Dave Spadaro: First of all, I like the fact that the Eagles are leading heading into the fourth quarter rather than playing come-from-behind football. That's a big improvement over last season. Second, the Eagles are playing with a defense that is missing its best cornerback and its top defensive lineman, Ronald Darby and Fletcher Cox, respectively. The Eagles are scrapping and clawing and they're giving great effort. Yes, they have to reduce the number of "X" plays allowed by the defense. That is absolutely a priority.
But the Eagles didn't surrender a lead in Los Angeles. They gave up big plays and the Chargers scored points, but the Eagles always maintained a lead and came back with some offensive force. My bottom line is this: The Eagles have grown up a lot since 2016 and they're winning close games. In the world of step-by-step progression, that means a lot for a team building the right way.
Fran Duffy: I'm not concerned because I know what this defense can do when they've got its full allotment of players. Let's not forget that they were without their best player in Fletcher Cox against the Chargers as well as the second half of the Giants game. Cox has such a huge impact on this unit and his ability to command extra attention and win his one-on-one matchups when he gets them really make this defensive line go. When he gets back, I think we'll get to see the defense take off in the direction we saw in the first two weeks of the year.
Chris McPherson: The Eagles haven't just been without Cox and Darby. Destiny Vaeao is a key depth piece at tackle. Jaylen Watkins started at cornerback against Kansas City, while Corey Graham is valuable insurance at safety. The offense has helped out by just crushing the time of possession battle this year, ranking first in the league. Spuds mentioned the fast starts. The Eagles are outscoring opponents 20-3 in the first quarter and 20-10 in the third quarter of games this year. The fact that the Eagles have still pulled out these games helps chalk up the wins, but also gives those depth players the experience of contributing in crunch time which will be an added benefit later in the year.
Dave Spadaro: There is so much different about this team, starting with the fact that Lane Johnson, the outstanding right tackle, is on the field. Last year, Johnson's absence was so, so costly to the offensive flow and to the confidence and production of Carson Wentz.
This team has the foundation of a strong running game, much better weapons in the passing game, and a quarterback who now has started 20 career NFL games. Doug Pederson is in his second season as a head coach. There is a lot more maturity within the scheme as far as the players knowing it and learning it and playing fast in it.
The Eagles are just a much better team than they were a year ago and they're still growing. There are some young pieces here who are going to help down the stretch. There is some depth at very important places on the depth chart. That strong offseason is paying dividends now.
Fran Duffy: To me, the difference is that this team is finding a way to win close games. Remember in their fourth game last year, they had the ability to ice the game against the Detroit Lions and they fumbled away that opportunity. That wasn't just about the running back, but there were some missed blocks as well, and the offensive line right now is completely in-sync with one another. They had the ability to hold the football for the final six minutes and change against the Chargers to finish off the game. Good teams win close games, and the Eagles are proving right now that they can do that.
Chris McPherson: I think Coach Pederson said it best when he told Spadaro that there was a little bit of "masking" with last year's 3-1 team. They beat up on two bad teams then had the perfect game against the Steelers in 2016. The Eagles have already won more games on the road than all of the previous year. They've also won as many division games. They battled to the wire against the league's only remaining undefeated team on the road. This is not just a more talented team, but it's one that's jelled together and has the chemistry to pull off something special.
Fran Duffy: Larry Fitzgerald isn't quite the athlete he was in his prime, but he's still an outstanding player because of his toughness and elite ball skills. He's great at the catch point in contested situations. He's a strong route runner, and the Cardinals do everything they can to create favorable matchups for him. To me, it's not necessarily about stopping Fitzgerald individually with one player, because in my mind this is a team effort. Bruce Arians loves to attack downfield and he tries to find voids in defense's zone coverage schemes. If the Eagles' four-man rush can get home against Arizona's front line, and our secondary stays disciplined long enough to make that happen, you should be able to limit Fitzgerald's effectiveness down the field.
Dave Spadaro: This is the big question for me. Fitzgerald is 5-2 in his regular-season career against the Eagles with 41 receptions, 693 yards, and eight touchdowns. He's been basically unstoppable. So that is a concern. And the Cardinals have John Brown and plenty of other weapons in the passing game. The Eagles do have the advantage over an Arizona offensive line that has struggled to stay healthy and the ability to shut down a Cardinals' running game that desperately misses David Johnson.
Get Arizona in third-and-long situations, put heat on an immobile Carson Palmer – who has been sacked six times in each of the last two weeks and an NFL-high 17 for the season – and make sure Fitzgerald gets plenty of attention and the Eagles have a good defensive formula for success.
Chris McPherson: Larry Fitzgerald ranks as the No. 1 Eagles killer over the past decade. The 2008 NFC Championship Game performance alone would put him very high on the list. He's got to be in the top five of all time. As for Sunday, the matchup combines elements of the past two opponents.
The Giants struggle to protect Eli Manning as well as run the ball so they rely on feeding the explosive Odell Beckham Jr. Los Angeles had a top back in Melvin Gordon, but Philip Rivers doesn't get rid of the ball as quickly as Manning does. Bruce Arians will sling the ball deep, requiring Carson Palmer to hang in the pocket. The run game has morphed into an extension of the pass game in the absence of David Johnson. Fitzgerald is Palmer's go-to guy. He has 41 targets this year, good for third in the NFL. If the front four can force the Cardinals into third-and-long and get to Palmer in the pocket, it will allow Jim Schwartz to apply more resources to covering Fitzgerald and the "track team" that Arizona boasts.
Fran Duffy: It was probably when he took a fake football right to the face and lived to tell the tale.
Dave Spadaro: The dude was carried off the field after that 61-yard field goal! Believe it or not, he truly was walking on air ...
The fact is that Elliott is a very, very talented kicker. You don't get drafted in the fifth round without having a ton of talent. It's a world of separation between a kicker drafted that high and the rest of the pack. What Elliott has now that he didn't necessarily have in Cincinnati in the summer is confidence. Don't underestimate the power of believing. Elliott is in a groove. Enjoy it and hope it lasts a long, long time. The young man has a ton of talent.
Chris McPherson: He's 5-9 and took down Giants with his right foot. He then flew across the country and withstood flying thunderbolts to kick another four field goals.
If being in the presence of Donnie Jones wasn't a sign, he should know now. For sure.