While much of the focus on the Arizona Cardinals surrounds their impressive defense, an emerging offense lurks as a serious threat to the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. After averaging 19 points per game through their first seven games, the Cardinals have scored 30.25 points per game over their last four games – all wins.
"This offense the last four weeks, when you really break it down and look at that small capsule of time, this offense is as explosive and hitting on all cylinders as we've faced in a while now," said Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis Wednesday. "It will be our biggest challenge of the last five, six weeks because not only is Carson Palmer protecting the football, he's not turning it over, but he's spreading the football out to all the different weapons they have and they have a lot of weapons.
"Their receivers are the strength of this offense and Carson gets them the ball. You've got Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, Fitzgerald still is probably the best receiver in the league the way he plays and he's off the hamstring (injury) now. That bye week got him healthy and you could see that in last week's game. You've got a healthy Larry Fitzgerald, which is always trouble."
Fitzgerald's ability to destroy an opposing defense is well known to Eagles fans. In five career games against the Eagles, including the playoffs, Fitzgerald is averaging seven catches for 114 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game. The Cardinals are also 4-1 in those games.
"I've got nothing but respect for him and he does a great job at the ball," Davis said. "He's one of the strongest reach-out-and-snatch-the-ball guys out there and he's got such a drive to succeed and catch the football every time that I've got a lot of respect for Larry. And Michael, Michael's the other one now, the thing that you haven't had the last couple years, that Larry hasn't had, was the opposite guy that you had to kind of keep in check. Well now you've got two, you've got (Andre) Roberts who is kind of coming into his own, you've got a nice young tight end in (Rob) Housler that can stretch you a little bit, (Andre) Ellington is a nice pass-receiving running back that comes out of the backfield. So now you have to look at a lot of different people, you can't just put your focus on Larry and that's helping Larry I think."
At the helm for the Cardinals is veteran quarterback Carson Palmer, who is in many ways the antithesis of the young, mobile quarterbacks the Eagles have faced recently like Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor. Palmer too is growing into the Cardinals offense and has not thrown an interception in each of the Cardinals' last two games after tossing at least one in each of the first nine.
"This last five-game stretch we're coming up against, we've got more of the taller, veteran quarterbacks that see the whole field," Davis said. "In Carson Palmer, he sees the whole field, and you can see by how well the ball is spread amongst the different players that he sees the field, has got the grasp of the offense, knows where to go versus all the different coverages. So that's an added challenge that we have when you have the veteran quarterback who knows what he's doing."
Davis added that there are many parallels between the Cardinals and the Eagles. Both teams brought in a slew of new personnel as new coaching staffs implemented new schemes. As a result, both teams have improved as the season has progressed.
"It's an impressive team from a talent standpoint and then you've got a wealth of knowledge on their coaching staff," said Davis. "So they're a lot like us in that (they have a) brand new coaching staff, a brand new system, a lot of free agent players with some draft picks mixed in and you can feel them hitting their stride as far as the players understanding the system, the quarterback getting it to where it needs to be, the offensive line protecting better. This is a huge challenge for us."
The similarities don't end there. Both opposing defensive coordinators once served in the same role on the other sideline. For the Cardinals, Todd Bowles was the Eagles' interim defensive coordinator last season. Davis, meanwhile, served as the Cardinals defensive coordinator in 2009 and 2010. For Davis, turning on the tape to watch his former team served only as a reminder of the topsy-turvy nature of the NFL.
"I've got so many old teams, it's almost every week I have that experience," he joked. "Really in the NFL now, you turn on a roster and what hits you the most is how many guys are in that building when I was there just a couple years ago and there's not many. The NFL is such a league of change and it changes so quick. The second that you take a head coach out of the mix, that roster flips at almost a 50 percent rate. There are only a handful of defensive players there that were there when I was there and only a couple coaches. So it's amazing when you do face your old teams, you're like, 'My goodness, this NFL changed quick.' That's why you put your head down and work."
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