Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Palmer

A look at Eagles' Pro Bowl chances

December, 26, 2013
PHILADELPHIA – Selections for the new-look Pro Bowl will be announced Friday night. After sending zero representatives from last year’s 4-12 team, the Eagles have a few worthy candidates.

Running back LeSean McCoy is the most obvious. If the NFL leader in rushing and yards from scrimmage isn’t selected, there’s no point in having the game. McCoy set the Eagles’ record for rushing yards in a game with 217 against Detroit. He needs 37 to pass Wilbert Montgomery’s mark of 1,512 rushing yards in a season.

Quarterback Nick Foles is a tougher case. He has started only nine of the Eagles’ 15 games. The team’s record in those games is 7-2. Foles has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, a remarkable ratio. He leads the NFL in passer rating.

Foles might have had a better chance under the old format. Aside from Drew Brees, the NFC quarterbacks with big numbers have some other issues: Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford are not going to the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers has missed the past six weeks. Tony Romo is injured. Carson Palmer is not exactly a lock.

But this year, players are not being chosen to represent the two conferences. The teams will be selected in a draft in late January. So Foles will also be competing for spots with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton, as well.

Sometimes a player has to establish himself for a season or two before getting Pro Bowl recognition. It feels like that kind of year for Foles.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has the rep -- he’s been selected twice -- and the numbers. He isn’t the no-brainer that McCoy is because so many receivers are putting up big numbers this season, but he’s certainly deserving. While Jackson is 14th among NFL wide receivers with 79 catches, his 1,304 yards are eighth most.

With Foles and especially McCoy having such outstanding seasons, the Eagles' offensive line should get some respect. Three players are eminently deserving: left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce.

Peters is a five-time Pro Bowler and has returned from a career-threatening Achilles injury. Those two factors make him the most likely Eagles lineman to be selected.

Mathis is overdue for recognition. Pro Football Focus, which grades every player at every position on every play, has all but anointed Mathis as the best left guard in the game the past couple seasons. He’s smart, tough and durable. It’s his time.

Kelce may be where Mathis was last year. He’s integral to what coach Chip Kelly does on offense.

“He's been huge," Kelly said. “I think everything that we get started on the offensive side of the ball starts with him. He sets the blocking schemes for us. Very, very smart, and a real student of the game. He's really almost the coach on the field for that group, and he takes a little pressure off the quarterback. In some systems, the quarterback is making all those calls, and in our system our center does it, and it's because Jason can handle it, and I think he's been really invaluable to us.”

Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis meant it as a compliment when he said his unit was playing well despite a lack of big stars and Pro Bowlers. But it does seem unlikely the defense will get much play in the All-Star game this season. The most likely candidates – defensive end Fletcher Cox, linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole – don’t have stats that catch the eye. And underrated contributors like linebacker Connor Barwin, nickel corner Brandon Boykin and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton are, well, underrated. That makes them long shots by definition.

Punter Donnie Jones has been excellent for the Eagles when they’ve needed him most. His overall numbers -- 21st in average, 11th in net average -- probably will keep him from being selected.
PHILADELPHIA -- It was funny but totally understandable.

A week ago, as he prepared for the Arizona Cardinals, Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis declared Larry Fitzgerald “probably still the best receiver in the league.” A week later, Davis was asked about Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, this week’s challenge for the Eagles defense.

“Well, he's 6-foot-5 and his range, he's got a huge vertical,” Davis said. “So his radius, his catch radius, is second to none. There are similar players that are big bodied, go up and get the ball away from their body. They snatch it well out of the air. Fitzgerald is one of the top in the NFL, but Calvin is the best when you watch him game in and game out, what he does and what he can do at that size/speed ratio. He’s the best.”

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
AP Photo/James D. SmithEagles defenders will be facing another daunting test on Sunday in Lions WR Calvin Johnson.
You can’t blame Davis for being haunted by the video he’s studying in a given week, even if it means Brandon Marshall will likely be the best receiver in the league while the Eagles are preparing for the Bears in a few weeks.

