Breaking down the NFC Championship game this weekend--
Donovan McNabb has played very well in both postseason games so far. He has survived a heavy pass rush in both games to make plays. He may be the better quarterback of the two in this matchup, but Kurt Warner can absolutely pick a team apart if given time. Warner has played well all season, and throws for a lot of yards in almost every game he plays.
Despite being shut down in the running game the first two playoff games, Westbrook is still a very dangerous weapon. Westbrook and Buckhalter form a very solid tandem if they are used correctly, and both will need to step it up in this game. Although Edge has played well in the playoffs, as has Tim Hightower, the Cardinals rushing attack is not their strength.
This is where the Cardinals have a large advantage, having probably the best receiving corps in the NFL. They had three 1000 yard receivers this season, which is almost unheard of, and Larry Fitzgerald himself is better than all Eagles receivers combined. Even if pro-bowler Anquan Boldin doesn’t play or isn’t 100%, the Cardinals get the advantage here.
The Eagles offensive line plays well when the Eagles establish a rhythm running the football. Overall, they did a good job during the regular season of protecting McNabb, however, they have not protected McNabb real well in either playoff game. The Giants got no sacks, but got a lot of pressure, and forced a safety and an interception with the pressure they brought. The Cardinals offensive line is extremely important to their success, as in order for the Cardinals to play well, the line has to protect Warner. When the O-Line plays well, Warner succeeds.
This is by no means a strength of the Eagles, but Brent Celek has a touchdown catch in both playoff games, and even L.J. Smith caught a couple balls last game. The Cardinals were starting ex-Eagle Stephen Spach at tight end, but he is out for the season, so the Cardinals just signed Jerame Tuman as their TE.
The Eagles defensive line is another unit that had a good regular season, but needs to step up their pressure on the QB in the postseason. Both tackles have done a great job at run stopping, as has Trent Cole, who has 20 tackles this postseason, but they need to start getting pressure on the QB. If the Eagles can get pressure with their front four, they are extremely dangerous. The Cardinals struggle with stopping the run, and Bertrand Berry is their only consistent threat to get to the quarterback.
The Eagles young, speedy linebacking corps has been good all season, and continues to make strides this postseason. The Cardinals strength of their defense might be in their linebackers. They have two beasts in Gerald Hayes, and Karlos Dansby. Dansby is one of the best outside linebackers in the game, and Hayes is a solid middle linebacker who plays a lot in the backfield.
While the Cardinals do have a good safety in Adrian Wilson, and a very good young cornerback in Rodgers-Cromartie, the Eagles are very deep in their secondary. The Eagles have two pro-bowlers in their secondary, and that doesn’t include Quintin Mikell, and Sheldon Brown, both of whom are beasts. It should be a great matchup with the Cardinals wide receivers against the Eagles secondary.
Both kickers are good, Akers hasn’t missed a field goal in a while, and Neil Rackers is a former pro-bowler. Also, both teams have punt returners capable of taking a kick to the house, the Eagles in DeSean Jackson, and the Cardinals in Steve Breaston.
The Eagles get the edge here as Andy Reid has a lot of playoff experience, and is not in any new territory with this game. Reid has shown that he will stick with the running game when need be lately. Let’s hope he continues that philosophy against a team that is not great against the run. Jim Johnson also gives the Eagles an edge being one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Ken Whisenhunt is young and this is his first time in the playoffs.
The Cardinals are at home, are very good at home, and should feed off some of that momentum. They also have to feel like they are just playing with house money, and have nothing to lose. This will be more of a disappointment if the Eagles lose this game.