NFL Preview - Philadelphia (5-1) at Arizona (5-1)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Sitting atop their perch in the NFC West, the Arizona Cardinals will take their swings at the visiting Philadelphia Eagles Sunday.
The Cardinals and Eagles are two of the four remaining one-loss teams.
Many believed either the defending champion Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers would be the current NFC West leaders at this juncture.
But au contraire.
Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has his team at 5-1, with the 49ers 4-3 and the disappointing Seahawks 3-3. The Cardinals have won back-to-back games since Denver destroyed them back on Oct. 5, posting wins over Washington and Oakland. In Sunday's 24-13 victory at the lowly Raiders, the Cardinals held the hosts to 220 yards and Carson Palmer threw for 253 yards and two touchdowns with an interception against his former team.
Arizona, which is 5-1 for the first time since 1976 and 12-3 dating back to last season, is first in rushing yards allowed (72.5) and limited Oakland to 56 yards on the ground. Arizona is the only team in the NFL that has yet to allow an opponent to rush for 100 yards in a game this season. It has allowed 20 points or fewer in five of six games this season.
"Every Sunday gets bigger and bigger," Cardinals tackle Jared Veldheer said. "It's nothing but a good start. We need to keep the mindset of 'We need to win every week.'"
The Cardinals are 3-0 at home this season and 7-1 in the past eight as the host dating back to 2013. They are 9-2 at home with Arians as head coach and 7-0 in the desert against non-division opponents.
After hosting the Eagles, the Cardinals have another challenge with a trip to Dallas on the schedule. Arizona will face last year's NFL rushing leader in LeSean McCoy, but he's been bottled up most of the season with defenses stacking the box and forcing teams to throw. McCoy, though, ran for a season- high 149 yards on 22 carries in a win over the rival New York Giants.
McCoy (5,895) trails former Eagle Brian Westbrook (5,995) by 100 yards for second on the franchise's all-time rushing list. He could get that Sunday.
Perhaps the stingy run defense is why the Cardinals are third in interceptions with eight and rated 31st in defending the pass. They are allowing almost 300 yards (284.8) per game through the air and the Eagles look to expose that with their No. 7 pass attack (262.3 ypg).
The Eagles are also 5-1 and enter University of Phoenix Stadium fresh off the bye week. They welcomed some familiar faces back at practice in injured offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis, along with all-purpose running back Darren Sproles. Neither is expected to play Sunday, but Sproles said his MCL sprain felt good after practice this week.
"If I feel the way I did today, then yeah, but that decision is up to the coach," Sproles said of the possibility of playing Sunday.
Quarterback Nick Foles will be under center and hopes to light up Arizona's secondary. Foles entered the bye with an average showing in a 27-0 beatdown of the Giants on Oct. 12, as he threw for 248 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Foles has four TD passes and five interceptions in his last three games. In his last 10 road games (8 starts), Foles has thrown for 2,774 yards with 24 TD passes and four INTs.
The Eagles, who are trying to remain steady with the 6-1 Cowboys in the NFC East, are averaging an NFC-best 30.5 points this season (3rd in NFL) and are ninth overall in total yards with 378.3. They are only one of three teams in the NFL to average at least 260 yards passing per game and 115 yards rushing.
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly can only hope his players remain focused after having a week off.
"You hope it doesn't (affect the team)," Kelly said of the bye. "You obviously had some time off, but I think ... you would hope they'd have a little bit of bounce in their step because they've had some time off, so we'll see.
"There were a lot of guys in here (Monday) on their day off, getting treatment, checking film out on their own, so I don't anticipate these guys not being ready to go. It's a pretty good group that way."
The Eagles defeated the Cardinals last Dec. 1 in a 24-21 victory at Lincoln Financial Field and almost blew a 24-7 lead. Foles passed for 237 yards with three TDs, McCoy ran for 79 yards on 19 carries and Palmer had 302 passing yards with three scores and two picks.
