TEMPE, Ariz. – Whenever the Acho brothers were split up on opposing pickup basketball teams as kids in Texas, there was bound to be at least one errant pass from Sam to Emmanuel each game.

Fortunately for Sam, an Arizona Cardinals starting outside linebacker, he didn’t have to think twice about passing to Emmanuel often. Besides the occasional pickup game, the two never played on opposing teams growing up – even through college at the University of Texas.

Emmanuel Acho
Sam Acho
The fact that they’ve played on the same team since youth soccer -- when Sam was 8 and Emmanuel was 6 -- makes Sunday, when Sam’s Cardinals hosts Emmanuel’s Eagles, so unique.

“I’ll be more excited than anything,” Sam Acho said. “I’m so proud of him. I’m so proud of what he’s been able to accomplish if you look at the journey he’s been on.”

The two are still close, and make sure they text before every game. It’s usually something short and simple like: “Hey man, I’m praying for you. Ball out today. Do your thing. Love you, bro,” Sam said. They won’t need to text Sunday morning. Sam said the pregame message will given when the two get together Saturday night.

While they talk four or five times a week, the brothers Acho had different roads to the NFL. Sam was drafted in the fourth round in 2011 and made an immediate impact in his first two seasons before a broken fibula ended his 2013 season after three games. After suffering a quad injury at the NFL combine in 2012, Emmanuel was drafted in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns. A knee injury suffered that preseason landed him on injured reserve for his rookie season. He was traded to the Eagles the following April, then was released that September and signed to the New York Giants practice squad about a week later.

In October 2013, Emmanuel Acho was signed off the Giants practice squad by the Eagles, who waived him in December but re-signed him to the practice squad the next day. He was released this August, re-signed to the practice squad a day later and then promoted to the active roster after Week 1. He’s since started one of five games for Philadelphia, totaling 17 tackles.

Sam has 18 tackles this season.

It’s a safe bet that Emmanuel is well aware that he has one fewer tackle than his older brother in one fewer game.

“He’s definitely the more competitive one,” Sam said. “I was the guy who said, ‘Hey, I just want to play. I want to have fun.”

Whether it was driveway basketball or the Madden video game, Emmanuel’s competitive streak was always on display. Sam said if his younger brother was losing at Madden – which wasn’t often – he’d turn it off midgame. Or if Sam ran up a big lead in the driveway, Emmanuel would put the ball down and storm off.

“So, I would start letting him get closer,” Sam said. “If I was up too much, I’d start sandbagging a little bit, but yeah, he’s definitely more competitive.”

That’s not to say Sam isn’t. When he talked to his mother, Christie, this week, she mentioned, “We're coming up to play the Cardinals this weekend.”

Sam noticed right away.

“I was like, ‘We? Who is we?’” Sam said with a laugh.

As he found out, his parents alternate daily between using “we” to identify with the Cardinals and the Eagles.

On Sunday, however, they Sonny and Christie Acho won’t need to decide one way or the other. Sam said his mother will be wearing a custom-tailored Acho jersey – Cardinals in the front, Eagles in the back.

“People will think they’re kind of confused,” Sam said.

But his parents will know exactly who they’re cheering for.
PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles’ Friday injury report, the last official word from the team before Sunday’s game in Arizona, left open the possibility linebacker Mychal Kendricks could play.

Kendricks, who has missed four games after straining his calf in Indianapolis, was listed as questionable. That was also the category for running back Darren Sproles (knee) and center Jason Kelce (sports hernia). Wide receiver Brad Smith, coming off surgery for a muscle tear in his abdomen, is the only player listed as out for the game.

Three players were listed as probable: running back Chris Polk (hamstring), linebacker DeMeco Ryans (groin) and cornerback Jaylen Watkins (wrist). Watkins is likely to be inactive whether he’s healthy or not.

Most of the speculation revolves around Kendricks and Sproles. Both were limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, the most involved training sessions of the week. Both were listed as full participants in Friday’s session, but that tells you more about the session than the players’ condition. Friday’s practice is a walk-through with little football activity.

If Kendricks can play, he would start alongside Ryans on the inside of the Eagles’ defense. If not, Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews would replace him, a platoon that has gotten more effective over the last few games.

If Sproles is unable to play, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin could take his place as the punt returner. Polk’s availability would minimize the impact Sproles’ absence would have on the offense. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said the Eagles could use Polk in the same ways they’ve used Sproles this season.

