WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
In his first start of the year for an injured Kolb (1706 passing yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), Skelton had an up-and-down outing against St. Louis. Arizona managed just 58 yards in the first half and Skelton and the Cardinals handed the Rams four points on back-to-back safeties. Still, the second-year quarterback found Fitzgerald (38 receptions, 3 TD) for a 13-yard touchdown pass with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Skelton also led the Cardinals with 38 yards on four carries as running back Beanie Wells (526 rushing yards, 7 TD) continued to battle a knee injury while posting 20 yards on 10 carries. Wells has been a solid contributor to Arizona’s 25th-ranked offense when healthy and is one shy of his career high for touchdowns in a season. While Skelton was far from perfect, Arizona did not have a turnover last weekend for the first time all year and the backup improved to 3-0 at home as a starter. He also targeted Fitzgerald on 12 occasions, though the two only hooked up four times for 43 yards. Fitzgerald’s touchdown was the 68th of his career, one shy of Roy Green’s all-time club record. Wide receiver Early Doucet (34 receptions, 3 TD) led the team with six catches for 78 yards last week, while Andre Roberts (18 receptions) added five for 55 yards.
The Eagles looked to have improved their pass defense this offseason and do come into the game ranked ninth in that category. However, they have struggled against the run (124.0 ypg allowed) and rank 18th in the NFL with 22.8 points allowed per game. They gave up 164 yards rushing to the Bears despite forcing two fumbles by running back Matt Forte. Red-zone defense has also been an issue, with Philadelphia giving up 15 touchdowns and five field goals on 22 instances inside its own 20. Philadelphia is tied for third in the league with a plus-eight sack differential, but failed to get to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler even once on Monday. The Eagles also failed to notch an interception, but did get a 22-yard fumble recovery and touchdown from rookie linebacker Brian Rolle (30 tackles). Safety Kurt Coleman (29 tackles, 3 INT) led the team with 12 tackles versus the Bears and middle linebacker Jamar Chaney (53 tackles, 1 INT) added 10 stops. While Asomugha (21 tackles, 2 INT) and Samuel (24 tackles, 1 INT) have both picked off quarterbacks, the Eagles hope that Rodgers-Cromartie (17 tackles) can get going against his former club. Now Philadelphia’s nickel corner, he had 16 interceptions in 54 games (including the postseason) with the Cardinals from 2008-10. Philly should be able to get pressure this weekend with solid ends in Jason Babin (23 tackles, 9 sacks) and Trent Cole (17 tackles, 4 sacks). Safety Nate Allen (25 tackles, 1 INT) is questionable for this game, however, after suffering a concussion on Monday.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
The Eagles were held to a season-low 330 yards versus the Bears as Vick (2065 passing yards, 11 TD, 9 INT) threw for only 213 yards without a touchdown. He added 34 yards rushing and was picked off once. Philadelphia’s best offensive weapon continues to be running back LeSean McCoy (825 rushing yards, 28 receptions, 11 total TD), who ran for 71 yards and a score on 16 carries while adding five catches for 46 yards. McCoy tied a club record by scoring in each of Philadelphia’s first eight games, and another score this week would make him just the fourth NFL player since 1960 to reach the end zone in a season’s first nine games. Tight end Brent Celek (27 receptions, 2 TD) has also gotten more involved as of late, making a game-high seven catches for 60 yards against Chicago. He has 18 receptions, 196 yards and two scores in his last three games. Playmaking wide receiver DeSean Jackson (29 receptions, 2 TD) was held to just two catches for 16 yards and lost a fumble on a punt return, however, while leading receiver Jeremy Maclin (44 receptions, 4 TD) notched four catches for 63 yards. Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in rushing yards (172.3 ypg) and third in total offense (434.4 ypg), but is only ninth in scoring at 25.4 points per game.
Arizona comes in with the 28th-ranked defense in the league and is giving up 24.5 points per game, but did not allow a touchdown last week versus the Rams for the first time since Oct. 18, 2009 in Seattle. It was also the first time the franchise did not yield a touchdown at home since a 14-3 win over the Giants on Oct. 10, 1999. The Cardinals got outstanding contributions from inside linebackers Paris Lenon (50 tackles, 1 sack) and Daryl Washington (46 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), who combined for 18 tackles against the Rams, while rookie outside linebacker Sam Acho (12 tackles, 3 sacks) recorded a sack for a third game in a row. Another sack in this game would match Simeon Rice’s 1996 club rookie record of four straight. Arizona’s secondary is already without safety Kerry Rhodes (24 tackles, 2 sacks) due to a foot injury and linebacker Joey Porter (16 tackles, 1 sack) continues to miss time with a knee ailment, so the loss of cornerback Michael Adams (17 tackles) last week was a major blow. It was also a scary incident, as he was carted off the field with a head/neck injury. Arizona will need its young corners in Peterson (35 tackles, 2 INT) and A.J. Jefferson (44 tackles) to step up, along with veteran safety Adrian Wilson (34 tackles, 1 INT). In addition to his second blocked field goal of the season, Campbell (44 tackles, 5 sacks) also came up with two sacks last week.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Both teams have punt returners that can change of the course of game in Peterson and Jackson. The Cardinals’ return man is already tied for the most punt return touchdowns in club history with three and is one shy of the NFL’s single-season record. Jackson has just 3.7 yards per return on nine attempts t his year, but owns a career average of 10.6 with four touchdowns. Also, Philadelphia has not allowed a punt or kickoff return for a score since Sept. 15, 2008 versus Dallas.
Philadelphia’s embattled secondary faces a major test in Fitzgerald, who has six touchdowns in three career games versus the Eagles including the playoffs. In the 2008 NFC Championship meeting, the wideout went off for nine catches, 152 yards and three scores.
The Cardinals have been solid against the run this year, but will have their hands full with McCoy, a speedy cutting machine who makes plays on the ground and as a receiver. Arizona faced a similar back in Baltimore’s Ray Rice in Week 8 and held him to 63 yards on 18 carries, but Rice scored three touchdowns.
Prediction – The 3-5 Eagles. Period. They are not the team many thought they would be. They don’t make plays when they need to, and they can’t seem to stop offenses at key points in game. While they are bad, the Cardinals are not that good. They will get a dose of Kevin Kolb, former QB, and that’s not a big deal since he’s banged up and having a poor season anyway. Mike Vick and the Eagles finally have a good day and get a win. Philadelphia 20 Arizona 14