The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the hottest teams in football. And now that they've proven they can slay fellow playoff-caliber opponents like the Arizona Cardinals, the Eagles are quickly becoming a team that could stomp all over the expected NFC playoff spread, now and in January.
In ending the Cardinals' four-game winning streak while reaching a four-game run of their own Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles had two takeaways on their first two defensive possessions, three in total, winning the turnover battle 3-0 while recording a season-high five sacks and getting another superb game from new franchise quarterback Nick Foles.
Against the league's top-rated defense dating back to Week 8, Foles threw three touchdowns, zero interceptions and posted a passer rating in the triple digits for the sixth time in seven games.
The Eagles undoubtedly had some calls go their way, especially in the fourth quarter, but they still outplayed a very hot, very talented Arizona team. It was their first victory this season against a team that currently owns a winning record, which should finally have critics realizing that Chip Kelly's team is a legitimate postseason threat.
It starts with Foles, who has now gone a team-record 233 passes without throwing an interception. A defensive holding call negated what would have been his first pick of the year on Sunday, but if he learns from that poor decision he'll only become more effective going forward.
Two more touchdown throws without an interception and he'll become the first quarterback in NFL history to possess a 21-to-0 touchdown-to-pick ratio, bettering Peyton Manning's record from earlier this season.
Foles was the 88th pick in last year's draft, but he's become the most successful quarterback in a draft class that was loaded with talent at that position. The top pick in said draft, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck, completed only 51.3 percent of his passes for only 163 yards in a blowout loss to that very same Arizona team one week ago.
|Where Nick Foles ranks|
|Comp. %||TD-INT ratio||YPA||Passer rating|
|2013 season||63.3 (11th)||19-0 (1st)||9.1 (1st)||125.2 (1st)|
|Pro Football Reference|
Foles leads the league—and every quarterback in NFL history—with a passer rating of 125.2. He's obviously also ranked first when it comes to touchdown-to-interception ratio and is the league's only qualifying quarterback with a yards-per-attempt average above 9.0.
The 24-year-old Arizona product has a league-high 12 touchdowns and, obviously, zero interceptions on deep passes, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). As a result, this is a big-play offense that despite being ranked eighth in the league in scoring is actually doing much bigger things than people realize.
It's the little things. Foles possesses the kind of pocket presence predecessor, Michael Vick, could only dream of. He might not be a constant running threat, but he's just mobile enough to keep defenses honest on zone-read plays. He also gets rid of the ball two tenths of a second faster than Vick, per PFF, which in NFL terms is monumental.
What's also scary is that Foles seems to be adding weapons. When Vick was under center, it was all about Pro Bowlers LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson. But then Foles took over and suddenly Riley Cooper was living up to his potential...and then some.
Sunday, Foles and Kelly simply took advantage of the matchups. With strong Arizona corners Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu locking down on Jackson out wide and Jason Avant in the slot, Foles adapted and shifted the focus to Cooper as well as tight ends Zach Ertz and Brent Celek, both of whom had largely been ignored earlier this season.
The rookie Ertz—who Kelly notes is "getting better and better each week"—scored twice, tripling his career touchdown tally, while posting a career-high 68 yards on five receptions. Celek chipped in with four grabs and the third touchdown. Jackson went over the 1,000-yard mark, but he and Avant were only targeted nine times. Ertz, Celek, Cooper and McCoy were thrown at on a combined 23 occasions.
But you have to be even more shocked by the defense, which was historically bad in 2012 and wasn't expected to be any better while making a transition to the 3-4 in 2013. New coordinator Bill Davis, though, has gotten the absolute most out of a unit that isn't overflowing with talent.
|Eagles defense, 2013|
|Weeks 1-4||34.5 (31st)||6.0 (27th)||5 (22nd)|
|Since Week 5||17.9 (6th)||5.3 (14th)||17 (3rd)|
|Pro Football Reference|
Take safety Nate Allen, who was assaulted by digital pitchforks as he struggled each of the last two years. Now Allen, who had a huge interception against the Cards, is playing the best football of his career.