Kelce seemed the least likely to play this week. The center had surgery to repair the hernia after being forced to leave the Sept. 21 game against Washington. After the surgery, Kelce said he was hoping to return for the Nov. 10 game against Carolina. There is a chance he could be ready for next week’s game in Houston.
PHILADELPHIA – Everything Chip Kelly wants done on a football field, he wants done fast. His offense is built to take advantage of mismatches created when opposing defenses don’t have the time to get their desired personnel on the field.

In previous games this season, opposing defenses had settled on one personnel grouping that could handle most of what the Eagles tried to do. That was not the case last year, however, when the Eagles met the Arizona Cardinals.

The teams play each other again Sunday, and Kelly expects the Cardinals to be as varied in their defensive approach as they were in 2013.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Eric Hartline/USA TODAY SportsNick Foles and the Eagles will face a Cardinals team that had some success with a varied approach against head coach Chip Kelly's offense last year.
“Todd [Bowles, Arizona’s defensive coordinator] does a really good job,” Kelly said. “They get in and out of everything. I don't think anything we did affected in terms of them, and they showed a lot of different looks, a lot of multiple looks, and did a real good job in defending us last year.”

The Eagles got out to a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter of that game. Nick Foles threw three touchdown passes to tight ends. After the third, to Brent Celek, the Cardinals shut out the Eagles the rest of the game. Arizona scored two touchdowns to get within 24-21, but were unable to close the gap.

While time of possession is not important to Kelly, that was one game where the Eagles held the ball nearly as long as their opponent: 29 minutes, 21 seconds compared to 30:39.

“We were just trying to work the clock a little bit more,” Kelly said. “So we were running the ball, and I think everybody in the stadium knew we were running the ball. So they went to some zero-blitz stuff and kind of crowded the line of scrimmage. But you're still working the clock. If you throw the ball in those situations and it's incomplete, you stop the clock.

“You're in that bleed-the-clock -- you're obviously trying to get first downs to stay on the field, but there's kind of a risk-reward situation if you say, ‘All right, now let's just throw the ball over the top.’ They are forcing you to throw it over the top -- if it's an incomplete pass, it stops the clock also.”

Kelly said it helps preparations when facing a team with the same coaching staff and offensive and defensive approaches. But quarterback Nick Foles said there wasn’t much benefit for him in facing the same defense he’s already played against.

“You go into each game as prepared as possible, whether you’ve played them or you haven’t,” Foles said. “Everybody switches up players from year to year, guys are injured. They might add different things. So maybe you’re used to seeing the jerseys a little bit more, but when it comes to playing each week, you try to treat it the same.”

The Cardinals are especially challenging because they change their defensive approach so much, even within the same game.

“Their scheme is somewhat unique in terms of getting in and out of fronts,” Kelly said. “They run a lot of different looks on the defensive side of the ball, so they can confuse you a little bit, but also they've got some really, really good football players on the defensive side of the ball.”
Anyone looking for a good, old-fashioned running battle won’t have to look further than University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday.

The Arizona Cardinals' top-ranked rushing defense will have its hands full trying to corral Philadelphia Eagles running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. Can Arizona retain that No. 1 ranking after just a week?

Though the focus will be on the ground games, the matchup of 5-1 teams might be decided in the air. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles' penchant for interceptions will be countered by Arizona’s 31st-ranked pass defense.

Then there is the battle for the end zone. Arizona is allowing 19.8 points per game, and the Eagles are scoring 30.5 points per game, the third-highest clip in the league.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discuss Sunday’s game.

Weinfuss: The start to Foles' season is dramatically different than a year ago. What is the biggest reason he has been prone to so many interceptions? How does he fix it?

Sheridan: This is the single most puzzling aspect of the Eagles' season so far. We all kind of suspected Foles wouldn’t throw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions again, as he did while leading the NFL in passer rating last season. I thought there was plenty of room for him to come back toward earth without crash landing too hard.

For Foles to have seven interceptions, and 10 turnovers altogether, is surprising. Even more stunning, he has done all that while going 5-1. It doesn’t seem possible, and it’s widely assumed Foles can’t keep this up. Sooner or later, those turnovers are going to lead to losses, so he has to find a way to turn it around.

There are several possible reasons for all this. The most disturbing for Eagles fans would be this is just the real Nick Foles. During his six-game stint as a starter in 2012, rookie Foles threw six touchdown passes and five picks. So 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions might just be a typical season, with 27 and two as the outlier.

