The Philadelphia Eagles face one of their toughest tests of the 2013 season when they host the surging Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. To stay in contention in the NFC East, Chip Kelly will need to find a way to outduel Bruce Arians, who has done an extraordinary job in his first season with his squad.
What may decide the game is Nick Foles’ ability to pick apart the underrated Cardinals defense. Led by Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson, Arizona comes to town riding a four-game winning streak. The Cardinals have allowed an average of just 15.5 points per game over the last month, and they rate in the top 10 in the league in both total defense and scoring defense.
What Arizona did to Andrew Luck last week was remarkable, holding the MVP candidate to just 163 passing yards on 39 attempts. Foles will have to play terrific for four quarters, but he’s not the only Eagle who needs to turn in a strong performance.
Philadelphia will have to be clicking on offense, defense and special teams, and this game could very well come down to the outcomes of any one of the following five individual matchups.
DeSean Jackson vs. Patrick Peterson should be billed as one of the matchups of the week, and the winner of this could easily decide the game.
Jackson has elite speed and the ability to take the top off of any defense. He’s a one-trick pony, but he’s played at more of an all-around level this season. Jackson is on pace for career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
He faces an extremely talented corner in Peterson, one who has played at an extremely inconsistent level for 2013. Peterson got beat for two touchdowns by Calvin Johnson and two more by Andre Johnson. In all, the six touchdowns he’s surrendered leads all cornerbacks.
But Peterson was downright unbeatable from games three through five, allowing as total of six catches and 73 passing yards in those contests.
Peterson certainly has the speed to keep up with Jackson. He shut him down a year ago, holding Jackson to just two catches for 29 yards in a 27-6 win (Jackson did record a 14-yard reception with linebacker Paris Lenon in coverage).
Like many Eagles games, this may come down to whether or not Jackson can break a deep score. Philly is 15-3 all time when Jackson catches a touchdown of at least 35 yards.
Jason Peters isn’t the MVP-caliber offensive tackle he was in 2011, pre-Achilles injury. But he’s still a top-tier player at his position, one capable of providing a significant impact both as a pass-blocker and run-blocker.
Peters gets a tough matchup this weekend when he faces Pro Bowl 5-technique end Campbell, arguably the best 3-4 end in the game not named J.J. Watt. Peters can get to the second level with ease, and he’s a major reason the Eagles have the finest run-blocking unit in the NFL this season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Opening holes for LeSean McCoy in the running game will be key for the Eagles to win the game, and it starts with Peters and Evan Mathis on the left side of the line.
Even in his eighth NFL season, DeMeco Ryans is still playing at a high level. He’s making a push for a Pro Bowl spot, and he’s the unquestioned quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles defense.
Ryans is leading the team in tackles (76). He’s tied for second with two interceptions, and he’s the first Eagles linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter in 2001 with multiple sacks and picks in the same season. Ryans is the key to the team slowing down the Arizona Cardinals rushing attack, led by rookie Andre Ellington.
Ellington has averaged 6.0 yards per carry this season, topping out with an 80-yard touchdown run. He’s doubling Rashard Mendenhall in terms of yards per rush, and the Cardinals will likely increase his workload as the season goes on.
Foles has been arguably the hottest quarterback in the NFL over the past three weeks. He set an all-time league record by posting a 152.7 passer rating in the month of November, and he’s 5-1 in games this season in which he’s seen significant action.
Foles gets probably his toughest matchup of the season when he faces the Arizona Cardinals. Arizona’s defense ranks in the top 10 in both scoring and total yards allowed, and they have two playmaking corners in Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu.
Each is capable of pick-sixing Foles on any given play. Foles still hasn’t thrown an interception yet this season, as he’s at a remarkable 18 scores to zero picks. Foles is on pace to set the single-season record for passer rating, although the Cardinals will be a much tougher test than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Washington Redskins.
The Cardinals are ninth in defensive passer rating allowed this season, per Cold Hard Football Facts. They blitz more than any team in the league, and they have a tough front seven. If Foles can pick apart this defense, he’s the real deal.
In a late-career move to outside linebacker, Trent Cole has played surprisingly well. Per Pro Football Focus’ ratings (subscription required), he’s the sixth-best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league this season.
He’s registered 22 pressures as a pass-rusher, and he’s actually rated as the best player at his position versus the run. That’s a really underrated all-around campaign by Cole, who gets himself an extremely easy battle this Sunday.
Cole faces Bradley Sowell, an underachieving second-year offensive tackle who is best suited on the bench. Sowell has yielded 25 quarterback pressures in his past seven games, and he’s an equally ineffective run-blocker. Sowell was thrust into a starting spot when the Cardinals traded career-bust Levi Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he’s not a reason for the team’s recent winning streak.
With how well Cole has been playing over the past several games, it’s not unreasonable to think he gets two or more sacks in this contest.