There are pluses and minuses to facing Fitzgerald and Johnson in consecutive weeks. Preparing and dealing with Fitzgerald can help the Eagles defenders be ready for the challenge of dealing with Johnson. On the other hand, Davis’ scheme for dealing with big, talented wideouts is right there on Sunday’s game tape for the Lions staff to dissect.

“There will be some carryover,” outside linebacker Connor Barwin said. “We installed some certain things for big, productive receivers like Fitz. There will obviously be some carryover this week. But it’s not all going to be the same.”

So how did Davis defend Fitzgerald? Let’s just say it took a village. If teams with a shutdown corner try to match him on Johnson all over the field, Davis took the opposite approach. Nine different Eagles had primary coverage on Fitzgerald during the course of the game. Along with the obvious guys -- defensive backs Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nate Allen and Patrick Chung -- Davis had all four of his linebackers cover Fitzgerald at different times.

Barwin, especially, lined up across from Fitzgerald as a cornerback. Usually, he was in the slot, but on a couple plays Barwin was basically an outside corner. His job was to jam Fitzgerald, disrupt his route and his timing, then usually give him up to a defensive back.

Trent Cole did surprisingly well on the few times he dropped into coverage with Fitzgerald. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks ran with him on several plays down the middle before quarterback Carson Palmer found Fitzgerald for a first-down completion in the fourth quarter.

Williams slapped one ball away as Fitzgerald attempted to catch it. Fletcher and Allen did a good job limiting his yardage on quick outs. Boykin made the single biggest play, leaping to bat a pass away in the end zone just before the Cardinals’ final touchdown. Chung blanketed Fitzgerald in the end zone on the play in which Roc Carmichael drew a pass interference call at the 1-yard line.

Fitzgerald’s biggest play, of course, was his 43-yard touchdown catch on a third-and-20 play. Boykin had excellent coverage on the play, but he and Chung collided just as the ball arrived. They went down in a heap, allowing Fitzgerald to sprint the last 26 yards untouched.

Palmer threw the ball 41 times. He targeted Fitzgerald eight times, completing five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. That’s not exactly shutting a receiver down, but if the Eagles can limit Johnson to that kind of damage, they’ll have a very real chance of beating Detroit. Johnson is that good.

“The combination of his size and his speed and explosiveness, I don’t think there’s anybody else like that in this league,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “He can just go get the football.”

In other words, Johnson is the best there is. This week, at least.
PHILADELPHIA -- It was a common refrain the past few years, when the Eagles' defense just wasn't the dominating force that it used to be: It didn't have a real impact player, one who had opposing offensive coaches reaching for the antacid tablets.

The past few weeks, the Eagles have had one of those players. The twist is that it's Trent Cole, who was here all along.

Cole had two sacks against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. He has five in his past four games after going eight games without one. If it had seemed that Cole, 31, was on the decline, then the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme apparently finished him off.

[+] EnlargeTrent Cole
AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole had two sacks and forced a fumble against the Cardinals.
But those perceptions weren't really supported by the facts. Cole had a career-low three sacks last season, but that had more to do with the decline of the Eagles in Andy Reid's desultory final season than with Cole himself. And while he admittedly struggled with the demands of his new position, Cole's commitment to the change and his innate athleticism have paid off.

"I do think Trent has played at a high level the whole year," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "The sack numbers, to me, we put way too much on that. Sometimes the best rusher, the best pass rush doesn't get the sack. It gets the quarterback moved off the spot, and then a guy that might have had a horrible pass rush gets the sack. When we watch film week in and week out, who is disrupting or moving the quarterback off the spot the most, Trent is one of our leaders. He moves the quarterback off his spot."

Analytic and scouting website named Cole the Eagles' MVP from Sunday's 24-21 win over the Cardinals. He forced a Carson Palmer fumble with a sack on the Cards' first possession. He got to Palmer again late in the game. In between, Cole was virtually unstoppable when he rushed the passer.