But there are other variables. Foles’ quarterbacks coach last season, Bill Lazor, left to become offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. That could be part of it, especially when you watch Foles’ throwing mechanics on some of those interceptions. There is also the offensive line situation. Though he hasn’t been sacked much, Foles has had to deal with pressure and a not completely secure pocket because of injuries along the line.

Ultimately, Foles has to get himself out of this. The interceptions have mostly resulted from the kind of ill-conceived throws that he never made last season. If he started making them, he can stop. At least that is what Eagles fans hope.

Asked about the Cardinals’ 31st-ranked pass defense, Eagles coach Chip Kelly said it was misleading. The Cards rank first against the run and are 5-1. That means teams are usually trailing late in games and forced to pile up empty passing yards against the Cards. Is that how it looks when you’re watching the team every week?

Weinfuss: That is exactly how it looks to me. It seems like Arizona’s defense swarms offenses in the second half, especially the fourth quarter, forcing them to abandon the run and start passing the ball more than they did in the first half. But that is actually not the case. Arizona is allowing eight fewer passing yards per game in the second half than in the first, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Teams are attempting more passes in the second half (115) than the first (110) with more than half of those coming in the fourth quarter. Arizona’s run defense has locked teams down in the fourth quarter, allowing just 16.5 yards per game, which is forcing teams to pass to catch up. Opposing quarterbacks have thrown 60 attempts against Arizona in the fourth quarter this season. Arizona is allowing just 10.5 dropbacks in the fourth quarter, compared to 11.5 in the second. As games go on, teams seem to start with the run in the first quarter and turn to the pass in the second quarter, and then the Cardinals’ defense begins to eliminate the running game in the second half, forcing teams to keep passing.

To show that, here’s a quick stat: Last weekend against Oakland, Arizona allowed just four rushing yards in the final 23:49.

How do you explain the Eagles' seven return touchdowns? Is it luck? An improved special-teams unit?

Sheridan: Probably a mixture. The Eagles did put some focus on signing good special-teams players in free agency. There weren’t any marquee acquisitions, but they did add Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman and Nolan Carroll. Those guys have been part of the improvement. So was the trade that brought Sproles from New Orleans.

And the Eagles' defense has been a work in progress since new coordinator Bill Davis switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 base last season. That group has started making some big plays -- sacks, pressures that lead to turnovers, interceptions returned for touchdowns and so forth. Between the defense and special teams, the Eagles are getting plenty of big plays and even touchdowns from returns.

The Eagles beat the Cardinals last season when Arizona running back Andre Ellington didn’t play. How much of a difference-maker is Ellington, and is he likely to be active and effective with his sore ribs?

Weinfuss: First, I’ll address his ribs. They seem to be fine. There wasn’t structural damage to them after the Oakland game, and he returned to practice in a limited manner Wednesday.

As for how much of a difference-maker he is, he's a major reason the Cardinals are 5-1 -- maybe the biggest reason. He is dynamic out of the backfield as both a runner and a receiver. He is quick enough to break free for 80 yards but smart enough to get out of bounds or get down before taking a huge hit. But it’s his versatility that coach Bruce Arians loves. During the offseason, Arians said he wanted to give Ellington 25 to 30 touches per game -- a bit ambitious if you ask me -- but Ellington had exactly 30 on Sunday (24 carries and 6 catches) and was the workhorse for the offense. When Ellington is playing as well as he has been recently, despite a foot injury, he is the difference between wins and losses for Arizona.

How is this Eagles team still scoring 30 points a game and sitting at 5-1 when it has given the ball away 14 times?

Sheridan: The answer is twofold. Those return touchdowns have a lot to do with it. In San Francisco, the Eagles lost 26-21 without scoring a single point on offense. They had three return touchdowns. They got two more in their win against St. Louis the next week.

But the other part of the equation is Kelly's offensive approach. The Eagles are third in the NFL in offensive plays run per game. They would be even higher if they could avoid turnovers and sustain more long drives. But Kelly's up-tempo offense is all about creating as many opportunities to score as possible. So even when they have a few turnovers or fizzle in the red zone a bit, they still score some points. Add the offensive production to all the return touchdowns and you get a deceptively high number on the scoreboard.

The Cardinals are sitting atop perhaps (on paper) the toughest division in the NFL this season. Is that just a temporary aberration, or are they capable of fending off Seattle and San Francisco?

