NFL Preview - Arizona (7-4) at Philadelphia (6-5)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Bruce Arians was a candidate for the vacant Philadelphia Eagles job, but the powers that be decided Chip Kelly, with no professional experience, was better equipped.
It didn't take long for Arians to find a job, however, and he will lead the Arizona Cardinals into the Philadelphia Sunday to battle the Eagles.
Arians, who gained notoriety by filling in for an ill Chuck Pagano with the Indianapolis Colts last season, has guided the Cardinals to a surprising 7-4 start and has them on the brink of ending a three-year postseason layoff. The Cardinals are currently in the hunt for a wild card spot since it appears the Seattle Seahawks will take home the NFC West title.
The Eagles are also flirting with the idea of making a playoff run in Kelly's first season at the helm and are even with the Dallas Cowboys for first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys own the tiebreaker after beating the Eagles a few weeks back at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Cardinals hope to find similar success.
Arizona has won four in a row, including three straight after the bye, and hammered the Colts, 40-11, on Sunday in the desert. A 26-yard touchdown reception by Larry Fitzgerald and a 22-yard interception return for a score by Karlos Dansby highlighted a 20-point second quarter for the Cardinals, who racked up 410 yards of offense and hope to gain some more attention in the competitive NFC.
"I think this was a respect game," said Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 314 yards with a pair of TD passes to Fitzgerald. "I don't think we are well respected throughout the league, and that's not anybody's fault but our own. But I think we are better than people think."
The Cardinals deserve a lot of credit with wins over Detroit, Carolina and Indianapolis. Still, veteran defensive lineman Darnell Dockett feels Arizona is slighted each week.
"You know what's funny?" Dockett said. "Whenever the Cardinals win it's always what the other team didn't do. It's never what we forced other teams to do. We understand that. Everyone says, 'They didn't beat nobody, they didn't beat nobody."
Well, the Colts aren't nobodies. They, too, are in the mix for a playoff spot and just got waxed by their former assistant coach in Arians, whose squad last won four in a row to start the 2012 season and hasn't prevailed in five straight games since the St. Louis Cardinals won six in a row during the 1977 campaign under head coach Don Coryell.
The Cardinals hope to keep the momentum going and keep pressing for a chance at reaching the playoffs.
"We are in the hunt," Arizona cornerback Jerraud Powers said. "That's all you can ask for. It seems like everyone is believing in one another."
Meanwhile, the Eagles are feeling just as confident with three straight wins and last won four in a row to close out the 2011 campaign at 8-8. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was still slinging the ball for the University of Arizona and completed 387-of-560 passes for 4,334 yards and 28 touchdowns for the Wildcats.
The second-year pro, who was recently crowned the starter, is now lighting up opposing defenses at a rapid rate and is building confidence in himself, with the coaches and his teammates.
"He has the utmost confidence in himself," said Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper. "He is a great quarterback and he should. He is the general out there. We are all listening to him. He does a great job."
Cooper has been the beneficiary of Foles' resurgence and is second on the Eagles with 592 yards on 31 catches. His seven touchdown receptions is tied with DeSean Jackson. Foles, though, is the reason for the success and has 1,554 yards with 16 TD passes and no interceptions for a 128.0 rating. His rating ranks first in the NFL and has six games this season with a rating of 100 or better.
During the Eagles' winning streak, Foles' QB rating is 152.8. He has thrown 199 consecutive passes without an interception and his 9.6 yards per attempt is first in the league. Foles has the Eagles flying high and helped them halt a 10-game home losing streak with last week's 24-16 win over the Washington Redskins. He threw for 298 yards and did not have a touchdown pass. He didn't need to because LeSean McCoy ran for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"I feel like we've put ourselves in a good position," Foles said. "That's all you can ask for, especially heading into the bye week. Especially with winning our last game at home, (we're) moving in the right direction and just continuing to change the atmosphere here. The coaches here are doing a great job and the players are doing a great job of buying in, so I think that we have to keep going in that direction and keep leaning on each other, and we'll see what happens."
The New York Giants did no favors by losing to the Cowboys on Sunday, so it's a tight rope to walk in the division.
Speaking of walking the line, Michael Vick said Foles deserves to remain the start for how well he's played. Vick is no fool and believes in the idiom if it's not broke, don't fix it.