Watching the game again, with a focus on Cole, was telling. PFF had Cole with 29 rushes on his 71 snaps. He didn't make many plays in the run game, but that's because the Cardinals constantly ran to their right, away from Cole and defensive end Fletcher Cox.

Davis doesn't ask Cole to drop into coverage too often, but he acquitted himself well there, too. He got beat on a first-down catch by Arizona tight end Rob Housler, but he ran with Larry Fitzgerald on two plays. He set the edge on the run effectively and tied up blockers a couple of times when defensive backs blitzed from his side.

But Cole's game is getting to the quarterback, and he remains a relentless pass-rusher. Davis has been smart enough to adapt his scheme to his players' strengths. By my count, Cole lined up with his hand on the ground as a defensive end (and in two cases, as a defensive tackle) 16 times. Both of his sacks came on plays when his hand was on the ground.

Mixing in a little familiarity with the new stuff is simply good coaching, putting the player ahead of the scheme.

Pro Football Focus credited Cole with a hit and five hurries of Palmer. There were a half-dozen plays where Cole was a half-step from getting to the quarterback when the ball was released. He's getting the hang of this new defense, to say the least.

"I learned the way the 3-4 defense goes, everybody has to be disciplined," Cole said. "Everybody has to do their assignment. One mess-up can cost us the game. I think everybody is playing well together, we're learning each other. I'm getting comfortable, and my pace is speeding up. I'm playing fast."

It shows up on film enough to boost antacid sales in a few NFL cities.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 13

December, 2, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- A look at four issues from the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-21 win against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

[+] EnlargeNate Allen
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoEagles safety Nate Allen did his best to keep Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check during their Week 13 game Sunday.
Foles is lucky as well as good. Nick Foles needs to throw just two more touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning's NFL record of 20 touchdown passes without an interception. Foles also broke teammate Michael Vick's team record of 224 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Going back to late last year, Foles has thrown 233 pick-free passes.

That's all good. But luck came in when he threw an ill-advised pass as he was being hit in the fourth quarter. The ball landed in the hands of Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, but the interception was negated by a holding penalty on safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It definitely was a mistake by me," Foles said. "I was happy there was a penalty that kept our drive going. It wasn't a smart decision." It was the kind of decision that can turn a game around. Luck kept that from happening.

"That's just the game of football," Foles said. "It's a crazy game, and things happen."

Nate Allen isn't Brian Dawkins, but that's OK. Allen, the fourth-year safety from South Florida, made a nice break on an underthrown Carson Palmer pass for an early interception. Allen was part of an egregiously bad secondary the past two years and has not exactly been a huge fan favorite. But his improved play has been a big part of the defense's development.

"He's one of the hardest workers in the building," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It means so much to him. He's motivated because he hasn't had the success and everyone has been on him for a couple years here. Everyone wanted him to be Brian Dawkins and now everybody's kind of letting him be Nate Allen."

Fitzgerald? Check. Megatron? The Eagles' defense did a decent enough job on Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Each caught a touchdown pass. Fitzgerald caught five passes for 72 yards, Floyd five for 99. Those are very good numbers, but neither could break open the game. That's encouraging, because the Eagles defenders get Detroit's Calvin Johnson here next Sunday.

"Those guys stepped up and took on the challenge of playing this top receiving group," Davis said. "There's a lot of times they were one-on-one. Throughout the game, I was mixing in [coverages], but there were a lot of snaps that were, 'Hey, get your man.'"

Davis often had linebacker Connor Barwin lined up directly across from Fitzgerald, especially in the slot. Barwin was able to get a more physical jam on Fitzgerald at the line before giving him up to a defensive back to cover.