Weinfuss: This is a tough question. It might look like an aberration -- or a typo, for that matter -- but I think the Cardinals can give Seattle and San Francisco fits this season. When they beat the 49ers in Week 3, San Francisco was reeling and missing a few key players because of injuries. One would expect Seattle and San Francisco to figure out their woes and get healthy for the meetings in the second half of the season, but the same could be said about the Cardinals. When this team puts together a total offensive game, it can be among the most potent in the league. It has already showed on occasion this season how tough it is to be slowed down. But the key to winning the West comes on defense. Against the run Arizona is fine, but making sure the secondary doesn’t give up big yardage to receivers could be the difference between another disappointing January and keeping the season going.


Cousin Sal makes his picks for week 8 in the NFL.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tyrann Mathieu was counting in his head.

Did the Arizona Cardinals allow the Philadelphia Eagles' tight ends to catch two touchdowns last season? Or three? At first he was sure of two because he allowed them in the Eagles’ 24-21 win in Week 13 last season. Then he settled on three.

[+] EnlargeBrent Celek
AP Photo/Michael PerezThe Cardinals say they are better prepared to stop Brent Celek and Philadelphia's tight ends this season.
The way Arizona defended tight ends last season, a higher guess was always the safer guess.

That’s not the case this season.

The Cardinals figured out why tight ends -- including Philadelphia’s Brent Celek and Zach Ertz -- were a prickly thorn in their side all of 2013, and they’ve worked to correct it. Allowing 17 of their 29 passing touchdowns to be caught by tight ends last season would be reason to focus on figuring out a solution. And fast. Losing to Philadelphia a season ago helped keep the Cardinals out of the postseaosn. They don't want the Eagles to bite them again.

“Obviously, that was a point of emphasis throughout the offseason of not letting tight ends kill us,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “That was how we were able to not win those early games early on in the season. Dating back to the Philly game … losing that game probably was the game that kept us out of the playoffs.

“Now, this year, I believe we have tight ends much more under control than we did last year.”

It helped that Arizona drafted 6-foot-1 safety Deone Bucannon in May. His size, speed and length has been one of the reasons the Cardinals have given up just three touchdowns and 414 yards on 35 receptions to tight ends this season, compared to six scores, and 653 yards on 42 catches last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It also helps that the Cardinals understand where to be on the field this season, Peterson said.

Mathieu, who cited poor technique for why he gave up the two touchdowns in 2013, said Arizona can match up better this season, especially in nickel packages. He added that playing with better fundamentals has been the main difference.

“I think last year guys just weren’t getting to the flat, so a tight end would catch a ball in the flat and run for 30 yards,” Mathieu said. “I think we’re playing better, disciplined football and not trying to do too much.”

Even during presnap alignments, Arizona has been deterring offenses from looking to their tight ends, with the position getting targeted 12 fewer times this season than last. Even when they're being targeted, opposing tight ends have accounted for 23 first downs this year compared to 30 in 2013.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he hasn’t noticed tight ends hurting Arizona this season. It’s because they haven’t.

But Arizona also hasn’t faced the onslaught of talent this year season came along in the first six weeks last season: St. Louis’ Jared Cook in Week 1, Detroit’s Brandon Pettigrew in Week 2, New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Ben Watson in Week 3, Carolina’s Greg Olsen in Week 5, and San Francisco’s Vernon Davis in Week 6.

The Cardinals faced San Diego’s Antonio Gates in this season's opener, the New York Giants’ Larry Donnell in Week 2 and Denver’s Julius Thomas in Week 5. That group pales in comparison to last season's lineup. Arizona was spared another meeting against Davis, who was inactive for Arizona’s Week 3 game against San Francisco.

This week, however, the Cardinals will again face the Celek-Ertz combination, which combined for three touchdowns last season.

Arizona has spent months preparing for a challenge like this and the Cardinals understand the stakes.

“We’re in a standpoint where we just got to be more aware,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “They have a lot more weapons than the tight ends so it’s got to be a cat and mouse game.”

NFL Cold Hard Facts

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23


Mark Schlereth on DeMarco Murray's season, the Eagles vs. the Cardinals matchup and the key to the Ravens' success.

Eagles seek red zone improvement

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly and his coaching staff spent the bye week self-scouting, with a focus on situations the Philadelphia Eagles could improve upon.

High on that list? The Eagles are last in the NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns just 40 percent of the time they get inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. Kelly said Thursday that it’s dangerous to put too much focus on that issue, however.

