Good morning, Eagles fans. Get ready for a busy few days of football. The Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and then have a short week before traveling to play the Carolina Panthers on Thursday for the dreaded two games-in-five days stretch that every team endures. What will their record be come this time next week? This is Early Birds, the twice-weekly newsletter breaking down the Eagles. It's free to sign up here to receive in your inbox every Monday and Friday. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Who comes to mind when you think of players who always plays well against the Eagles? I posed this question on Twitter on Thursday. There were more than 170 responses. More than 70 readers mentioned Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, the future Hall of Famer who will be in Philadelphia on Sunday.
In eight career regular season and postseason games against the Eagles, Fitzgerald has 50 catches, 845 yards, and 11 touchdowns. That's an average of 6.25 catches, 105.6 yards, and 1.4 touchdowns per game. The Eagles must know where No. 11 is at all times on Sunday. Even at 34, Fitzgerald remains the Cardinals' top receiving option (26 catches on 41 targets, 276 yards, two TDs). And with an injury to RB David Johnson, look for the Eagles defense to focus on Fitzgerald in the slot.
Fitzgerald's least productive game against the Eagles came in 2015, when Malcolm Jenkins covered him. It was the only time Fitzgerald hasn't reached the end zone when visiting Philadelphia. But Jenkins has not been playing nickel cornerback this season because Patrick Robinson took over that role. (Check out a Q&A with Robinson below.)
The Eagles like how Robinson is performing and I don't expect them to move him out of that position. They have a three-safety package that puts Jenkins in the slot and Corey Graham at safety, but Robinson has earned the playing time. Jenkins' time on Fitzgerald could come when the Cardinals play four-receiver sets, which they do a lot.
Jenkins wants this matchup. He and Fitzgerald have been close since they trained together in the 2009 offseason. Former NFL linebacker James Laurinaitis, Jenkins' Ohio State teammate, told Jenkins of a camp that Fitzgerald holds in Minnesota. Jenkins attended and was so struck by Fitzgerald's work ethic that he used Fitzgerald as a model. He went back to the camp for the next three summers.
My guess is both Jenkins and Robinson see time on Fitzgerald. The Cardinals don't have much of a running game without Johnson, and tight end Jermaine Gresham hasn't threatened defenses. The Cardinals can spread the field and burn by the defense on the perimeter with their speed. The Eagles' emphasis is likely going to be for the outside cornerbacks to play off and protect against deep passes, with tight coverage and help in the middle of the field on Fitzgerald. The Eagles could be vulnerable to check downs to receiving back Andre Ellington, although they might surrender those yards willingly rather than allow big plays. Quarterback Carson Palmer takes deep drops and the Cardinals offensive line is struggling, so the Eagles pass rush could keep Palmer from having time to find those receivers.
Look for Bob Ford's column on the Eagles' D-line in Sunday's Inquirer and on philly.com.
Zach Berman: What's the key to a matchup in the slot with Larry Fitzgerald?
Patrick Robinson: "I think it's one of those matchups I have to be physical and strong at the point of attack. He's one of those strong vets. And he's a very willing blocker. That's something I have to focus on, going in there and being strong. Can't go in there [with half effort]. I definitely have to be strong at the point of attack. As far as his routes, he's a savvy vet. He's not a speed guy, but he knows where he's going and how to get through zones. So I have to make sure I'm focused on doing my job. If I'm man-to-man, I have to be very focused on what I have to do. …[In man-to-man,] just playing your technique and not be too nosy."
Zach Berman: In training camp, there were a lot of concerned questions about you. Those have quieted. Do you feel validation, and how's this stretch compare to the other bright points in your career?
Patrick Robinson: "Really, as far as that, I try to do my job. Focus on what I have to do for the team. As far as all the other stuff, whatever you guys want to talk about. But I just do my job the best that I can do it and make it simple. …No [validation]. Not at all, to be honest. … I try not to think about the past. I try to focus on the now. When you start thinking about other things, that clouds your mind about doing your job right now. … Don't worry about too much. Just do my job. Execute everything they ask of me. And I'll be fine."
Zach Berman: At this point in your career, what is the biggest thing you've learned in the NFL?
Patrick Robinson: "I'd say take care of your body. If you're not available, they can't use you. If they can't use you, they don't need you. It's as simple as that."
Good question. I think Alshon Jeffery's arrival has helped tight end Zach Ertz, who is fifth in the NFL in receiving yards, because a safety is often keeping his eye on Jeffery on the outside. In the past, Jordan Matthews sometimes drew a help defender, and that clogged the middle of the field. But don't take my word for it. Here's Ertz: "Alshon is obviously a dynamic receiver, a proven receiver in this league, and he's going to pretty much get the No. 1 cornerback each and every week. If they're playing man coverage, the No. 1 cornerback is going to travel with Alshon. From a totem pole standpoint, you'd think at best, I'd get the No. 2 guy, and often times it's just the safety or the nickel or the dime. The dime has been the flavor of the week the past couple of weeks that I've gotten, and bringing another guy in to kind of guard me on third down."
Look for more on Ertz in the Sunday Inquirer and on Philly.com this weekend.
It's complicated, because the Browns didn't hold onto all those picks. They've moved them to add more picks in five different trades — Sam Hinkie would applaud the "optionality" — and they now have nine players and two more picks to go.
With picks acquired by the Eagles or for the Eagles' picks, Cleveland has drafted: wide receiver Corey Coleman (starter), offensive tackle Shon Coleman (starter), quarterback Cody Kessler (third string), wide receiver Ricardo Louis (part-time player), safety Derrick Kindred (starter), wide receiver Jordan Payton (no longer with the team), offensive lineman Spencer Drango (backup who started nine games last year), safety Jabrill Peppers (starter), quarterback DeShone Kizer (starter). They still have the Texans' 2018 first-round pick and the Eagles' 2018 second-round pick before that trade is complete.
It's probably fair to say the Eagles would rather have Wentz than the draft haul. Interestingly, the Browns traded the Eagles' 2017 first-round pick to Houston, and the Texans acquired Deshaun Watson, who could emerge into a franchise quarterback.