In both their wildcard victories over the Vikings and Giants the Eagles showed a dimension that I previously felt was non existent in their offensive make up; balance.
The offensive which over the past five years had solely depended on the right arm and feet of its veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb and the running skills of Brian Westbrook are today not only including names like Kevin Curtis, DeSean Jackson and LJ Smith to the mix, but have rediscovered wide receivers Reggie Brown and Hank Baskett . That in itself is a major change to the fabric of this football club, but the re-birth of the Philadelphia Eagles offense doesn't stop there; in recent weeks the Eagles have inserted the unlikely names of Jason Avant and Brent Celek in their game plan preparation.
This plan has not only taken tremendous pressure off their two stars offensive performers and added much needed balance to their game, but underneath it all, it has made opponents defensive preparation, a far more difficult and daunting task. Neither the Viking nor the Giants anticipated this added dimension and this more than any one factor resulted in the Eagles two outstanding victories on the road against divisional champions.
This newly found balanced attack could not have come at a better time, since the Cardinals have shown in both of their playoff victories over the Falcons and Panthers that they are quite capable of applying defensive pressure and changing things up defensively. It's one thing confusing a rookie quarterback in his first playoff appearance on the road, but to go on road against a veteran quarterback like Jake Delhomme and pick off five passes was a totally different story.
Losers of four of their last six games, including a lopsided 48 to 20 loss at home to the Eagles, I had no doubt in my mind that this was going to be a one and done playoff and was very surprised on the eve of the game with the Falcons when talking to veteran Cardinals scout and friend David Razzano. In my brief conversation with Dave, he all but assured me of a victory over both the Falcons and the Panthers. "Tom, I saw a certain look in Kurt's eye nearly a decade ago when I was with the Rams and I see the same one today entering the playoff round." With most people, I would have dismissed this as idle chatter, but Dave is very much a pragmatic person and I have never taken what he has to say regarding football lightly.
In order to defeat the Eagles, the Cardinals are going to have to first and foremost protect Kurt Warner and will need another Herculean performance from their seemingly rejuvenated running back Edgerrin James.
On the other hand, in order for the Eagles to be successful they cannot abandon the running game to quickly and Donovan must not let himself force the football and try and make a play against this very opportunistic Cardinals defense when it just isn't there.
It should be a great match-up, but in the end I'm going with experience and pressure defense over the home field crowd and the hot and battle tested quarterback. And oh yeah, let's not forget that fellow we mentioned earlier in this article, Mr. Whipple.
Eagles 31 – Cardinals 23