“I think everything is a priority,” Kelly said. “So I don't think we go in and say, ‘Hey, let's get real good in the red zone,’ but then we never get to the red zone. We didn't do a real good job upfield. So I think there are areas on the offensive side of the ball where we need to improve on everything: third down percentage, first and second down, so we're in better and more manageable third-down situations.

“You're out of many third-and-longs if you do a better job on first and second down. We analyze everything -- spend a lot more time in the off-week doing it -- but in terms of, ‘How do we improve and how do we get better?’ -- we've left a lot of yards out on the field that we need to convert into points.”

Overall, Kelly said, there wasn’t one area that needed improving. The team just needs to do a better job of scoring touchdowns.

“We're not getting the ball in the end zone,” Kelly said. “We've got some open receivers and we've got to put the ball on them. We've got a couple drops when we've been in the end zone. It wasn't one thing. You know, it's a lot of different things, and then sometimes you get a zone popped on you when you were hoping it was man [coverage]. So we've got to do a better job play calling, we've got to do a better job of putting the ball on people, and we've got to do a better job catching it from a receiver standpoint, and I think it's a combination of everything.”

Last season, the Eagles were 18th in the NFL with a red zone efficiency rate of 52.6 percent. So far this season, they have been bailed out by the touchdowns scored by the defense and special teams. That has allowed the overall points scored total to be quite good.

Over their last 10 games, the Eagles will be better off improving their red zone offense than counting on similar scoring from the rest of the team.

“We want to have touchdowns every time we’re down there,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “Field goals are unacceptable in our eyes. We want to be selfish down there and we want touchdowns.”

The NFL Live crew make their picks for Philadelphia at Arizona.
PHILADELPHIA – No news is seldom good news when it comes to injuries. Based on that truism, it seems more likely that Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks will miss a fifth game Sunday because of a calf injury sustained late in the game at Indianapolis.

Kendricks was listed as limited in practice Thursday, the last full session of the week. His participation was listed the same as that of center Jason Kelce and guard Evan Mathis, who are not expected to play this week, and running back Darren Sproles, whose status is similarly unclear.

The Eagles will have a lighter walk-through practice Friday, but the real preparation for Sunday’s opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, is done. Kendricks was in the trainers’ room after practice. He was not in the locker room all week when it was open to media.

“Mychal’s been running around,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said before Thursday’s practice. “I’ve been watching him get acclimated back into drills, and the team settings and how does he fit in. We’ve still got three training sessions to figure out how much he can contribute – or can he contribute?”

If Kendricks is unavailable, Emmanuel Acho and Casey Matthews would again platoon at his inside linebacker spot. Veteran DeMeco Ryans, who injured his groin during the Eagles’ game against St. Louis three weeks ago but played the next week against the Giants, will start at the other inside spot.

Meanwhile, first-round draft pick Marcus Smith will play some inside linebacker in nickel defensive packages.

Expectations were high for Kendricks this season. He improved during the course of the 2013 season, his first in coordinator Bill Davis’ 3-4 scheme. Kendricks recorded three of his four sacks in the final three games of the season. After a strong preseason, he appeared poised to build on his strong finish from 2013.

Earlier this week, Kendricks wrote a blog post on his website saying he planned to practice this week. He was vague on whether he expected to play.

“It's a day-to-day thing,” Davis said Wednesday. “We're slowly leaking him back in there to see what he can do. These athletes know their bodies better than anything. Do all you can without going backwards with the injury. … So we're excited about the opportunity that we might get him back.”

They might or might not. Based on the available signs, the best guess is it might take another week.

ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando delivers stats to help you make a pick for Philadelphia at Arizona.
PHILADELPHIA -- Normally, you’d look at the Philadelphia Eagles' matchup with the blitz-happy Arizona Cardinals and wonder whether quarterback Nick Foles can survive.

After all, the Eagles’ offensive line is still without left guard Evan Mathis and, it appears likely, center Jason Kelce. Surely the Cardinals -- a team that has already blitzed more than any in the NFL -- will bring as much heat as it takes to ruin Foles’ Sunday afternoon.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/Matt RourkeDespite a lot of shuffling on the O-line due to injuries, Nick Foles hasn't been sacked for the past three games.
But then you look at the results and it’s hard to make sense of them. The Eagles allowed five sacks in the first half of their season opener against Jacksonville. That was the half of football in which Mathis and Kelce were actually playing together. Since that half, through 330 minutes of football, Foles has been sacked exactly twice.