"In all honesty, in all fairness, how can you take a guy out of the game who's been playing so well?" Vick said. "I've been in this stage before, and I know what it's like. I understand the position that this team is in, and the one thing I never want to do is be a distraction or put our team or our coaches in a position where they feel like they're not doing the right thing or I feel like they're not doing the right thing."
Philadelphia has been doing the right thing offensively and is averaging 33.3 points and 453 yards during the winning streak.
Jackson, Cooper and McCoy have been Philly's big three in recent weeks, while Jackson is 15 yards shy of the third 1,000-yard season of his career. AFter three straight weeks of rushing for no more than 55 yards, McCoy had 155 yards on 25 carries at Green Bay, then ran for 77 yards on 20 carries versus the Redskins to surpass running backs coach Duce Staley for third on the team's all-time rushing list with 4,875 yards.
McCoy also reached the 1,000-mark for the third time in his career and didn't know it until it was brought up to him.
"I did know this though, I had 10 yards to pass Duce," McCoy said. "So I knew that was going to happen."
The shifty back averages about half of 10 yards (4.7 ypg) for an Eagles squad looking for revenge versus the Cardinals after last season's 27-6 loss on Sept. 23 at University of Phoenix Stadium. Philadelphia's most recent victory in the series was a 48-20 home rout on Thanksgiving Night of 2008, and the Eagles have taken five of the last nine regular-season bouts since 2000 with their former division rivals.
Including the 2008 NFC Championship, which the Cardinals won by a 32-25 count to advance to their only Super Bowl, Arizona has won three in a row against the Eagles.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Eagles give up a league-worst 300.1 passing yards per game and are 31st in total yards allowed (417.9). So what can they expect from Fitzgerald, one of the top wide receivers in the game?
Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in the last meeting with the Eagles and has played them four times in his career, posting 26 catches for 418 yards and six TDs. No matter who is covering Fitzgerald, whether it's Cary Williams, Brandon Boykin or Bradley Fletcher, who is bothered by a pectoral muscle and is questionable Sunday, the Eagles will experience some trouble.
Palmer gave some insight on what it's like to cover Fitzgerald, who eclipsed the 11,000-yard mark in his career. He is the youngest to reach that mark.
"Any time you have Larry 1-on-1 down in the red zone, it's not a good matchup for the other team," Palmer said.
Floyd can be an issue, too, so it's important for an improved Eagles defense to force Palmer into making mistakes. Palmer's known for erratic play at times, but the former Heisman Trophy winner can also shred defenses. Just ask the Colts, who failed to pick off a pass.
Williams, though, is impressed with how well the unit is playing.
"We're getting there and I also think we all understand that a lot of work is ahead to get to where we need to be," said Williams. "The play up front has improved, which impacts everyone. I think that confidence is the big reason. Everybody understands what the coaches are looking for and we've all worked hard studying that. You see the results. We all feel like it's improving."
Speaking of play up front, give credit to big men Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. They have combined for eight sacks, while Curry and linebacker Connor Barwin have four apiece. LB Trent Cole and Cox each have posted three sacks.
The Cardinals have some muscle of their own on defense and sack master John Abraham has seven so far. Defensive end Calais Campbell has 5 1/2 sacks and Dockett owns 4 1/2, while veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby leads the Cardinals with 88 tackles.
Dansby registered five stops against Indianapolis and an interception. Look for him to disrupt Philadelphia's run game by shooting the gaps. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was rattled often in Sunday's game.
"They created a bit of a hornet's nest," Luck said of the defensive pressure.
Don't sleep on Arizona's secondary either with rookie Tyrann Mathieu, stud Patrick Peterson, Powers and Yeremiah Bell. They, too, will have their hands full with Jackson, Cooper and tight end Brent Celek. Celek hasn't been much of a factor lately, which is why he could be a pest Sunday.
The Cardinals seem to give the Eagles fits lately and will do so again at the Linc. The Nick Foles show has to have some sort of commercial break and it will be good to get that out of the way now instead of later. A loss won't impact much in the NFC East because it's still wide open.
Arizona is fighting with the Eagles and many other teams in a push toward the postseason and it will be up to Palmer and the defense to make that happen. The Eagles do have some nice weapons, but the Cardinals can counter that with their impressive defense.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles performed the same role in a limited capacity for Philadelphia last season, so expect his familiarity with the opponent to come in handy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 23, Eagles 16
11/28 11:32:41 ET