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Game Preview: Cardinals Vs. Eagles


The Eagles and Cardinals stopped being divisional rivals in 2002, when the Cardinals joined the NFC West, but apparently no one has told the two teams. For the fifth-straight season, the Eagles and Cardinals go head-to-head in the battle of the birds.

Since Chip Kelly and his coaching staff landed in Philadelphia in 2013, the Eagles are 1-1 against Arizona. The Eagles could have won both games, but a late 75-yard strike to John Brown in 2014 propelled the Cardinals to a win and, eventually, a playoff spot. This season's game will be played at the friendly confines of Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles came away victorious in the 2013 matchup. Eagles tight ends put on a show in that victory, as Zach Ertz and Brent Celek combined for three touchdown receptions. Could we see a repeat performance this time around?

The biggest road block standing in the way of an Eagles three-game winning streak is Carson Palmer and the Cardinals' offense. Palmer may be 35 years old, but he's playing the best football of his life. He and Tom Brady are the only two quarterbacks in the league to throw for over 4,000 yards and at 31 touchdown passes, and his receiving corps of Brown, Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald may be the most well-rounded group in the NFL.

Three games remain in the regular season for the Eagles, and with three NFC East teams all sharing a 6-7 record, the playoff picture is in clear view. Still, the Eagles must keep their vision narrowed on defeating the 11-2 Cardinals before worrying about what comes next. Can the Eagles keep the Cardinals grounded?

Here's the preview ...

Take a closer look at the key Cardinals players that the Eagles will be matching up against this Sunday. View the full gallery here...

Last Time They Met

Cardinals 24, Eagles 20
October 26, 2014 - University of Phoenix Stadium

In their first game out of the bye week, the 5-1 Eagles traveled to Arizona to take on a Cardinals team that had also won five of its first six games. The game featured two prolific offenses, with the Eagles gaining 521 total yards and the Cardinals gaining 400. But turnovers did Philadelphia in, as quarterback Nick Foles threw two interceptions on the day, one of which came in the end zone, and wide receiver Josh Huff coughed up the ball inside the Cardinals' 20 to spoil another potential scoring drive.

Foles threw a career-high 62 times, completing 36 of those passes for 411 yards, two touchdowns and the two picks. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was his primary target, hauling in 12 balls for 187 yards and both of Foles' touchdowns. Fellow wideout Riley Cooper added 88 yards receiving on five catches, tight end Zach Ertz caught five for 48 yards and wide receiver Jordan Matthews caught six for 47 yards. Running back LeSean McCoy rushed for 83 yards on 20 attempts.

For Arizona, quarterback Carson Palmer completed 20 of his 42 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns, with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald catching seven balls for 160 yards and a touchdown and rookie pass catcher John Brown pulling down five balls for 119 yards and the game-winning score. Running back Andre Ellington rushed for 71 yards on 23 attempts.

- Max Rappaport


When The Eagles Have The Ball

After finishing top five in both points scored and yards gained in each of the past two seasons, the Eagles enter Week 15 ranked 14th and 16th in those categories, respectively. Some of that can be attributed to injuries, some to synergistic issues along the offensive line and some to an inconsistent passing game. But with the team basically at full strength now, the offensive front five playing better than it has all season and quarterback Sam Bradford hitting his stride, there's certainly reason for optimism.

To the last point, Bradford's early struggles were understandable. Coming into this season, the 28-year-old hadn't played a regular season game since October 2013 because of a pair of knee injuries that robbed him of more than a year and a half of games. In Bradford's first seven games as an Eagle, the former first-overall pick was up-and-down, completing 62.0 percent of his passes for 1,766 yards and throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9). But in four weeks since the bye week in late October, he's completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 898 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception.

Against the Cardinals, Bradford and the Eagles face a unique challenge. On the season, Arizona ranks fourth in the league in interceptions, with 18, and ninth in net yards allowed per pass attempt at 6.2. A big part of the Cardinals' defensive success (fourth in total yards allowed and seventh in points allowed) has been the play of the team's secondary, particularly cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The 25-year-old four-time Pro Bowl cornerback has been targeted just 55 times on the year, fewer than 61 other defensive backs in the league. And among those who have been targeted as many times as he has, he's been beaten just 40.0 percent of the time, tied with Darrelle Revis of the Jets for the lowest rate in the NFL, according to Stats Inc. The Cardinals' usual starter on the opposite side, Jerraud Powers, has missed the team's last three games with a calf injury, and his status is up in the air against Philadelphia. If he can't go, Justin Bethel will likely start in his place for the fourth time this year.

On the ground, the Eagles have begun to embrace a more balanced rushing attack that leans more heavily upon Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles than it did earlier in the year, when DeMarco Murray garnered the brunt of the carries. With all three backs healthy on Sunday against the Bills, Mathews got 13 carries for 38 yards, Murray had the ball handed off to him 11 times for 34 yards and Darren Sproles rushed seven times for 41 yards.

In their past four games, the Cardinals haven't allowed an opponent to hit triple-digit yards on the ground a single time, giving up an average of just 76.0 yards per game and just 3.6 yards per carry during that span. And on the year, they've allowed opponents to gain just 87.7 yards per game on the ground with eight total rushing touchdowns.

