The bye week is over and the Eagles remain in the hunt for a division title, a playoff berth and potentially, home-field advantage. After taking a week off, the Eagles will travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals, who are also riding high. The two teams met in a highly-contest bout last season with the Eagles coming out on top. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was left to complain in a press conference.
Mike Kaye and Dan Klausner will actually be reuniting in Arizona for the pivotal matchup and are pretty stoked to see the Eagles face a Cardinals team that has pretty much become the team's biggest out-of-the-division rival. The rivalry is probably fitting as the Cardinals were part of the NFC East just 13 seasons ago.
Let's get to the questions!
What are your thoughts on teams coming off the bye week? The Eagles have been spoiled for years with wins after the break, but do you think fans should favor teams coming off byes?
Mike Kaye: I understand the extra time to rest and study are huge, but let's not act like the bye week suddenly makes your team way better. Yes, getting back missing pieces is huge and improves your team, but if you're not a good team and you go into the bye, you're still probably going to be a bad team coming out of it. The Eagles are 5-1 but have still been up-and-down, perhaps taking a breath will make them a bit more understanding of their mistakes?
The Eagles have a great coaching staff, so preparing the team after the bye is not really my concern. However, the second west coast trip is a bit worrisome. The Eagles haven't played well in Arizona for years and their only loss this season against the 49ers in Santa Clara. Changing time zones has never been kind to the Eagles, but the rest may help prepare for a long trip. That said, I'm not the Eagles should be favored in this matchup and it doesn't look like they will be.
Dan Klausner: I'm a big believer in teams coming off a bye week having a distinct advantage in their first game back, especially those that have superlative coaching and focus. In a sport like football, where rest/recovery and scheming are so vital, that extra week without a game truly benefits the players and coaches. And when it comes to a football mastermind like Chip Kelly, I really believe in his ability to cook up something diabolical with an extra week of film study and game preparation.
The Eagles still have a number of players on the injury mend who either won't be available for Sunday against the Cardinals (Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce) or whose status will be decided upon closer to the game (Mychal Kendricks, Darren Sproles). Then there's the long travel consideration and, as Mike wrote, going from coast to coast is never easy -- the last time the Eagles made the trip, to San Francisco at the end of September, the offense played by far its sloppiest, ugliest game of the season. Still, give me Chip Kelly against any coach in any game at any site -- doubly so for when he's coming off a bye and itching to get back on the sidelines.
It looks like Mychal Kendricks won't exactly be ready to return this week and Darren Sproles might be a game-time decision. Which potential return would help the Eagles more?
MK: I'd honestly have to roll with Kendricks. While the Eagles were able to go 3-1 without his services, the Cardinals present a weapon that would be altered by Kendricks' talent in coverage. Andre Ellington is fast and shifty and Kendricks would be the perfect guy to cover him at linebacker. Also, while the pass rush has improved, having Kendricks to blitz the cardboard cutout known as Carson Palmer would to be significant. If Kendricks were to constantly get into the backfield, Palmer would not have a lot of opportunities to make big plays.
While Sproles is a dynamic weapon, the Eagles can win without his production (believe it or not). If Chris Polk or Trey Burton get a decent amount of touches, they'll be able to create different types of matchups for the Eagles. We've all been waiting for Polk to do something on offense and he tends to score when he is called upon. I think the Eagles can manage the offense without Sproles, especially with LeSean McCoy can continue his resurgence.
DK: The Cardinals have the first-ranked run defense in the league, so it'll be the best challenge possible for an Eagles run game that got back on track against the Giants. Of course, Sproles is a key piece of the run game as the shifty, change-of-pace back who can explode through holes and be 20 yards upfield in the blink of an eye. Losing his speed is not to be dismissed. I'm the biggest Chris Polk fan out there, but where he can get you 5-7 yards on a carry while spelling LeSean McCoy, Sproles might be able to get double that on the same carry. Still, I think Polk will be able to replace enough of Sproles' production in the offense that the latter's absence won't cripple the offense. In punt return situations, however, that's where the Eagles will really feel the loss of Sproles and his ability to flip field position or break a huge play.
Overall, I think I'm going to agree with Mike here and say that getting Kendricks back -- if it happens -- will impact the game most. Andre Ellington is a nightmare with the ball in his hands and out of the backfield, but Kendricks has the speed and athletic ability to hang with him in space. And don't forget, prior to his injury, Kendricks was by far the Eagles' top playmaker on defense. While the defense has continued to force turnovers and seen a considerable improvement in its pass rush with Kendricks out of the lineup, just imagine how much better both facets can get with him back on the field. If Kendricks is out, which appears more likely with each passing day, I fear what Ellington -- who, you'll remember, didn't play against the Eagles last season -- will have a big game as a receiver.
Which matchup are most looking forward to on Sunday and which matchup are the most concerned about?
MK: On offense, I am looking to see what the tight ends do against the depleted linebacking unit of the Cardinals. I think we say this every week, but Zach Ertz should eat in this game. He runs very good routes and is going up against linebackers that would be backups on most teams. I also think McCoy will be able to run on Arizona with the injuries to their front seven.