Cardinals wide receivers Michael Floyd (99 yards) and Larry Fitzgerald (72 yards) both reached the end zone. Fitzgerald is tied with Don Maynard for 12th on the all-time touchdown receptions list with 88 and has owned the Eagles in his career, catching 40 passes for 642 yards and 10 TDs in six games, including the 2008 NFC Championship.
Fitzgerald has more TDs against the Eagles in the regular season than he does against any team outside the NFC West. It will be a long afternoon for Eagles corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher if Fitz has his way.
The Cardinals lead the all-time series with the Eagles, 57-55-5, and have won the last three matchups as the host. Arizona is 12-3 against teams outside the NFC West under Arians.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
While the Eagles offense racked up 448 yards of offense against the Giants, the defense harassed Eli Manning all night and held New York to 254 yards. The Eagles racked up eight sacks, three by linebacker Connor Barwin and two by lineman Vinny Curry.
Palmer was sacked just once against the Raiders and the Eagles will try to get to him more often before he gets comfortable in the pocket. Palmer has the aforementioned receiving threats in Fitzgerald and Floyd, and running back Andre Ellington is coming off Sunday's performance in which he ran for 88 yards on 24 carries and caught six passes for 72 yards.
Stepfan Taylor had a rushing score and a receiving TD in Oakland.
"They've got a lot of weapons and they do a lot of different things on the offensive side of the ball to spread the ball around to all of those guys," Kelly said of the Cardinals.
The Eagles have allowed only two rushing touchdowns this season.
The Cardinals have thrown a league-best one interception. Palmer is 3-0 this season and 10-2 in his last 12 starts. He has thrown a touchdown pass in each of his previous 16 games.
Arizona poses a huge threat to the Eagles with its run defense. It could get even tougher for Philadelphia if defensive end Calais Campbell returns after missing two games with a knee injury. Campbell hopes to get in at least one practice before Sunday's game.
Still, the Cardinals' front line and linebackers are a stingy bunch under coordinator Todd Bowles.
"It's the personnel they have," Kelly said of the Cardinals' success stopping the run. "Obviously, Todd does a really great job with their scheme. Their scheme is somewhat unique in getting in a lot of fronts; they run a lot of looks on the defensive side of the ball, so they can confuse you a little bit."
Kelly's offensive scheme will be faced with a bunch of different looks Sunday.
As for the Eagles' defense, the stop unit has scored an NFL-best three touchdowns this season and safety Malcolm Jenkins leads the team with all three INTs. He returned one for a score against San Francisco.
The Eagles also lead the NFL with seven return touchdowns, four of which via special teams. Sproles is a big part of that, but may rest another week with his MCL sprain. Running back Chris Polk has a kickoff return for a touchdown and is hoping to shake a hamstring issue so he can play in Arizona.
"I didn't really try to open up and try to sprint, so I can't gauge where I am, but it feels really good," Polk said after practice.
Philly hopes linebacker Mychal Kendricks can return from a calf injury sustained in a Week 2 win over Indianapolis. Kendricks was back at practice this week and is talented on coverage. Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews have been filling in admirably for Kendricks alongside veteran DeMeco Ryans.
Acho will face his brother, Sam, on Sunday.
"I started playing (football) when I was eight years old," Emmanuel said. "Sam didn't play until maybe he was 13. So I started playing in fourth grade, and he didn't start playing until sixth grade."
In other news for Sunday's game, Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro has made all 15 of his field goal attempts and 11 PATs. The streak of 15 consecutive field goals made without a miss to start a season is tied for the longest in NFL history by a rookie (St. Louis, Greg Zuerlein, 2012)
The Cardinals have the top rushing defense. The Eagles have struggled to run it consistently. The Cardinals are one of the worst at defending the pass. The Eagles are one of the best at airing it out.
Something has to budge Sunday.
When an unstoppable force meets and immoveable object, worlds can collide. One of the irresistible forces has to break down. McCoy and the Eagles had plenty of time to prepare for this showdown of 5-1 teams and the shifty back will make his presence felt in an Eagles win. It could get a lot worse if Sproles is healthy enough to return.
"He's a very strong-willed individual," Polk said of Sproles.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Eagles 33, Cardinals 24
10/26 07:20:40 ET