The NFC playoff picture is a little clearer after this. The Eagles earned a tiebreaker over Arizona should they wind up with the same record in the wild-card race. Sunday's win also keeps them within a game of San Francisco (8-4), which is currently in position to earn the second wild card. Chicago's loss to Minnesota leaves the Bears at 6-6, a game behind Detroit. The Eagles face those three NFC North teams over the next three weeks -- Detroit and Chicago at home, with Minnesota on the road in the middle.

The Eagles' best shot at the playoffs remains in beating Dallas (7-5) for the NFC East title, but the Cowboys are one of the teams with a realistic shot at a wild card.
Trent Cole AP Photo/Michael PerezTrent Cole accounted for two of the Eagles five sacks on Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer.

PHILADELPHIA -- It is all about offense in the NFL, right up until the moment your defense is on the field trying to protect a fourth-quarter lead.

Offense drives fantasy leagues. Offense benefits from virtually every change in the league's rules. Offense gets head coaches like Chip Kelly their jobs.

In the Eagles' past two games, Kelly's potent offense put 24 points on the scoreboard to build big leads. And then, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter, Kelly's offense stood helpless on the sideline and hoped the defense would save the day.

"We'll take it," outside linebacker Trent Cole said. "We'll take it all day. It doesn't matter what the situation is. If it's on us, we're going to go out there and do what we have to do. It doesn't matter if they back us up on the 5-yard line. We have to go out there and stop them."

The Eagles stopped Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals one last time Sunday to preserve a 24-21 victory. It was the second home win in a row for Philadelphia and the second in which a big second-half lead was in peril in the final minutes.

"I thought the defense literally won the game today," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "To stop a team that was that hot, that had scored a couple touchdowns back to back and to hold them -- what was that a three-and-out? A four-and-out? That's a great job."

It was a great job that left the Eagles at 7-5, tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East and solidly in the wild-card race. It also establishes the Eagles as one of the more complete teams in the NFC. They may not belong with elite teams such as Seattle and New Orleans, but they have rallied from a 3-5 midseason record with a big-play offense, solid special teams and an increasingly effective defense.

That plays very well in Philadelphia, where fans appreciate a well-executed touchdown throw, but where defense really gets the adrenalin flowing. As bad as the previous two years were here, the worst of it was watching soft, passionless defense by men wearing the uniform of Reggie White, Brian Dawkins and Bill Bergey.

"This is Eagles football," Cole said after getting to Palmer for two of the Eagles' five sacks. "This is the Eagles football that I know. Being here for nine years, this is how we always did it. And we always won in the Linc. We protected our house."

After losing 10 consecutive games in Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles now have a two-game winning streak here (and four games overall). After getting crushed 52-20 in Denver on Sept. 29, they haven't allowed more than 21 points in their past eight games.

"The guys scrapped and fought and got turnovers and pressured the quarterback," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Our defensive line stepped up and got all kinds of pressure on the quarterback. Our coverage was tight. At the end of the day, we had three more points than they did."

They had 17 more points in the third quarter. Two weeks ago, against Washington, the Eagles had a 24-0 lead in the fourth quarter. Both times, the offense ground to a halt. Kelly's play calling grew conservative and the opposing defense responded by playing with more intensity.

The NFL is all about offense, so there's only so long a defense can hold an opponent in check. Washington scored two touchdowns on fluky plays, made two-point conversions and closed to within 24-16 before Brandon Boykin's interception ended the potential game-tying drive.

After turning the ball over and making other costly mistakes early, Arizona got its offense going for two touchdown drives to make it 24-21 with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter.

Two Arizona defensive penalties gave the Eagles a first down -- and negated what would have been a game-turning interception by Patrick Peterson -- but the offense couldn't run the clock to the two-minute warning. Arizona took over at its own 10 with 2:03 left and two timeouts.

"Against that stout defensive line, it's tough to line up and run the football on them," Kelly said. "It's a good group over there. So again, it's something we need to continue to work on and we've got to get better at."

Until then, it comes down to the defense. For the second game in a row, the defense held. This time, cornerback Bradley Fletcher broke up a fourth-down pass intended for Michael Floyd. There was contact, but Fletcher escaped without drawing a flag.