This D is ranked 31st in terms of yards allowed, but that's an overrated metric, and a deceiving statistic. Remember that the up-tempo Philly offense ranks dead last in terms of time of possession, which means Davis' unit spends more time on the field than any other defense in football.
They've been on the field for a league-high 892 plays but have surrendered only 5.5 yards per play, which ranks close to the middle of the pack. The league average in that category is 5.4.
Regardless, this is a bend-but-don't-break D. The Eagles are the only team in football that hasn't given up more than 21 points dating all the way back to Week 5, and that's because they have the sixth-best red-zone defense in the NFL, per TeamRankings.com, while also ranking third in the league with 17 takeaways during that stretch.
Unsurprisingly, Philly is 6-2 overall since the beginning of that run. Their plus-9 turnover margin is only one back of Carolina, San Francisco and Tampa Bay, which is quite amazing when you consider that, during that time frame, rookie quarterback Matt Barkley has been responsible for five turnovers on just 77 snaps. Take that away and you're looking at the most efficient team in football since the start of October, and it isn't even close.
Consider, too, that this D had only 13 takeaways all of last season, which is the second-lowest 16-game total in NFL history, and Davis might be the coordinator of the year.
Allen has been a pleasant surprise, but he's not alone. Now, the team's decision to part ways with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in favor of Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher in the offseason looks brilliant.
Neither Williams nor Fletcher is perfect fundamentally, and both are beatable. But they're physical, aggressive playmakers, which has helped this team in that all-important turnover realm. Williams, Fletcher and Brandon Boykin have a combined eight interceptions, which is as many as the Eagles had as a team in 2012.
Offseason pickup Connor Barwin has also eased that transition to the 3-4 D, but you've gotta give some credit to Kelly's predecessor, Andy Reid, who in 2012 at least played a part in drafting Boykin (team-leading four picks as the nickel corner), Fletcher Cox (second-highest PFF grade on the roster) and, on the offensive side of the ball, Foles.
In fact, the top six highest-rated defensive players on the roster, according to PFF, were left-over from the Reid era. Leading that list is veteran pass-rusher Trent Cole, who's been a stud against the run and has five sacks in his last four games.
With Cole, Barwin and the underrated Brandon Graham in the linebacking corps, that pass rush has finally begun to arrive of late, which is another reason why the Eagles are starting to scare us.
Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked five times and pressured on 25 of his 48 dropbacks Sunday, which is better than 50 percent. The Eagles have nine sacks in their last two games after recording just 11 in the preceding seven.
You can see that Davis is really getting a feel for his personnel and is drawing up some very effective blitzes. In fact, the personnel itself looks a hell of a lot more comfortable. Cole and Graham have finally adjusted to their new roles and the 3-4 transition has seemingly been a success.
"It's all coming together," DeMeco Ryans said Sunday, per NFL.com's Mike Silver. "(The Cooper scandal) was a make-or-break point for our team -- we were trying to come together with a new coaching staff -- and of course it was tough at first. It lingered for a while, but we put it behind us.
"Chip's a true player's coach, and I like the fact that we have great chemistry. It's really like a true brotherhood. We're playing team ball and having fun, and we'll see where it takes us."
Show me where this team is vulnerable.
Maybe the pass protection? Foles was sacked five teams Sunday, but Jason Peters is still a pillar and the interior of that offensive line is as steady as they come.
Maybe Foles is the biggest concern, and their top strength is also their top risk. Maybe it's only a matter of time before he makes a back-breaking mistake like the one he was saved from Sunday when a Peterson interception was negated by a defensive holding call.
But right now, the sailing is pretty smooth in all areas. And they should only get better as that adjustment to a new offense and a new defense progresses.
Yeah, they've become quite the threat, especially when you consider that unprecedented tempo, which is very difficult to prepare for. Throw in that the Eagles are remarkably healthy and it appears they're peaking as December gets underway.
With that in mind, this is not the type of team anybody wants to face going forward.
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