PHILADELPHIA - If ‘Boomer Sooner” starts running through your head at the start of Sunday’s matchup between the Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, it would be appropriate.
Two members of Lincoln Riley’s brilliant quarterback tree at Oklahoma will match up in the desert Sunday as Arizona’s Kyler Murray will try to outduel Eagles rookie Jalen Hurts, who will be making his second professional start after helping Philadelphia halt a four-game losing streak with a 24-21 upset over New Orleans, the then top-seed in the NFC.
The Cards are also a playoff contender, albeit a far more precarious one, currently holding down the seventh and final spot in the NFC entering Week 15 with a 7-6 record.
The Eagles' path to a fourth consecutive postseason berth is even narrower than the Cards’ and runs through the NFC East. At 4-8-1 Philadelphia will likely have to win out -- at Arizona, at Dallas, and against the Washington Football Team in Week 17 at Lincoln Financial Field -- to even have a chance.
Much of Arizona’s success in Murray’s second season can actually be traced to its old division, the NFC East and the Cards will be going for a clean sweep of their former divisional rivals by topping the Eagles, having already dispensed of the WFT, Dallas and the New York Giants last week.
Arizona dominated the Giants in Week 14, 26-7, behind former Temple star and Camden Native Haason Reddick’s franchise-record five sacks. Overall, the Cardinals have outscored NFC East by a gaudy 94-32 margin this season.
The Eagles-Cardinals rivalry as a whole dates all the way back to 1935 when the Cards were in Chicago. Since then it’s been St. Louis and the desert and through it all the franchise has 57 wins against Philadelphia, more than any other team.
Despite moving out of the NFC East all the way back in 2002, circumstance has made the two teams frequent opponents over the last decade with the Cardinals winning four of the past six meetings and three straight in Arizona.
The Eagles killer over the span has always been future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who has 56 receptions for 896 yards and 11 touchdowns in just nine games against Philadelphia.
The marquee matchup, however, is Murray vs. Hurts, both prep stars in Texas before wowing everyone in back-to-back years at OU -- Murray in 2018 as the Heisman Trophy winner and Hurts in 2019 as the Heisman runner-up to Joe Burrow.
The most dangerous dual-threat west of Lamar Jackson, Murray has thrown for 3,231 yards and 23 touchdowns, while rushing for an additional 712 yards and 10 more scores.
OFFENSIVE SCHEME: Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury arrived with Murray in 2018 and was the fuel behind making the diminutive signal-caller the No. 1 overall pick. Enamored with Murray’s dual-threat capabilities dating back to Texas where Kingsbury started his rise in coaching as an assistant at Texas A&M before taking over the top job at Texas Tech, his alma mater.
Kingsbury was an air-raid guy in college and used four wides in the NFL more than anyone else, 21 percent of the time and clearly outdistancing No. 2 Buffalo (15 percent). The base foundation is 11 personnel (44 percent) toggling with 12 (30 percent).
DEFENSIVE SCHEME: The Cardinals' defense is piloted by former Denver head coach Vance Joseph and has proven to be perhaps the most unique in the league especially in obvious pass-rushing situations.
The loss of star edge rusher Chandler Jones to injury had Joseph digging deep and unveiling what he calls “Jet,” essentially six or seven linebackers/defensive backs milling around like amoebas near the line of scrimmage, leaving the offense to guess who is coming and who is dropping into coverage.
You read that right, there are no defensive linemen on the field in the package and the look even confused Russell Wilson enough to where rookie LB linebacker Isaiah Simmons got a gift interception dropping out earlier this season.
Now Hurts has to deal with the potential of those strange rush packages in his second start so the plan is twofold: to rely on veteran center Jason Kelce to sort out the protections and even more so, don’t get in many third-and-longs and keep “Jet” in mothballs.
"They're going to present a lot of different looks, trying to get you off-kilter," Kelce admitted. "They play really well as a unit, they’re well-coached, you can see it on tape. So, you got to be ready to go. You got to be ready for each and every personnel grouping they could give you, each and every look.
