Another year, another showdown with the Arizona Cardinals awaits. Over the last two seasons, the Eagles have had their share of trouble with Arizona. In 2011, the Eagles lost at home to the John Skelton-led Cardinals by a score of 21-17. Michael Vick played the entire game with broken ribs and was a shell of himself. The offense could hardly muster anything as one of the more depressing losses in recent memory sent the Eagles to 3-6. In 2012, the 2-0 Eagles traveled to the desert and trailed 17-0 in the second quarter. Vick led the team down the field right before halftime and the game was about to become interesting. That is, until Vick was blindsided and Arizona safety James Sanders returned a fumble 96 yards for a touchdown to make it 24-0. The Eagles would go on to lose 27-6 to the Kevin Kolb-led Cardinals. That was the first of far too many ugly losses last season.
The bad news going into this Sunday’s home game against Arizona is that the Cardinals have had the Eagles’ number the past two years. The good news is this isn’t 2011 or 2012. The Eagles are a much improved team. They are 6-5, currently a half-game behind Dallas in the NFC East and could tie the Cowboys at 7-5 with a win Sunday.
When the NFL schedule came out in April, not many people expected the December 1 showdown between the Eagles and Arizona to be a key game in the NFC playoff race. The fact of the matter is both these teams are much improved from 2012. Both teams have an entirely new coaching regime in place. Carson Palmer has regained his old form the past several weeks and heads into this game playing terrific football. Even more impressive than Palmer’s recent resurrection is the Arizona defense, suddenly a complete and fearsome unit with tremendous talent and production at all three levels.
This will be the toughest test yet for quarterback Nick Foles. It’s no secret that Foles has enjoyed a tremendous season so far (16 TD’s, 0 INT’s, NFC Offensive Player of the Month). However, Foles is now being asked to lead this team into the heart of a playoff race and he will have to begin against a very stout defensive unit. Expect Foles to take care off the football and strike a couple of big plays. Sustaining drives will be hard to do against the Cardinals. Foles will also likely face the most pressure he has all year. He’s reacted very well to having a clean pocket and having to flush out on occasion. However, Arizona blitzes early and often and they have the players to get to the quarterback. Foles will have to react to immense pressure and guide the offense effectively. It won’t be easy.
Sunday’s game will be a battle of two hot teams who have played well both offensively and defensively. Something will have to give one way or another. For the first time since 2000 or 2001, Eagle fans are approaching a playoff stretch with more “let’s see” mentality. In those years, an up-and-coming Donovan McNabb guided an Eagles team with limited talent around him into the playoff both seasons. Then came the NFC Championship Game failures, and pressure mounted on Reid and McNabb each year to get over the hump and deliver the ultimate prize.
The 2013 Eagles were not thought to be a playoff team. Right now, fans are watching a young man develop into a true franchise quarterback and lead the team on a surprising race to the division title. While this raises the bar for 2014, right now the Eagles have exceeded expectations for this season. This is where fans get to have fun watching how far this team can go, how good Nick Foles really is, and how good the young defense really is. This week is not make-or-break for either team, but it sure would be nice to get a win, stay hot, and take another step closer to a playoff berth.
For the eighth straight game, the Eagles defense will hold a team to 21 points or less. Nick Foles will hit one big play to DeSean Jackson but LeSean McCoy will fail to put up 100 yards against Arizona’s front seven. The suddenly-stout Eagles defense will not entirely stymie Carson Palmer and Arizona’s offense, but will slow them down from the last few weeks. I wish I could say I see the Eagles dominating Arizona like Thanksgiving night in 2008 (they are wearing the same black jerseys), but I don’t. I hope I’m dead wrong, but I think the Cardinals cause Foles and the Eagles a bump in the road. The Eagles will still be in the hunt until Week 17, they just suffer a minor setback this week.
Cardinals 19, Eagles 17