Eagle Eye: Stopping the Cardinals
Carson Palmer's 110.8 passer rating over the last four games is fourth-highest in the NFL. (USA Today Images)
They got the Buccaneers before Mike Glennon got hot. They got the Raiders while Terrelle Pryor was struggling. They got the Packers when Aaron Rodgers was out. And they got the Redskins when Robert Griffin III was barely capable of moving.
This one will be different.
Because on Sunday, the Eagles are getting one of the NFL’s hottest quarterbacks.
The Eagles’ improving defense will draw its toughest challenge since Week 4 against Peyton Manning on Sunday, when it faces the Arizona Cardinals and Carson Palmer, who has been no less than brilliant during the Cards’ four-game winning streak.
Palmer is 89 for 129 (69 percent) for 1,146 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions in his last four games, his finest stretch since way back in November 2006, when he was with the Bengals.
Over the past month, only Nick Foles (152.8), Russell Wilson (122.0) and Drew Brees (112.3) have a higher passer rating than Palmer (109.5).
“He's playing his best football I've seen in years,” Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis said. “In the last four weeks, when you 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.
“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. He's spreading the football out to all the different weapons they have, and they've got a lot of weapons. It's an impressive team from a talent standpoint.
“They're a lot like us in that there is a brand new coaching staff, brand new system, a lot of free agent players and 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 Cards are averaging 30 points per game during their four-game winning streak, and they’ve scored 27 points or more in four straight games for the first time since 2007, when Kurt Warner was their quarterback.
“They’re starting to get hot, [Palmer] is connecting with his receivers, he has the ability to throw the ball down the field really well, he has good pocket awareness, their running backs are fast so they can put them out in the slot or wherever,” Eagles slot corner Brandon Boykin said. “They just have weapons all over.”
The last four quarterbacks the Eagles have defeated -- Glennon, Pryor, Scott Tolzien and Robert Griffin III -- have won an average of 4½ games in their careers and are a combined 9-19 this year.
Palmer has 61 career wins, is a two-time Pro Bowl pick and has quarterbacked the Cards to a 7-4 record and four straight wins going into a big Sunday afternoon showdown with the Eagles at the Linc.
The past month has been a real renaissance for Palmer, who had won just 13 of his previous 47 starts with the Bengals, Raiders and Cardinals before his current four-game winning streak.
No backup this week. No rookie replacement. No emergency starter.
The Eagles will have to deal with a guy who’s 30th in NFL history in passing yards and ninth in NFL history in yards per game.
“Carson, he’s been in the league for a while, so he’s experienced a lot, one of those guys who’s seen it all,” safety Nate Allen said. “He’s an old, savvy vet guy, so it’s going to be another big challenge for us.
“With a guy like that, your disguises have to be better because those guys, they know, they’ve seen it, so we have to be more sound in our coverages or disguises, everything, because he’s seen it all, so he’s harder to fool. We just have to be disciplined and sound and, like always, pressure him.”
The Eagles are the only NFL team Palmer has never played against.
The Eagles faced the Bengals in both 2004 and 2008 but Palmer was hurt both times, and the Eagles faced Jon Kitna and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Compare Palmer’s first seven games this year with his last four:
Games 1 through 7: 61 percent completion percentage, eight TDs, 13 interceptions, 3-4 record, 69.5 passer rating (seventh-worst in the NFL).
Games 8 through 11: 69 percent completion percentage, eight TDs, two interceptions, 4-0 record, 110.8 passer rating (fourth-highest in the NFL).
“I think sometimes when you look at those guys, it's just getting familiar with [a new team],” Chip Kelly said. “It's a brand new system, getting familiar with your receivers, getting comfortable with those guys. … Over the last four games, he's played outstanding.”
The Cards have five receivers with at least 28 catches, including Larry Fitzgerald (50 for 606) and Michael Floyd (49 for 761).
The one thing about Palmer is that he will throw interceptions.
Over the past 10 years, Palmer has been picked off 145 times. Only Eli Manning (161) has been intercepted more.
The Eagles have been a lot better this year picking off passes. Led by Boykin’s four INTs, the Eagles are eighth in the NFL with 13 interceptions.
Last year, they had just eight.
Boykin said the Eagles have already picked up some tips on Palmer from watching film. Like how he zeroes in on receivers.
“We can figure out where he’s going based off his eyes sometimes,” Boykin said. “He stares sometimes. Things like that you try to pick up. But he’s a good quarterback."