Fitzgerald leads lethal Cardinals receiving corps

Veteran Larry Fitzgerald leads Arizona with 50 catches and eight touchdowns. He has been helped by the emergence of second-year wideout Michael Floyd, who has 49 catches and three touchdowns. They are both big and physical.
Veteran Larry Fitzgerald leads Arizona with 50 catches and eight touchdowns. He has been helped by the emergence of second-year wideout Michael Floyd, who has 49 catches and three touchdowns. They are both big and physical. (RICK SCUTERI / Associated Press)
Posted: November 29, 2013

In four seasons as an assistant coach in Arizona, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis spent enough time around Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to glean insight into the seven-time Pro Bowler. But it's not necessarily the type of information that will create an advantage when Arizona visits on Sunday.

"The insight is he's probably the best receiver in the league," Davis said.

Where Fitzgerald ranks among the elite receivers makes for good barroom debate, but the 30-year-old Valley Forge Military Academy alumnus will be a challenge for the Eagles defense this week.

The Eagles have been undermanned in the secondary in recent weeks. The return of cornerback Bradley Fletcher on Sunday will help. Fletcher missed the last two games with a pectoral injury, but his size and press-coverage skills will be tested against Arizona.

The Eagles signed Fletcher and Cary Williams in March, targeting them for their ranginess and physicality. This is the type of game that would take advantage of their skill set.

"That's what I like to do: I like to play bigger guys on the outside," Fletcher said. "It's something I've been able to do in the past, and I look forward to doing it again."

Davis identified Arizona's receivers as the strength of its offense, and he said the biggest difference for Fitzgerald this season is the emergence of Michael Floyd as a complementary threat. Fitzgerald leads Arizona with 50 receptions for 606 yards and eight touchdowns. Floyd, a 2012 first-round pick, has 49 catches for 761 yards and three touchdowns, and he's coming off back-to-back 100-yard receiving performances.

Fletcher said that before Floyd's emergence, defenses could roll a safety to help cover Fitzgerald. But Floyd and the improved play of tight end Rob Housler have made Fitzgerald more difficult to cover. Fitzgerald has also recovered from a hamstring injury that bothered him earlier this season.

That's a major reason veteran quarterback Carson Palmer was named NFL offensive player of the week last week and has the Cardinals on a four-game winning streak. Davis said Palmer, a 33-year-old former Pro Bowler in his 11th NFL season, is playing his "best football in years."

"We're going to attack across the board, and we feel confident in our matchup with our skill guys," Fitzgerald said.

What sticks out about the Cardinals receivers is their size. Fitzgerald is 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds. Floyd is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds. They form as physical a duo as the Eagles have seen this season. That's why the return of Fletcher is so important.

 "I believe the bigger physical receivers, the bigger physical corners match up well with them," Davis said. "So you're trying to see who you're facing, but, yeah, Bradley Fletcher is a good matchup to bigger, taller corners."

Fitzgerald said in a teleconference call that Davis' scheme looks familiar to what he practiced against in Arizona. He praised Davis, calling the coordinator "one of the hardest-working coaches I've ever been around."

He is also familiar with the Eagles cornerbacks - particularly Fletcher. They played against each other in the NFC West when Fletcher was with the St. Louis Rams. Fletcher started three games against the Cardinals. Fitzgerald averaged five catches and 65 yards in those meetings.

The Eagles play Fletcher on the left side and Williams on the right. Fitzgerald and Floyd both move around the field, so both cornerbacks are bound to cover Fitzgerald.

They both said these are the biggest receivers the Eagles have faced, but Williams said the size is not what sticks out. He praised Fitzgerald's body control and hands.

What stands out to Fletcher about Fitzgerald and Floyd, besides their size, is their ability to make plays on the ball in the air. He said the key for the cornerbacks is to take the same approach.

"We can't sit and wait for them to make plays," Fletcher said. "We have to be aggressive and make the plays."

If the Eagles can keep Fitzgerald out of the end zone, it will be their first time. In five career games against the Eagles, he has nine touchdowns. It's the most against any opponent outside the NFC West.

Limiting Fitzgerald and Arizona's passing offense will be at the crux of whether the Eagles can win their fourth consecutive game and would allow the defense to keep an opposing offense below three touchdowns for the eighth straight week.

Extra points. Safety Earl Wolff (knee) remained the only player absent from practice. . . . Nick Foles was named NFC offensive player of the month for November.


Bird Lover

Larry Fitzgerald has caught nine touchdowns in five career games against the Eagles, the most he has against any team outside the NFC West. Here is a breakdown of those five games:

Date   Home   Rec.   Yds.   TD   Result

9-23-12   Eagles   9   114   1   Cardinals, 27-6

11-13-11   Eagles   7   146   2   Cardinals, 21-17

1-18-09   Cardinals   9   152   3   Cardinals, 33-25*

11-27-08   Eagles   5   65   2   Eagles, 48-20

12-24-05   Cardinals   5   93   1   Cardinals, 27-21

Totals      35   570   9

Avg. per game   7   114   1.8

* NFC championship game

SOURCE: ESPN.com


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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