Are the Philadelphia Eagles ready to take command of the NFC East?

A year ago, the Eagles were 3-1, just like they are currently this season, but head coach Doug Pederson admits this season feels a little different.

"Yeah, I think, No. 1, our 3-0 start last year, even though we won those games, it covered up a lot of mistakes that we made in those games, offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game," Pederson explained.

"I think this year the guys are playing probably a little more confident. They're learning how to finish. The execution is better. From the quarterback's position, he's understanding not only the concepts, but game plan and situational football and putting our team in good situations there. And the ability to run the ball, we're a little bit more consistent there, especially the last couple weeks. A little more confident standing here, but at the same time, a lot of football left."

After starting the season 3-1, the Eagles dropped eight of their next 10 games,  before wining their final two games of the season. Not only are the Eagles now 3-1, a game ahead of both Dallas and Washington, but they are favored to beat Arizona Sunday at the Linc.

The Cardinals, have struggled offensively this season, with multiple injuries on the offensive line, leading to issues in pass protection, leaving Carson Palmer to be sacked more than any quarterback in the NFL this season.

Here are five things to watch.

The Eagles’ running game 
Even after rushing 80 times the past two weeks, it’s a guessing game to know who will lead the way in the Eagles backfield this week. Darren Sproles is already done for the season, and now it's not looking good for Wendell Smallwood to play on Sunday with a knee injury. Will it be more LeGarrette Blount or will we see more of rookie Clement?

Then you have the questions about who will be the passing-down back. Smallwood was taking on that role, with him likely out, will the Eagles turn to Kenjon Barner or Byron Marshal?

As a team, the Eagles — thanks to good blocking up front — got their running attack up to 143 yards a game, but against a good Cardinals run defense that gives up just 3.2 yards per carry and 88 yards per game, so losing Smallwood could be a big loss for the birds.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz versus Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians
This should be a a fun matchup to watch. During his tenure in Arizona, Arians offenses have been some of the best in the NFL. While the team has struggled on offense without halfback David Johnson, they still have some weapons in the pass game which could provide some matchup issues for the Eagles defense. The Cards have speed a wide receiver and veteran Larry Fitzgerald to deal with, all who can be productive.

"It is not just about Larry Fitzgerald, though," Schwartz said on Tuesday. "They can put a four by one-hundred team together, and they have got a lot of speed and a quarterback that has -- I know [Cardinals Head] Coach [Bruce] Arians has said he's playing at a level that he has not seen him play before."

Another guy to keep an eye on this week in the Arizona offense is running back Andre Ellington, who is a very good pass catcher coming out of the backfield. Ellington caught 9-of-14 targets for 86 yards in the Cardinals' Week 4 win over the 49ers, so the Eagles need to be keep an eye on him Sunday.

"Ellington has played wide receiver for them.," Schwartz said. "He's made some great catches and he's so hard to handle coming out of the backfield."

Cardinals secondary versus the Eagles receiving corps
The Eagles added wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith this offseason. Smith is the deep threat and Jeffery is the No. 1 receiver. Tight end Zach Ertz has been the best receiver this year and works primarily underneath, but Cardinals safety Tyvon Branch has been very good at covering opposing tight ends. On Arizona’s side, cornerback Patrick Peterson is one of the best in the business, the Eagles expect him to follow Jeffery in the game.

"Yeah, and in Patrick's case, listen, he's very comfortable going anywhere inside, outside,' Pederson said.

" You see him all over the field with the best receivers, and we're going to continue to find creative ways to get Alshon open even in the middle of the field, big body, big target in there, and he actually loves being in that slot position. We'll keep him moving around. Just defensively I think that whoever is on him, if it is Patrick, then he just has to be aware of where Alshon goes once he breaks the huddle."

On the other side, Justin Bethel can be picked on, expect the Eagles to take some shots at him and of course safety Tyrann Mathieu who has a sack and an interception so far this season.

The Cardinals vulnerable offensive line
It’s Cardinals offensive line has been a big reason why they average just 57 yards per game on the ground, ranking them 31st in the league. The biggest problem has been injuries to starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Mike Iupati. They are one of the worst offensive lines in the league when it comes to protecting the passer, Carson Palmer has been sacked a league high 17 times.

The Eagles defensive line will need to get pressure to help their secondary against the talented Cardinals receivers, but without Fletcher Cox for the second week in a row they'll need to get more from defensive end Brandon Graham.

Filling in for Fletcher
Cox with miss his second game in a row with a calf injury, which means his defensive tackle duties fall into the hands of Beau Allen and Destiny Vaeao. Allen is off to a great start with three tackles and a sack. Vaeao is back after missing a few games with a wrist injury. Missing Cox is a big loss for the Eagles defense, but might not be a huge loss this week against a Cardinals team that doesn't run the ball much, but they will miss his pass rushing ability from up-the-middle.

The Pick: Eagles 31, Cardinals 18 

Sal Pal on Eagles vs Cardinals 

Outside View: Kent Sommers, Cardinals beat writer Arizona Republic. 

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