"I'm sure there'll be a couple of new ones that they're going to give us, as there is every week, and you just try and make sure you're – for me personally I'm trying to just to put guys in the highest chance of being successful on a given play. You’ve just got to study that much more. But it is unique, and a lot of different personnel groupings, fronts. They're going to throw the gamut at you."
Coach Doug Pederson also admitted the defense presents challenges, especially with a young QB.
"It is a challenge," said Pederson. "It's a unique defensive call by them. They put all linebackers on the field with their defensive back guys and it's all speed rush. They don't bring them all every time. They drop guys out. They present eight-man pressure looks, seven-man pressure looks, and six-man pressure looks.
"It can be a little bit challenging, and it is challenging to try to decipher the code, but we do the best we can. We go in with the protection plan we have and execute it and try to eliminate as much confusion as possible. But, yeah, Kelce becomes a big part of trying to decipher that code for us."
STRENGTH: The Cardinals’ receivers are scary and when you factor in how banged-up the Eagles’ secondary is, things could get even trickier.
DeAndre Hopkins is arguably the best WR in the NFL and Fitzgerald is one of the greatest who ever lived even though he’s nowhere what he once was at age 37. Even Christian Kirk and slot receiver Andy Isabella can hurt you at any time in the four-receiver looks.
WEAK LINK: The defensive line. There is a reason Joseph came up with the “Jet” Package once Jones went down and it’s not because the Cards have people that can step up in his absence. You only try different things when conventional things don’t work and Arizona’s top player on the D-Line without the All-Pro Jones was the serviceable Corey Peters and he’s now out as well with a torn patellar tendon as well.
UNDER THE RADAR: Left tackle D.J. Humphries has quietly developed into one of the best in the NFL this season and he’ll make Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat earn everything they get this week.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: The Eagles cornerbacks vs. the Cards WRs. It’s probably not the best week to be facing the team that rolls out four- or five-wide more than anyone else. The fact that Darius Slay is progressing through the concussion protocol is a positive sign but he looks like he will be a game-day decision. Avonte Maddox will not be playing and Michael Jacquet seems like he’s on track to return from a hamstring injury.
At full strength, this would be a tough matchup for the Eagles and it sure seems like Kevon Seymour, who was out of football two years until earlier this month, and/or Jacquet, an undrafted rookie, will be needed.
OUTLOOK: The Eagles played a lot of zone vs. the Saints and expect that to continue in Arizona with a heavy dose of Cover-4 and perhaps Cover-2 to keep Murray from running up the backs of defenders while also protecting the banged-up secondary.
On defense, Arizona is unique as mentioned, and has become linebacker heavy after losing Jones. In theory, the athleticism should help curtail Hurts' own dual-threat capabilities while Reddick has all of a sudden become a pass-rushing star, something to keep an eye on as the Eagles roll out an NFL record 13th different offensive line group in 14 games, with Matt Pryor swapping in for the injured Jack Driscoll at right tackle.
If the Eagles find a way to get this one, things will get really interesting in the home stretch when it comes to winning the NFC East but the one thing that typically defines young players in the NFL is inconsistency.
The guess here is that the Hurts sequel comes up a little short.
"For a young quarterback, it can be confusing," Pederson said of the Arizona defense. "Bodies are flashing in front of your eyes. It makes you drop your eyes and look at the rush a little bit more.
"... We'll try to have the best plan we can, and hopefully we can stay out of too many of those situations."
JOHN MCMULLEN: Cardinals 24, Eagles 20 (7-5-1 on the season, 8-5 vs. the spread)
ED KRACZ: Cardinals 24, Eagles 20 (6-6-1 on the season, 6-7 vs. the spread)
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Tuesday and Thursday on "The Middle" with Eytan Shander, Harry Mayes, and Barrett Brooks on SportsMap Radio and PhillyVoice.com. He’s also the host of Extending the Play on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen