Eagles-Cardinals: 5 things you need to know

Eagles-Cardinals: 5 things you need to know

How will McCoy fare against Cards' defense?

December 1, 2013, 7:00 am
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Eagles (6-5) vs. Cardinals (7-4)
1 p.m., FOX
Eagles by 3½

The Cowboys have won twice and Andy Reid's Chiefs have lost two times since the Eagles last played, which feels a lot longer ago than it actually was.

Now, Nick Foles has (finally) officially been named the starter, meaning one bad game won't result in his benching, coach Chip Kelly claims (see story).

But one bad week like he had against Dallas and the Eagles may need some help to win the division. Let's take a look at how the Birds match up with the Cards, who've won four straight, before we delve into how important this game actually is for the Eagles' hopes of making the playoffs.

Here are five things you'll need to know (including the playoff outlook):

1. Where do they rank?

Eagles
Offense: 412 yards per game (4th), 262 passing (9th), 151 rushing (1st)
Defense: 418 yards per game (31st), 300 passing (32nd), 118 rushing (21st)
Turnovers: 19 takeaways (T-13th), 15 giveaways (T-10th), plus-4 differential (T-11th)

Cardinals
Offense: 334 yards per game (16th), 245 passing (13th), 89 rushing (24th)
Defense: 317 yards per game (8th), 235 passing (17th), 81 rushing (2nd)
Turnovers: 23 takeaways (T-4th), 21 giveaways (T-26th), plus-2 differential (15th)

The Eagles' defense continues to give up yardage and then stuff teams once they're in the red zone. Two weeks ago, the Redskins made two trips and came up with nothing. Both Washington TDs were over 40 yards.

In fact, the Eagles boast the NFL's best scoring defense inside the 20, allowing opponents to score just 75 percent of the time. Only three other teams (Carolina, Seattle, St. Louis) are below 80 percent. Their opponents' TD rate also ranks among the best at a stingy 47.2 percent.

Here come the Cardinals, whose offense is hot, yet unimpressive, if not one-dimensional. Carson Palmer has been one of the league's best passers of late, and he'll likely be forced to chuck it up again Sunday, especially if halfback Andre Ellington (questionable) doesn't play.

Their leading rusher, Ellington has just 441 yards and two TDs on the ground — but he's done it while picking up 6.0 yards per carry. If he can't go, Rashard Mendenhall (391 yards, 5 TDs), who's getting only 3.0 yards per rush, will be forced into the starter's role.

2. The Carson Palmer show
Palmer's emergence over the past four games is one of the biggest reasons for the Cardinals' current winning streak. He's averaged 287 yards, thrown eight TDs against just two picks, and his passer rating (110.8) is fourth among quarterbacks over that span (see story).

With the exception of Indianapolis, that recent success has come against teams with poor records (Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville) but whose pass defenses aren't terrible (24th, 1st, 18th). Palmer will get the NFL's last-ranked passing D this week in the Eagles.

Is the Cards' offense one-dimensional? Perhaps, but they're quite good at that one dimension. With 6-foot-3 targets like Larry Fitzgerald (50 catches, 606 yards, 8 TDs) and Michael Floyd (49, 761, 3), Palmer has plenty to work with.

The Eagles' seven-game streak of holding opponents to 21 points or fewer may be in jeopardy unless they can get to Palmer and force him to make bad throws. The Cardinals are 2-3 in games he throws multiple interceptions and 5-1 when he throws one or none. His 15 picks still rank third-most in the league, behind Eli Manning (17) and Geno Smith (18).

3. Nick's the pick
Well, it took long enough, didn't it? After the best calendar month by any quarterback in the history of the league, Chip Kelly finally named Nick Foles his starter.

We all know the numbers. He's thrown 199 passes without a pick, 25 shy of a team record set by Michael Vick in 2010. Four shy of the NFL record 20 TD passes without an INT to start a year, which Peyton Manning set earlier this season. By far the league's best passer rating (128.0). NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November. Seventh in odds to win MVP (see story) and so on and so forth...

But Foles may have finally met his match in Arizona's defense, which is just 17th against the pass but has pulled in 15 interceptions, tied for third. Foles likely won't be able to look to LeSean McCoy to bail him out, as the Cards are second against the run. They've allowed just one 100-yard rusher this year, and Frank Gore's 101 yards came on 25 carries.

Like it or not, this one's up to Nick.

4. Playoff picture
The Eagles currently find themselves in prime position to make a run at the division and their first postseason berth in three seasons. Five games left may seem like a lot, but not when you take a closer look.

The Cowboys' remaining three games before Week 17 — at Chicago (6-5), vs. Green Bay (5-6-1), at Washington (3-8) — are all very winnable, and as long as they beat the Redskins, they'll own the final tiebreaker over the Eagles even if they drop the season finale. Which means the Eagles have to keep winning just to keep pace with Dallas. Think of being tied as actually being one game behind.

Moreover, while the next four games present the Eagles' toughest task of the season, it gives them a golden opportunity to position themselves for a wild-card berth if they win four straight and lose the last game to Dallas.

Four wins would give the Birds tiebreakers over Arizona, Detroit and Chicago and a chance to battle for the NFC's final playoff spot with the 49ers (7-4), over whom they'd likely hold the conference-record tiebreaker.

5. This and that
• Last they met, Kevin Kolb ripped apart the Eagles to lead the Cardinals to a 27-6 win in Arizona. Kolb threw for 222 yards and two TDs, one to Larry Fitzgerald and one to Michael Floyd, as the Cards jumped out to a 24-0 halftime lead. Michael Vick fumbled twice and was sacked five times.

• Last week, the Cardinals rolled, 40-11, over the Colts behind two Palmer-to-Fitzgerald hookups and a second-quarter pick-six by Karlos Dansby.

• The Cardinals have won three straight over the Eagles, dating back to the 2009 NFC Championship. The Birds haven't beaten Arizona since a 48-20 rout on Thanksgiving 2008. The Cardinals have won 10 of the last 15 games in the series between the former division rivals.

• Larry Fitzgerald has nine TDs in five career games vs. the Eagles, including the postseason. He's won NFC Offensive Player of the Week awards the last two times he's faced them.

• Arizona is seeking its first five-game winning streak since 1977.

• Remember when the Eagles had the long home losing streak? Well, they've still lost 10 of 11 at the Linc.

Injury Report: For the Eagles, S Earl Wolff (knee) is out; S Colt Anderson (ankle), CB Bradley Fletcher (pectoral), LB Mychal Kendricks (knee) and LB Jake Knott (hamstring) are probable. For the Cardinals, RB Andre Ellington (knee) is questionable, while QB Carson Palmer (right hand), WR Michael Floyd (shoulder), RB Alfonso Smith (ankle), S Yeremiah Bell (knee) and S Rashad Johnson (ribs) are all probable.

Recommended reading:

Scouting report: Eagles' offense vs. Cardinals' D

Kelly doesn't 'care what people think' of Eagles' O

Roc Carmichael using career to support charity

Will Fitzgerald continue dominance over Eagles?

Harmony key for Chip Kelly's coaching staff

As a starter, Foles won't have to look over shoulder