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Welcome To The Playoff Season

Posted Dec 1, 2013

It isn't win-or-go-home season quite yet, but today's Cardinals-Eagles game has the feel of the postseason, when the tension rises and the stakes mean so much. For these young Eagles, the playoff season begins right now ...

It's fair to wonder how the pressure of December will impact the Eagles, a team that has not been in the playoff chase, for real, since 2010. This is the time of the season when the tempo of the game increases and the magnitude of mistakes multiply.

The game isn't entirely different, but it changes. For starters, the weather chills, and the football becomes heavier, so the special teams are impacted and a deep pass is more prone to get caught in the wind, for example. There is a bit more desperation at play, with a variety of scenarios impacting every win or loss.

OK, enough of the drama. This is going to be a great football team. Arizona is for real, having won four consecutive games. The Cardinals are a fly-around defense that plays with speed and that finds the football. Arizona's offense has big-play ability with a couple of big and physical wide receivers in superstar Larry Fitzgerald and emerging young talent Michael Floyd.

How do the Eagles win this game and keep pace with Dallas in the NFC East at 7-5? It's going to require an outstanding performance in all four phases -- offense, defense, special teams and coaching.

And as we count down the minutes until kickoffs, there are some items to discuss ...

  • LeSean McCoy is, obviously, a huge key. The Eagles need to get him some touches in the running game and in the passing game, and it's probably one of those games in which McCoy just has to take what the defense gives him and not try too often to reverse field and try to hit the home run. Arizona's linebackers are athletic and fast to the football, and even in the passing game McCoy is going to have a target on his back. But here's another area in which McCoy must play big: Pass protection. He's a willing and very capable blocker and with all of the pressure the Cardinals like to bring, McCoy's blocking is going to be extremely important.

  • How crucial is this game for quarterback Nick Foles? It's big, yes, in large part because the Cardinals are the best defense he's faced this season and could be the best defense he will see the rest of the year. Foles is going to have to be extremely sharp in this game with the clock in his head, his decision making and throwing the football into very small windows. Yes, it's a telling game for the second-year quarterback.

  • How will the DeSean Jackson battle go against cornerback Patrick Peterson. Look for the Eagles to put Jackson in motion to get him some space off the line of scrimmage, and a bubble screen here or there is not out of the question. Peterson likes to gamble, and he's given up some big numbers after the catch, so some easy catch-and-run situations may be what the offense ordered to get Jackson into the passing game early.

  • Chip Kelly has had two weeks to prepare for this game. We saw what happened when he had longer than a week to get ready for an opponent when the Eagles opened up the season at Washington with a great tempo, some funky formations and great offensive clarity in the first half of the victory over the Redskins. This time? Will Kelly offer some wrinkles in the offensive game plan? It's likely, even if we don't notice so easily. Let's see how quickly the offense gets it going against a very sound defense.

  • The Eagles signed cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in part to match up against big receivers like Fitzgerald and Floyd. Big bodies vs. big bodies. Who wins when quarterback Carson Palmer throws a pass up for grabs? "You have to be physical and go up and get the ball," said Fletcher, who is recovered from his pectoral injury. "They have so much confidence when the ball is in the air."

  • Running back Andre Ellington is questionable after suffering a knee injury in practice on Thursday and he is playing status will be a game-time decision. Ellington is a threat for the Cardinals who averages 6.0 yards per carry. He's been a dynamic change-of-pace playmaker for Arizona, and his absence would be missed. Ellington is quick and fast and versatile and he can do some damage in the passing game, too.

  • I keep thinking the Eagles can find a way to get a favorable matchup against safety Yeremiah Bell, a 10-year veteran who knows Todd Bowles' defensive system and has done a good job teaching it to the rest of the defense. Can Bell run well enough, for example, with tight end Zach Ertz? Is that something for the Eagles to exploit?

  • It's going to be interesting to see Arizona defensive back Tyrann Mathieu in action. The Honey Badger was a force at LSU two seasons ago and then missed all of 2012. He's played well as a free safety and slot cornerback. Mathieu is second on Arizona's defense in tackles, has two interceptions and has been a good tackler. He's enjoyed a solid rookie season.

  • A reason to feel good today: The Eagles have an offensive line that is big and as athletic as any in the league, and that's a good matchup against a very strong Arizona front. Let's put it this way: I see the Eagles matching up better from an offensive line standpoint against Arizona's defense than I see Arizona's offensive line matchup up against the Eagles' defensive front and pressure packages. I like the Eagles in this one, a great test to see just how playoff-ready this young roster is as December begins.

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