"It's a timing deal," Fletcher said, "and I was able to do that. We had a blitz on and I was holding my inside leverage and my ground. There was some contact at the break point, and I went and made a play."

It may not be the easiest way to win, but enduring these situations can make the Eagles defense only stronger as the playoff race tightens.

"I like those moments," cornerback Cary Williams said. "It's kind of a bittersweet situation. You never want to be put in those situations, but if you are, you want to play to the best of your ability. It was a great opportunity for us to go out there. We handled our business. We continue to get better in those scenarios. I think the sky's the limit for the defense."

And that defense makes the Eagles a legitimate contender, even in a league that is all about the offense.

Rapid Reaction: Philadelphia Eagles

December, 1, 2013

PHILADELPHIA – Quick thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles24-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

What it means: The Eagles (7-5) have evolved into one of the most complete teams in the NFC, and they are in the thick of the playoff race. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes to lead the offense, while the defense sacked Carson Palmer five times and held an eighth consecutive opponent to 21 points or less. After enduring a 10-game home losing streak, the Eagles have a two-game home winning streak and have won four in a row overall. They are tied with the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East and are in the mix in the wild-card race.

White knuckle syndrome: As big a win as it was for the Eagles, it did raise some concerns. For the second game in a row, they scored 24 points and went into an offensive lull that allowed the opponent to get back in the game. Against Washington two weeks ago, their 24-0 fourth-quarter lead was whittled to 24-16; Robert Griffin III threw a game-ending interception in the red zone, allowing the Eagles to hold on. This time, a 24-7 third-quarter lead shrunk to 24-21 when Palmer threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Jim Dray. Whether it’s play calling or execution, the offense has to put an end to this dangerous trend.

Tight ends turned loose: After getting the ball for the first time on the Arizona 25-yard line thanks to a Palmer fumble, Foles’ first four throws were to tight ends. The fourth was a 6-yard touchdown to rookie Zach Ertz. Foles hit veteran Brent Celek for a 1-yard score in the second quarter and came back to Ertz for a 24-yard touchdown in the third. Ertz and Celek had caught a combined four touchdown passes through the first 11 games. But with the Cardinals' defense focused on stopping LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, coach Chip Kelly countered by utilizing his tight ends.

Stock watch: Rising: Foles. The second-year quarterback was the NFC offensive player of the month after posting a 152.8 passer rating for November, the best rating for a single month in NFL history. Foles began December in fine fashion, completing 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He answered a couple of more questions, too, by playing well against a superior defense and by winning a game against a team with a winning record. Foles took some sacks and missed some throws in the second half as the Arizona defense tried desperately to get back in the game, but he continued to protect the ball and (except for an interception negated by penalty in the fourth quarter) make good decisions.

What’s next: Foles can tie or break Peyton Manning’s record of 20 touchdown passes to begin a season without throwing a single interception. (Foles’ 24-yard touchdown to Ertz was his 19th of the season.) He will get a chance next Sunday, when the Eagles host the Detroit Lions, another NFC contender.
Larry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoyGetty ImagesLarry Fitzgerald and LeSean McCoy will look to keep their teams streaking on Sunday.
Bruce Arians and Chip Kelly come at their news jobs from very different places.

Kelly was the hot college head coach of the moment, hired by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to replace the institution that was Andy Reid. Arians was a college head coach, too, at Temple back in the 1980s. He got his job with the Arizona Cardinals, though, based upon years as an often-overlooked NFL assistant.

And now here they are. Arians’ Cardinals are 7-4 with a four-game winning streak, while Kelly’s Eagles are 6-5 after a three-game winning streak. Their teams meet at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday in a game with major NFC playoff implications. reporters Josh Weinfuss, who covers the Cardinals, and Phil Sheridan, who covers the Eagles, take a closer look at the matchup.

