Cardinals vs. Eagles: 3 keys to an Arizona Week 13 win over Philadelphia

Norm Hall

Three keys to the Cardinals success this Sunday, a matchup to watch against the Eagles and the potential of holding a Philly fan to his word.

This week's three keys to an Arizona Cardinals win are special. Not because it's an important road game against the Philadelphia Eagles and improving to 8-4 greatly improves Arizona's playoff chances, but because someone will be held to his word if and when it happens.

But we'll get to that; first, let's discuss this game.

The Cardinals (7-4) are one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now, having won four straight games by an average of greater than two touchdowns. The offense is finally complimenting the stellar defensive play, and it's turned Arizona into a scary-good team.

The Eagles (6-5) are riding a three-game winning streak of their own and have demolished opponents by an average of 17 points per game. The difference for them has been second-year quarterback Nick Foles, who has thrown 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. Foles leads the NFL with his 128.0 passer rating.

The key to both offenses' recent success has been the passing game, and that will be the key this week for the winner of this game.

Here are the keys to a Cardinals victory over the Eagles.

Let's see the Palmer of late

As just mentioned, the passing game will be the key to winning this matchup -- on both sides of the ball, but especially from Carson Palmer.

Carson Palmer since Week 8
Week Team Comp Att Comp% Yards YPA TD INT Rate
8 ATL 13 18 72.22% 172 9.56 2 1 116.0
10 HOU 20 32 62.50% 241 7.53 2 1 93.4
11 JAX 30 42 71.43% 419 9.98 2 0 119.0
12 IND 26 37 70.27% 314 8.49 2 0 114.0
Total 89 129 68.99% 1,146 8.88 8 2 110.8

His past four games have been nothing short of brilliant. Since Week 8, Palmer is the fourth-highest-rated passer in the league, boasting a 110.8 passer rating; he's completed 69.0 percent of his passes for an average of 286.5 yards per game and thrown eight touchdowns to just two interceptions over that time.

Philadelphia has the worst pass defense in the league, allowing a hair over 300 yards per game. Its defense also has trouble sacking opposing quarterbacks -- it is tied for 24th with 24 sacks on the season. The Eagles are sixth in total pressures (232), but like a teen on a first date, they don't know what to do once they get there.

Palmer has done a better job of throwing on the move lately, even wiggling out of a sack or two in the process. You've all heard he's not a mobile quarterback, and you've heard the "statue in the pocket" reference. No, he's not mobile by today's definition.

A term I love is functional mobility.

That describes Palmer perfectly. He won't make things happen with his legs when coverage is tight and protection breaks down, but he can avoid a sack and make the outside-the-pocket throw just fine, thank you.

That will be needed in Philly. We must see the Palmer of late, because if he resorts to first-half-of-the-season Palmer, the Cardinals will not win this game.

More of Mendenhall circa Week 12

In what was the surprise of the game, running back Rashard Mendenhall was his spry old self against the Indianapolis Colts. He carried 13 times for 54 yards (4.2 YPC) and added a nifty 24-yard reception on a swing pass.

What was so impressive about Mendenhall last week was the explosiveness with which he ran. He looked like the 1,000-yard back head coach Bruce Arians fell in love with while the two were in Pittsburgh together.

It's clear Arians will stick with Mendenhall as his starter and go-to back when the offense needs three yards. After last week's performance, there's no reason for any change right now. If it continues, the offense could take off even more than it has the past four games when it averaged 30 points per game.

Make Philly one-dimensional

Taking away All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy is nearly as important as stopping Foles. By that same token, halting McCoy should make it easier to slow down Foles and the Eagles' passing attack.

The Cardinals are the NFC's best run defense, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry and 81.3 yards per game overall. They have allowed only one 100-yard rushing performance this season -- Frank Gore in a Week 6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers -- and just three rushing touchdowns to running backs.

The Eagles are a great run-blocking team, so this will be no walk in the park. But getting penetration is not a lost cause. Philly has 21 rushes of negative-three yards or more this season -- No. 1 in the NFL -- and McCoy leads all rushers with 15 such rushes. (Stats according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.)

Why does that happen?

McCoy is fast, but he is by no means a North-and-South runner. He will run sideline-to-sideline in an attempt to find a running lane, and it bites him in the rear end at times.

The Cardinals have the best run defense in the conference because they are the best at staying home on assignments and very rarely over-pursue a back. That will be more than important this week, as McCoy is sure to get fancy in the backfield.

Forcing Foles into obvious passing situations means defensive ends Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett, as well as outside linebacker John Abraham, can pin their ears back and come in "with a dark heart and a painted face," as Cardinals' radio personality Ron Wolfley likes to say.

Matchup to watch: Patrick Peterson vs. DeSean Jackson

It's not rocket science; when Patrick Peterson shuts down the opposition's top receiver, it helps the rest of the defense perform better. And you're dreaming if you think DeSean Jackson's 13 receptions for 312 yards (24.0 YPC) and two touchdowns has nothing to do with Philly winning its last three contests.

DeSean Jackson in 2013
Game Result Rec RPG Yards YPG TD
Win (6) 33 5.5 615 102.5 6
Loss (5) 25 5.0 370 74.0 1
Total (11) 58 5.3 985 89.5 7

As you can see from the chart above, Jackson impacts the game far more in wins than he does in losses.

Peterson has been beaten by bigger, more physical No. 1 receivers this season -- Calvin and Andre Johnson combined to gather eight receptions for 129 yards and four touchdowns against Peterson in their teams' respective losses to the Cardinals earlier this season. But smaller speedsters are not usually an issue for the two-time Pro Bowler.

Peterson faced Jackson almost exclusively in last season's 27-6 beatdown of Michael Vick and the Eagles, allowing two receptions on five targets for 29 yards (14.5 YPC). Jackson had only three receptions for 43 yards (14.3 YPC) overall.

Two of the fastest and most athletic players in the NFL going at it. What's not to like about this matchup?

Holding a fan to his word?

"Come Dec. 1, if [the Eagles] do not beat the damn Cardinals [...] I'm punching in this window (points to bedroom window). [...] Let us lose the game. I guarantee you this window will not be here after that game, let us lose -- you think I'm playing."

And there you have it. If the Cardinals go into Lincoln Financial Field and beat the Eagles this weekend, the gentleman in the video below will punch in (out?) his bedroom window. Video or it didn't happen, sir.


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