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Lunch Break: Battle of the Birds
The Eagles' No. 4 offense will meet the Cardinals' No. 8 defense on Sunday. (USA Today Images)
When the Cardinals land in Philadelphia this weekend, Arizona will bring its eighth-ranked defense to town. It's the best unit the Eagles offense has faced since they hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3.
Consider what the Cardinals have done this season. Arizona has allowed 20.3 points per game, eighth-best. During their current four-game winning streak, the Cardinals have been even better. They’ve held three of their last four opponents to 14 or fewer points, including last weekend’s dominant performance against Indianapolis in which they gave up just 11 points to the Colts.
“I knew the talent that we had here, especially up front, that [defensive coordinator Todd Bowles] could gel it into a heck of a unit,” Arizona head coach Bruce Arians said. “We added some pieces on the back end to go along with [cornerback] Patrick [Peterson]. And [Bowles] has done a fabulous job of putting them in positions to be successful.”
The Cardinals are middle of the pack against the pass in yards per game (17th), but that’s primarily because they tend to gamble in the secondary. Arizona has 15 interceptions this season. Only two other teams -- Buffalo and Seattle, both of which have 16 interceptions -- have produced more picks.
Up front, Arizona has 29 sacks (15th), but the true strength of their defensive linemen and linebackers is against the run. Arizona surrenders just 81.3 rushing yards per game. That’s the second fewest in the league. Only the Jets have been stingier. The Cardinals have also given up just four rushing touchdowns this year. Only the Ravens and Panthers have allowed fewer.
“They’ve got a lot of experience,” Chip Kelly said. “A lot of guys that have played a lot of years on the defensive side of the ball. Besides [defensive linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett], you got [John] Abraham and [Matt] Shaughnessy. Dan Williams also. [Alameda] Ta’amu is another big guy in there when they’re playing in their base package. Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby at linebacker are two outstanding players that are playing at a really high level.
“And then you have one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Patrick Peterson. And Tyrann Mathieu is a great addition out back. It’s a formidable defense. They’re playing really well right now.”
Kelly said that the Cardinals, who have built a blitz-heavy reputation this season under Bowles, are similar to other teams they’ve faced that like to get after the quarterback. The question is how often Arizona will opt to employ that strategy and regularly blitz Nick Foles.
“It just depends on what they actually choose to do going against us,” Kelly said. “Some teams have blitzed a lot before and then in our game have chosen not to and they’ve stayed with it. They match up with some of the other teams we’ve seen from a blitz percentage going into the game. It will be interesting to see how the game plays itself out.”