PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins considers Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald a good friend. They've known one another since Jenkins entered the league in 2009, and train together in the offseason.
When they go toe-to-toe, like they will Sunday when the Eagles host the Cardinals (1 p.m.), Fitzgerald keeps things friendly while trying to rip his old pal's heart out.
"He’s a nice guy on the field. He tries to distract you with kindness," said Jenkins, "so I try to ignore him.”
Jenkins and the rest of the Eagles' defense has seen enough to know that bad intentions lie beneath that professional demeanor. Fitzgerald has lit up plenty of teams over the course of his distinguished 14-year career, but has always had a little something extra for Philly. In seven games against the Eagles, he's averaged six catches, 99 yards and more than a touchdown. His 673 yards and eight TDs are the most against a non-division opponent.
“He’s gone from being a number one receiver on the outside to now being a top slot receiver in the league," said Jenkins. "I don’t think anybody questions that he’s going to be a Hall-of-Famer, and he has to know that, but is still doing the small things, the humble things like blocking not only DBs but linebackers and D-ends; he does that willingly and he does that well. He’s one of those guys that shows up. He’s the same guy every time.”
But he's not the only guy. The Cardinals also have some dangerous speed receivers in J.J. Nelson, John Brown and Jaron Brown. (Nelson and John Brown have both been limited this week.) That could spell trouble for an Eagles secondary that has been susceptible to the big play over the last two weeks in particular.
A key matchup lies in the trenches. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been sacked a league-high 17 times this season and has been hit 29 times, tied for seventh-most in the league. The Eagles' front four, which could be without standout DT Fletcher Cox (calf) for a second straight week, will have to keep the heat on Palmer to keep the deep ball off a thin cornerback group.
“They like taking shots downfield. That’s just how they always have been,” said Jenkins. “I don’t see this being one of those games like the Giants where the ball is out quick. I really seeing this being one where we have to protect the deep end of the field.”
As for Fitzgerald, Jenkins smiled when asked what they plan to do against him, allowing that it's "one of those matchups I look forward to." Corner Patrick Robinson has been manning the slot pretty well for the Eagles through the first four games and is also likely to get a good deal of snaps against him.
At 34 years old, Fitzgerald leads the team in targets (41) receptions (26) and yards (276). The Eagles know they have their hands full both with Fitzgerald, the rest of the receiving corps and Andre Ellington coming out of the backfield.
"Yeah, another Hall-of-Fame quality player," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. "It is not just about Larry Fitzgerald, though. They can put a 4 by 100 team together, and they have got a lot of speed and a quarterback that has -- I know [Cardinals] Coach [Bruce] Arians has said he's playing at a level that he has not seen him play before. They have had their struggles here and there. But I think he's really playing good football, and we have our work cut out for us. Again, it can't just be about Larry Fitzgerald and it can't be about one player. If you make it that way you're going to be susceptible to other things, and we've got to do a better job of not being susceptible to other things."