Two weeks ago, the Eagles beat Washington, 24-16. Because of the bye week and Thanksgiving, that game seems like it actually took place in 1620. I'm sure you are like me and ready to see the Eagles back on the field. Sunday will be a huge opportunity for the Eagles. The Cardinals come to town in a battle of teams with playoff hopes. Sunday's game won't decide anything, but it will make life easier on one team and a lot harder on the other.
No matter what happens, it sure does feel good to have the Eagles playing in big games again. The Eagles were 4-7 and 3-8 after 11 games in the past two seasons, respectively. The playoffs were a far away fantasy. This year, the playoffs can be a reality if the Eagles take care of business. Chip Kelly has his team playing well. They don't need to do anything fancy or to get lucky. The Eagles need to execute well and play smart, consistent football.
Kelly isn't talking about the playoffs to his players. He is locked in on the Cardinals. The Eagles can't afford to look ahead and they sure as heck can't look back. They must focus on here and now. I know that's a major cliché, but it's true. Kelly has been able to keep the team focused through the highs and lows of this season and that has paid off well. While fans and the media might have gotten too high after the season opener or too low after the loss to the Broncos, the Eagles stayed pretty even. That should serve the team well as they enter the stretch run.
Games only become big games if you put extra meaning into them. Kelly is trying to teach this group that every game is a big game. NFL teams only play 16 games. This isn't like baseball or the NBA. Pro football seasons can be ruined by one bad game. Kelly doesn't want a team that has emotional swings. He wants consistent excellence. The way you do that is to focus on your performance and not circumstances of the game. Right now, the Eagles are playing good football. If they continue playing well, the wins and losses will take care of themselves.
Arizona has the best defense the Eagles have seen in a while. They love to blitz. Per NFL Films guru Greg Cosell, the Cardinals blitz more than anyone else in the league. They don't just use numbers. The Cards love to confuse offenses. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will attack the Eagles from all angles and with a variety of players.
Arizona's blitzing will put a lot of pressure on the Eagles offensive line as well as Foles. Center
If the Eagles are able to handle the blitz well, Foles should be able to move the ball and lead the Eagles to points. When you blitz, you leave yourself vulnerable in some other spot. The Eagles have the skill talent to burn the Cards.
Arizona is second in the NFL in run defense. They did give up yards when they faced the Saints, Niners and Seahawks. Those teams all have lines that run block well and good running backs. I think McCoy will have a solid day. If the Cards want to load the box and focus on McCoy, you can bet Foles, Jackson and Cooper will be just fine with that.
A lot of people are excited for this game since they want to see how the chess match between Bowles and Kelly plays out. No defense has truly shut the Eagles down. There were a couple of games where the team struggled, but if you watch the tape you will see it was bad quarterback play rather than stifling defense that caused the problems. Bowles has the kind of athletic, versatile players you need to deal with the Eagles. Can Bowles come up with the right plan? The Eagles are coming off a bye. Will Kelly have new wrinkles to throw at the Cardinals?
While that side is the more compelling match-up, don't forget the Eagles defense going against Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense. The Eagles have now held the last seven opponents to 21 or fewer points. The defense has played pretty well in that stretch. The Cardinals offense struggled at times early in the year, but Arizona has scored more than 27 points in each of the last four games.
Palmer is playing his best football in a long time. He has eight touchdowns and only two picks in those four games. He completed more than 70 percent of his throws in three of the games. The one hedge here is that the Cardinals played four struggling teams. He hasn't had to deal with a good team since consecutive losses to the Niners and Seahawks. Palmer did not play well in those games.
The big weakness for Palmer is interceptions. He has thrown 15 on the year. Vick and Foles have combined for just three interceptions this year. While the picks have gone away in recent games, Palmer is still taking some chances. Arizona played the Colts last week. Indy defenders had several chances to come up with interceptions, but they didn't play the ball well. Palmer got lucky in that game. He will take chances. He will throw the ball into coverage. It is up to Eagles defensive backs to make plays when the ball comes their way.
Palmer has been sacked 30 times this year. The Cardinals do not have a good offensive line. This is a matchup the Eagles must win. I think
The matchup that works against the Eagles is Arizona's wide receivers against the secondary. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald remains one of the best players in the NFL. He has torched the Eagles over the years. This is a new secondary. They are more physical and more aggressive than the units of the past, but still don't have anyone who is built to handle Fitzgerald. What makes the Cardinals tough now is that receiver Michael Floyd has emerged as a good player. He averages 15.5 yards per reception and has three touchdown catches. You can't just double up on Fitzgerald and ignore the other receiver anymore. Defenses must account for both players.
The Arizona passing game also has slot receiver Andre Roberts, tight end Rob Housler and running back Andre Ellington, although Ellington’s status is in doubt because of a knee injury. Those guys are lesser weapons, but have made big plays. Anything they can do takes pressure off Fitzgerald.
It is critical for the Eagles rushers to get pressure on Palmer so that the secondary has a better chance to get the job done. One thing that can help the Eagles defensive backs is that cornerback
The Cardinals are generating a lot of buzz, but I like the Eagles chances in this game. The Cardinals are facing an explosive offense, a winning team and they are on the road. Also throw in the fact that the Eagles are well-rested due to the bye week and a pretty healthy team. That's a tough combination. I think the Eagles’ front seven will actually prove to be the difference in the game.
Crazy things tend to happen when the Eagles and Cardinals play. Whether it’s the Eagles’ amazing goal line stand from 1992, Brian Finneran failing to catch the pass in 1999, Donovan McNabb playing on a broken leg in 2002 or John Skelton leading a comeback win in 2011, we have seen all kinds of craziness in this series. I don't know what will happen on Sunday, but expect a memorable moment or two.