- Max Rappaport


When The Cardinals Have The Ball

This season, the Cardinals have been one of the league's most explosive teams on the offensive side of the ball. They average a league-best 417.5 yards a game, and score the second-most points each week with 31.2.

A key reason the team is so successful this year is the play of quarterback Carson Palmer. Coming off an ACL injury that kept him sidelined for the end of the 2014 season, Palmer is putting up career-best numbers. He boasts the No. 2 passer rating in the NFL, at 107.2, and the No. 1 yards per throw average of 8.8. His accuracy is a big reason Arizona is the No. 4 receiving team, with 309.2 yards through the air each week. Palmer also has 31 touchdowns to his name in 2015, two fewer than Patriots quarterback Tom Brady who has the most of any signal-caller this season.

Another piece of that passing puzzle is the team's dynamic receiving corps of John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. The three dominate the pass game and through Week 14, they account for 2,635 of Arizona's 4,019 receiving yards and 18 of its 31 receiving touchdowns. Fitzgerald, the team's top receiver and future Hall of Fame inductee, is putting up big-time numbers in the slot with 1,088 receiving yards, ranking him seventh in the league. He also picks up an average of 11.3 yards a catch and is responsible for seven touchdowns this season.

All three players have also contributed to the team's X-play total, which is a major focus for the Cardinals. Arizona has the most plays of 20 yards or more this season with 70 in all. Each of the top three receivers has at least one reception of 40 yards this season. The Eagles know to expect the deep ball from Palmer to his receivers come Sunday, meaning the secondary will have to be on top of its game.

While focusing on those big plays, the Philadelphia defense will also need to be prepared to stop the run, something they have been gradually improving upon. Arizona averages 118.4 yards on the ground, but starting Chris Johnson is out for the rest of the regular season with a broken leg. Rookie running back David Johnson has moved into the starting role and averages 4.3 yards a carry, but is also a factor in the pass game with 293 yards (fourth on the team) and four touchdowns.

Additionally, the Cardinals have the longest average time of possession of all teams, averaging over 32 minutes with the ball every game, have the second lowest amount of three-and-outs in 2015 and maintain a 44.7 percent scoring efficiency, ranking them behind only New England in that category.

For the Eagles' defense, takeaways will remain a point of emphasis leading into Sunday. The team is currently tied for the second most with 25, 10 of which are fumble recoveries and 15 of which are interceptions. In games the Eagles have not recorded a takeaway, the team is winless with an 0-2 record. Arizona is a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of giveaways. It has lost 10 fumbles and Palmer has thrown nine interceptions, which means the Eagles have a fair shot to continue forcing turnovers that result in their favor.

-Julie Bacanskas


Key Matchups

WR Larry Fitzgerald vs. Eagles Secondary

The Eagles will certainly have their hands full with all of the Cardinals' receivers, but Fitzgerald has played some of his best games when facing off with Philadelphia. In seven games against the Eagles dating back to 2005, he has accumulated 800 yards, a 114.9 receiving yards per game average, and scored 11 touchdowns (including playoffs).

With the season Fitzgerald is having, he will continue to pose a big threat to the Philadelphia defense this weekend. It will need to keep him contained while also working to shut down Arizona's other top receivers if it wants any chance of coming away with a win. This matchup will clearly be a major challenge for the Eagles.

QB Sam Bradford vs. Cardinals Blitz

It's not a secret that Arizona's defense blitzes. More times than not, those blitzes are successful as the Cardinals hold opposing quarterbacks to the sixth-lowest passer rating (77.3) when they blitz on passing plays and, through Week 14, the Eagles have been held to a 70.3 quarterback rating when blitzed, according to Stats Inc.

However, Bradford has continually improved each week. Over his last four starts, Bradford has completed 65 percent of all of his pass attempts for 898 yards, five touchdowns, one interception and a 96.9 rating. In last Sunday's win over Buffalo, Bradford was blitzed 14 times (33 percent), completing eight passes for 87 yards, with three of his six incompletions coming as a result of drops from his receivers, according to Fran Duffy. If he can beat the blitz on Sunday, the Eagles will have much better odds of finding success.

Eagles RBs vs. Cardinals Run Defense

Philadelphia is coming off its most balanced rushing attack, as Ryan Mathews, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles are split the workload fairly equally against the Bills. It remains to be seen how the running backs will be utilized this weekend, but the Eagles are currently averaging 115.7 rushing yards per game with a 3.96 yards per carry average.

The trio will have its hands full going up against Arizona's No. 5 run defense. The Cardinals are allowing only 87.7 yards on the ground per game. However, when the Eagles get their run game started, the team is far more successful. Philadelphia is 2-0 on the season when a back rushes for 100 yards or more.

- Julie Bacanskas


Trends To Watch

Pressuring Palmer

Carson Palmer's 53.01 career completion percentage against the Eagles is the second-lowest mark of his career against any one opponent.

Cool Hand Sam

Sam Bradford has an average passer rating of 85.75 against the blitz in his last two games. The Cardinals blitz more than any team in the NFL.

Bird House

The Eagles are 4-2 in their last six meetings against the Cardinals in Philadelphia dating back to the 2000 season. The Eagles' average margin of victory in those games is 20 points.

- Alex Smith

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