Phil Sheridan: Bruce Arians is best known in Philadelphia as one of the rare coaches to survive a stint at Temple University. Nationally, he’s known for winning the Coach of the Year Award after filling in for Chuck Pagano last year in Indianapolis. How has he conducted business and how much of this four-game winning streak results from that?

Josh Weinfuss: I think all of it. Arians is the ultimate players coach and from everything I’ve heard about him from former players and current Cardinals who were with him in other places, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’ll tell the players like it is and if they can’t handle it, they have to figure out a way to deal with it. He’s not big on the sugarcoating, and the players appreciate it. As a head coach, he’s taken a little bit from each of the coaches he worked for and put it into play in Arizona. He’s learned how to delegate and put together a staff that complements him very well. On top of it all, he’s an offensive genius who stayed patient with this team while they learned his scheme, and it’s paying off.

On the topic of schemes, is Kelly’s high-octane offense here to stay or will he need to adapt as the season progresses?

Sheridan: Probably a little of both. Kelly already has adjusted to some degree. The foundation of his approach seems to be figuring out how a defense is designed to stop his offense and then exploiting whatever weaknesses and mismatches created by that design. When teams played man coverage and pressed to eliminate his bubble screens, Kelly shrugged and started throwing deep. When the Giants and Cowboys found a weakness in his run-blocking scheme, Kelly adjusted and got LeSean McCoy back on track. Kelly seems to enjoy the cat-and-mouse game with opposing coaches. That said, the foundations of what he does -- creating mismatches and exploiting weaknesses -- are as old as football. He just has some intriguing ways of getting there.

While we’re on that side of the ball, how has Todd Bowles been able to win the hearts and minds of a defense that thrived under former coordinator Ray Horton? And how important is having Karlos Dansby back in the fold?

Weinfuss: Bowles made one minor change up front and he’s been the glimmer in the defensive line’s eyes ever since. He went from a multi-gap system to a one-gap scheme, which has taken out the thinking from football. Now, the Cardinals front line can just rear back and go, and the changes are obvious. Darnell Dockett is having his best season in a while, Calais Campbell has emerged as one of the toughest defensive ends in the league and nose tackle Dan Williams has plugged the holes in the middle, forcing plays out to the edges -- and right into the hands of guys like John Abraham, Matt Shaughnessy, Daryl Washington and, of course, Dansby. He’s playing at the lowest weight of his career and he’s been able to fly around, going from sideline to sideline with relative ease for a guy who’s been in this league for 10 years. While everything for the Cardinals’ defense starts up front, each level has been benefiting from the line’s presence.

Let’s stay on defense. The Eagles have the worst pass defense in the league. How can they muster enough plays to slow the Cardinals' recently high-flying passing game under Carson Palmer?

Sheridan: Josh, that could be the question that determines the outcome of this game. The only answer I have is that, somehow, that’s just what the Eagles' defense has been doing in the seven games since Peyton Manning hung 52 points on them. They give up a lot of yards, but they haven’t given up more than 21 points in a game since then. They’ve been good in the red zone and have started generating pressure and, in turn, turnovers. Palmer provides a very good measuring stick. The Eagles have thrived against the Mike Glennons and Scott Tolziens of the world, although in fairness they played well against Eli Manning and Tony Romo, too. But Palmer and that Larry Fitzgerald fellow definitely represent the kind of test the Eagles must pass before being considered a good defense.

Speaking of Palmer, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, there seems to be a Kurt Warner vibe at work here -- veteran guy getting one more shot to prove he still has it. Warner did -- does Palmer? What’s the ceiling on the offense with him at the helm?

