look back at that, kind of in hindsight but I thought in terms of making the call that we were going to get it."
No matter how many times he touches it, however, Murray has already deposited $21 million in the bank from the Eagles.
Ertz continued his strong second half of the season and is finally becoming the type of player the Eagles' fan base always thought he was, one of the best pass-receiving tight ends in football.
The consistency from week to week is starting to pile up for Ertz as this was the fifth time in his past seven games that the Stanford product has caught at lest five passes. He did have one bad drop but that's par for the course with this receiving group.
CARDINALS PLAY DEFENSE THE RIGHT WAY
Find out why over at TodaysPigskin.com
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973ESPN.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen