Well, it's that time again. With the upcoming battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, two teams both at 5-1, we will do some more previewing with the "enemy," Bleeding Green Nation, our Eagles team site.
I asked lead writer Brandon Gowton some questions and he was kind enough to oblige.
Philly got the best of the Cardinals last season, including with some questionable calls late. How did Eagles fans react to win? Did they fell lucky to get the win? Did they think the talk of the calls sound like sour grapes? And how different is this year's team than last year's?
I think Eagles fans felt really great after that Arizona win. It was the team's best win at that point in terms of opponent quality. With that said, fans saw how close that game came to being a loss for Philadelphia. Nick Foles was fortunate to have a costly interception called back due to a defensive holding penalty late in the game. There was also a debatable non-call pass interference on Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher late as well.
It's not like Philadelphia got by with a fluke win, either, they deserved to win that one. They forced the Cardinals to turn the ball over three times. The Eagles were on a three game winning streak heading into that game. But the way Bruce Arians reacted to those penalties did give off the vibe of sour grapes. The reality is that there were bad calls on both sides, just like any game. The Eagles were penalized 5 times for 48 yards and the Cardinals were flagged 6 times for 55 yards. It's not as if there was some huge discrepancy. Some calls went against Philadelphia as well. Former Eagles player DeSean Jackson had a punt return touchdown called back on a questionable penalty.
Speaking of Jackson, his absence is just one of the ways the Eagles are different this season. Jackson was a big play threat but Chip Kelly decided he wasn't worth dealing with off the field. The Eagles replaced some of Jackson's play-making ability with veteran running back Darren Sproles, who has been crucial for a Philadelphia offense that has dealt with some struggles. A lot of those struggles can been attributed to a banged up offensive line and shaky play from quarterback Nick Foles. Foles just hasn't taken care of the ball like he did last season.
Arizona has the league's best rush defense right now. How does the Philly rushing attack look this year and how optimistic are you that Philly can run the ball successfully?
Up until the Eagles-Giants game in Week 6, LeSean McCoy hadn't broke the 100 yard rushing mark all season. The run game was struggling, and a lot of that was due to the fact Philadelphia was (and still is) missing of their best run blockers up front on the offensive line. The run game looked rejuvenated against New York and McCoy went for 149 yards on 22 carries (6.77 average). It remains to be seen if the Eagles can sustain that success, and the Arizona run defense will be a great test for them. With that said, I think the Cardinals can keep McCoy in check but I don't think they can shut him down completely like other teams did earlier in the season.
Nick Foles has seen a dropoff in his play from last year. What is the explanation?
Part of Foles' lackluster play has been natural regression. There was just no way he was only going to throw two interceptions again over the course of the season. But regression isn't the only reason. Foles hasn't performed well under pressure this year and he's had to deal with pressure a fair bit due to a banged up offensive line. He has struggled with accuracy, especially on deep throws. Too often he's drifting horizontally instead of stepping up in the pocket. Heading into the bye week, Foles was just one of eight quarterbacks to complete less than 60% of his passes and average lower than 7.0 yards per attempt. The other seven quarterbacks include: E.J. Manuel, Matt Cassel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Chad Henne, and Arizona's own Drew Stanton.
Foles looked like he started to break out of struggles against the Giants before throwing two really bad interceptions. Outside of those big mistakes, he played well, so perhaps there's hope moving forward.
How does the defense look now in Year 2 of Billy Davis?
Surprisingly underrated are the two words I would use to describe the Eagles defense. Philadelphia's defensive unit has apparent weaknesses (secondary outside of Malcolm Jenkins) and they have been far from perfect this season. With that said, they have shown some progress. There are some real positives to be found. For one, Philadelphia has now forced a turnover in 19 straight games, which is the longest streak in the NFL. The Eagles pass rush was a major concern heading into the season but the unit has produced 16 sacks in the past three games alone. Philadelphia's defense ranks 8th overall in the Football Outsiders Defense DVOA metric. It's an above average unit.
Which matchup do you most look forward to seeing and which has you most worried?
The most worrying match-up is definitely LeSean McCoy versus a top-ranked run defense, as previously discussed. If the run game doesn't get going it'll be that much more pressure on Nick Foles to step up and attack Arizona through the air. The Eagles need to establish the run to some extent.
The most favorable match-up for the Eagles, coincidentally, is their run defense against Arizona's running backs. Philadelphia can stop the run and that'll mean Carson Palmer will have to step up. With the Eagles pass rush looking red hot in recent weeks, Palmer could find himself under pressure.
Editor's Note: FanDuel is hosting a $500,000 one-week fantasy football league this weekend. It's $10 to join and first place wins $40,000. League starts Sunday 1 PM ET and ends on Monday night. Here's the link.
State laws prohibit residents of Arizona from playing FanDuel for money. For more info check FanDuel rules here.