Weinfuss: All the evidence from the past four games points to yes -- Palmer does have a Warner-esque resurgence in him, but that’s only because the Cardinals’ offense is finally working. If it was still struggling, we’d be talking about Palmer being replaced either now or after the season. Crazy how that works. Palmer is the perfect quarterback for a Bruce Arians scheme. He has a big arm and can make throws on a dime. And those two things will carry this offense as far as it can until Palmer makes bad decisions. Even though the bad decisions have been cut down during the Cards’ four-game winning streak, it would be na´ve of anybody to think they’re totally done with. Arizona is just getting lucky. Twice against the Colts, Palmer had probable interceptions dropped, and against Jacksonville two weeks ago, a well-timed timeout by Arians saved Palmer from a potentially costly interception. If Palmer can take chances without making ill-advised throws, the ceiling is quite high, especially with the depth at receiver, tight end and running back.

A lot of University of Arizona fans out this way are loving the fact that Nick Foles is starting and playing well. Is he Mr. Right for the Eagles in Kelly’s offense or Mr. Right Now?

Sheridan: That’s the question that will haunt the Eagles through the offseason. Foles has had some of the luck you described Palmer having. That seven-touchdown game against Oakland was partly the product of some of the worst defensive football I’ve ever seen (and I watched Nnamdi Asomugha jog through two years here). But Foles is smart, he’s accurate and you can see him gaining confidence and comfort with every game. Clearly, he is not the quarterback Chip Kelly would order from the factory. But as he continues having success and winning games, you have to wonder how far Kelly is willing to tailor his offense to Foles for the long haul. It’s the decision that will define the Kelly era, at least for the next few years. My gut says Foles is a good NFL quarterback, but Kelly will make a move to find his guy at the earliest possible convenience. If Foles keeps this up, though, my gut might be proven wrong.

Cards game becomes big test for Eagles

November, 28, 2013
PHILADELPHIA – Funny thing, the NFL schedule. It stays exactly the same, but looks completely different depending on when you look at it.

In the spring, Sunday’s matchup with the Arizona Cardinals didn’t exactly jump out at fans of the Philadelphia Eagles. The opener at Washington did. That game in Green Bay was daunting. And of course the season finale at Dallas loomed large. But the Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 13?

Now that Week 13 is here, this game is a big one in every sense for the Eagles. The Cardinals (7-4) are another team with a first-year head coach looking for a way into the playoffs. It is the first game of the season in which Nick Foles officially is the Eagles’ No. 1 quarterback. And, as fate and the schedule-makers would have it, the Cards are almost perfectly designed to test every facet of the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Drew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty ImagesLeSean McCoy will face one of the NFL's toughest run defenses.
The highlights:

* The Cardinals' defense is very good against the run, and the Eagles' offense starts with LeSean McCoy.

“They’re a very stingy defense,” McCoy said. “They’re a good group. I’m not sure if they’ll be the best defense we face, but they’re definitely one of them.”

The Eagles' offense has had two truly poor games, failing to score a single touchdown in back-to-back home games against Dallas and the Giants. McCoy was held under 60 yards rushing in both games. That isn’t coincidental.

McCoy had only 44 rushing yards in a 49-20 win in Oakland, but that was a case of Chip Kelly choosing not to run the ball, not of the Eagles being unable to run the ball.

* The Eagles' defense has been vastly improved, but when it struggled, it was against veteran quarterbacks with big-time receivers. Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald will be an acid test of the defense’s progress.

“[Palmer] is playing his best football I've seen in years,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “His offense in the last four weeks … is as explosive and hitting on all cylinders as we've faced in a while now. It would be our biggest challenge of the last five, six weeks.”

Davis also called Fitzgerald “probably still the best receiver in the league,” an evaluation that may change next week after he studies tape of Calvin Johnson.

The Eagles' defense has continued to give up enormous yardage but has done well in the red zone and limited scoring. Palmer, Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cards’ weapons will test that formula.

* Foles has had some good fortune – underthrown balls becoming touchdowns, defensive backs falling down – on his side during his player-of-the-month November. The Cardinals can blitz, tackle and cover with the best of them.

“They've got Pro Bowl players all over the place,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “They're big, they're physical, they like to pressure and they challenge everything. … Their blitz percentage has been pretty consistent no matter who they've played or what style of offense. So I think they believe in pressuring. They trust their corners in their ability to cover, whether it's a man pressure or some kind of a fire zone.”