On defense, I actually like the Eagles cornerbacks against bigger wide receivers. Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are big dudes, but it seems like that plays into Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams' strengths. The receiving duo is pretty good, but I am not sure they concern me.
As far as worries go, while he hasn't been phenomenal, I worry that Patrick Peterson could take away Jeremy Maclin. While Maclin wasn't utilized all that much against the Giants, I think he is very important to this game. I also think Riley Cooper is a very good matchup for Jerraud Powers. The Eagles defense could struggle with the pass rush from the blindside. Cardinals left tackle Jared Veldheer has been phenomenal this season, which mean Trent Cole and Brandon Graham have a huge test waiting for them in Arizona.
DK: Mike took Ertz, which was a layup. I imagine he'll see multiple defenders in coverage because there's no way Alex Okafor or Sam Acho can keep up with him all game. If Ertz is torching the Cardinals, might Todd Bowles decide to put Patrick Peterson on him for certain snaps? Sure, the Cardinals are stuffing the run better than any other defense and therefore teams are passing more, but the Cardinals 31st-ranked pass defense is not much better when you dig into the rate stats, either, as it's giving up 7.6 yards per attempt, tied for fifth-worst in the NFL. This is a game where Nick Foles should excel, but he has to be decisive with his reads, confident in his throws and smart with the football. His field vision, feet and overall mechanics would improve by leaps and bounds if he climbed the pocket instead of drifting backwards at even the faintest hint of pressure.
On paper, Williams and Fletcher matching up against Fitzgerald and Floyd would seem to be the kind of matchup more in line with that the former prefer, but Fitzgerald has made a career of smoking the Eagles and Floyd went 5-99-1 in last season's meeting. Cardinals rookie speedster John Brown is battling an ankle injury and might not be able to play, but if he does he'll go up against Brandon Boykin in the slot. That would be a sneaky matchup to keep an eye on. Brown has at least two catches in every game, and though he hasn't broken a gain for over 24 yards yet, he ran a 4.34 at the Combine and is a big-play threat waiting to happen.
Outside Veldheer, the Cardinals offensive line doesn't have any recognizable names (although Paul Fanaika is a former Eagle), but it ranks in the top-third of the NFL in sacks allowed this season, surrendering only 11, and has done a good job protecting Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. That unit will face a stiff test against an Eagles front seven that the last three games has been ferocious on a level we haven't experienced since the Jim Johnson era.
Lastly, normally my slam-dunk matchup to watch when playing the Cardinals is Calais Campbell versus whomever is charged with blocking him. He's had big games against the Eagles in the past but is dealing with a strained MCL and has been limited in practice. Campbell's a monstrous 3-4 DE who blocks out the sun and is as well-rounded a defensive lineman as you'll find. The Eagles -- specifically Lane Johnson -- will catch a huge break if he's sidelined.
The Cardinals are more known for their defense and the Eagles for their offense. However, Arizona offense and Philadelphia defense have played well as of late. Which unit do you think will have play their "A" game for the Eagles to get the win?
MK: Simply put, if the defense holds the Cardinals to 20 points, the Eagles will win this game. While the offense struggled against the 49ers, I think the added preparation for the Cardinals defense will help them. The Eagles should be able to take advantage of the matchups in the middle, similarly to how they played the Giants. I'd expect Nick Foles to continue to use his tight ends a lot. The offense does have to play well, but I think the defense needs to keep this from being a shootout.
Nick Foles also needs to be on point. The Cardinals have beat a lot of teams because of their opponents' mistakes because Arizona takes advantage. Foles can't afford multiple turnovers in this one.
DK: Good question here. The Eagles defense played one of its best games of the last 20 years against the Giants, and even though the Cardinals' offense ranks bottom-third in the league overall and set a season-high for points scored last week against the Raiders with just 24, I'm trying hard not to get overconfident. On offense Foles is the wildcard, per usual, and he'll be even more closely under the microscope if the Cardinals run defense prevails. Then again, if Campbell is out, that Cardinals run defense will be missing a vital component and things could open up considerably for McCoy and friends.
I'm going to go a little off the grid here and say it's the the Fighting Dave Fipps of the special teams units that will need to bring their "A" game. The potential for no Sproles returning punts is a huge blow, and the Cardinals have dangerous coverage and return teams of their own, led by Justin Bethel and Ted Ginn Jr., respectively. Bethel -- FROM: Presbyterian College -- has been the Cardinals special teams ace and leading tackler for two seasons and has also blocked two kicks in his career. Ginn is averaging 13.5 yards per punt return and has a 71-yard touchdown. In a battle of rookie kickers who have both been superb, it's Cody Parkey (12-13) against Chandler Catanzaro (15-15). In a game where I expect the margin of victory to be a touchdown or less, one special teams play could be the difference.
Lastly, the Kaye & Klausner reunion has been a long time coming (literally a year), what are you looking forward to more: the tailgates and Eagles West pep rally all weekend or making fun of Bruce Arians? (Ed. Note: There is no wrong answer here).
MK: C) All of the above. This is going to be a great weekend (hopefully) and if anyone is going to the game and wants to party with BGN, feel free to email me or send me a tweet.
DK: Everything and anything. My mind is ready, my body is ready. Let's do this. I got the Eagles, 24-17.