Blitzing presents challenges and opportunities in equal measure. If Foles can move the ball against arguably the toughest defense he’s faced this season, that would be another step in his development.

* Finally, the Eagles have to re-establish the Linc as their home field. They snapped their 10-game home losing streak against Washington. A home winning streak – with three of four at home against NFC contenders – would go a long way toward earning them a playoff berth.

Arizona is coming off a big home win against Indianapolis. The Cards are traveling west to east for a game that probably didn’t look all that important to them when their schedule came out. The Eagles failed a similar test against San Diego early in the season. If they’ve really made progress, they’ll find a way to pass this time.

Davis, Bowles have similar stories

November, 26, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Good coaches get fired all the time in the NFL. For proof of that, look no further than Sunday’s game between the Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals.

Todd Bowles, fired by the Eagles for his thankless role in Andy Reid’s final season, is the defensive coordinator of the red-hot Cardinals. A year after trying to salvage the mess left when Reid fired Juan Castillo and line coach Jim Washburn in season, Bowles is the architect of a top-10 defense -- No. 1 against the run.

Bill Davis, fired by the Cardinals after two years as coordinator under Ken Whisenhunt, has the Eagles defense playing better every week. The Eagles have won three games in a row, the Cardinals have won four, and their defensive coaches have a lot to do with it.

[+] EnlargeBill Davis
AP Photo/Matt RourkeBill Davis' next task is slowing down a Cardinals offense that has been picking up steam lately.
The two men walked into very different situations. Bowles took over a very good defense from a very good coach, Ray Horton. His task was to meet relatively high expectations, and he’s done that.

“There was obviously a bulls-eye on [Bowles'] chest the minute he walked in the door,” Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said earlier this month in an interview on Arizona Sports 620-AM radio. “Todd has really stepped up to the plate and done a fantastic job for us.”

Davis, meanwhile, inherited a mess and was tasked with teaching an entirely different style of defense. Expectations were low, especially early, but they are rising with each solid performance of Davis’ squad.

“I like where we are in our stage,” Davis said last week. “But we are so far from the finish line, so far from being a defense we want to be.”

Davis was the linebackers coach on Whisenhunt’s staff when the Cardinals went to the Super Bowl five years ago. (You may recall they beat the Eagles in the NFC title game to get there.) Whisenhunt fired his defensive coordinator, Clancy Pendergrast, after that season and promoted Davis. Two years later, Davis became the scapegoat for a 5-11 season.

“We built a team that got them to the Super Bowl, which was neat,” Davis said. “Then we took a hard dive. You kind of see how slippery the slope is in the profession of NFL coaching. Tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody. It can turn on you so quick.”

And it can turn back just as quickly. After two years on Pat Shurmur’s staff in Cleveland, Davis got fired again. This time, he got a chance to interview with Chip Kelly for a coordinator spot.

“You never really lose confidence in yourself,” Davis said. “There's so many factors. You take any team, any offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, special teams -- you can see where is their roster as far as how far along are they in a championship team. I think there's a lot of great coaches that are struggling right now.”

He and Bowles are two coaches enjoying success at the moment after experiencing failure that wasn’t entirely of their making.

"[Bowles] was put in a tough situation,” Keim said in the radio interview. “He wasn't running his defense and didn't have time to install the defensive philosophy he had. But he's had some time here and feel we can continue to grow and get better on that side of the ball.”

The two coaches will cross paths at Lincoln Financial Field Sunday. Bowles’ top-ranked run defense will try to stop LeSean McCoy, the league’s leading rusher. Davis’ still evolving defense will have to find a way to cover Larry Fitzgerald and get pressure on veteran quarterback Carson Palmer.

It is a game with playoff implications for both teams. That wouldn’t be the case if Davis and Bowles weren’t both good NFL coaches.