We’re talking about the Philadelphia Eagles here. This is the team that allowed 104 sacks in 1986, setting an NFL record that still stands. This is the team that employed Randall Cunningham (sacked 422 times in an Eagles uniform) and Donovan McNabb (sacked 357 times while quarterbacking the Eagles). Sacks are not uncommon in these parts.

But here’s Foles, his offensive line in shambles because of injuries, going three full games without a single sack.

“There has been a change of personnel in a lot of spots,” coach Chip Kelly said. “Evan went down in the first game and then Allen [Barbre] went down. We started mixing and matching. Then [Jason Peters] got thrown out of the [Washington] game and Todd [Herremans] played tackle. I think that group of guys that have had an opportunity to play have all done a nice job when they were in there.”

Last season, all five starting offensive linemen started all 17 games -- regular season and the playoff game. Foles, Michael Vick and Matt Barkley were sacked a total of 46 times. Throw out the Jacksonville game and Foles is on pace to be sacked 10 times for this entire season. McNabb played games where he was sacked more than that.

“Part of it is how we train,” Kelly said. “We give those (backups) a lot of reps in the preseason, hoping that we’re developing depth from that standpoint. When those guys got an opportunity to go in there, they’ve done a really nice job. The biggest thing is continuity. If there’s a new guy next to you, how in tune are you to each other’s calls and making the right decisions? It’s really a credit to them, they’ve been able to do, on a consistent basis, a really good job.”

Kelce has returned to practice and is expected to return to game action within the next two weeks. Mathis is eligible to return from the injured reserve list in two weeks. That will mean another disruption in the continuity Kelly was talking about.

But right tackle Lane Johnson has played two games since returning from his PED suspension. There has been little evidence of trouble there. The Eagles gave up one sack in Johnson’s two games while averaging 5.0 yards per carry.

Given the experience Kelce and Mathis have together, their returns should be equally seamless.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles went 18 seasons without a shutout. That means they have gone 18 seasons without having to follow up a shutout with an equally convincing defensive performance.

"That has to be a standard for us," inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It's something we did, but we can't leave it behind. We have to make it our standard. We have to play better than we played against the Giants. That's our best game to date. We still have things we can correct and get better."

The Arizona Cardinals present a major challenge. Veteran quarterback Carson Palmer has a varied array of weapons to work with, starting with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Running back Andre Ellington and receivers Michael Floyd and John Brown are deployed in a variety of ways, including five-wide-receiver sets.

"It has to do with all the other weapons they've surrounded the quarterback with, and the options are everywhere," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "Their running back is getting a lot, Floyd is getting a lot, young Brown has got some speed. So the ball is going to spread out, but it's nothing against Larry. Larry's still Larry. He still makes all the catches and all the plays."

The Eagles played well against the Cardinals last season at Lincoln Financial Field. Nate Allen and Cary Williams intercepted Palmer. The defense also sacked the less-than-mobile quarterback five times. Coming off their eight-sack performance against the Giants, the Eagles will be better equipped to get to Palmer.

"We have to get pressure on this guy," Ryans said. "If you leave a clean pocket back there, he's the type of guy who's going to pick you apart. He's a veteran. We definitely have to disrupt the pocket."

The Eagles may have inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks back from his calf injury. That would give Davis another player to deploy. But mostly, Davis is counting on the defense to continue improving every week.

"I think we're growing," Davis said. "No matter if we have a good game like we did against the Giants or we struggle for a couple quarters. No matter what, the goal of every defensive team in the league really is, are we getting better this week? Are we better this week than we were last week? Can we build on what we did? In that win and in that shutout, we have many mistakes that we've got to get corrected. We've got some things that we've got to iron out. So whether you win or lose, there is always the correction.

"But I do think we took a big step forward with a confidence level of guys saying, OK, everybody just kind of did their job and they trusted the guy next to them to do their job. There is a lot to be said for somebody not stepping out of their little area of what we're asking them to do and trying to make a bigger play. I think that we learn collectively that if we play together, we're pretty good."

ESPN Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss discusses the Cardinals' desire to have defensive end Calais Campbell back in time for their Sunday matchup with the Eagles.
PHILADELPHIA – Thanks to the NFL, the Philadelphia Eagles have certainty about at least one of their injured players.

While there is confusion about most of his injured teammates, left guard Evan Mathis is slated to return when the Eagles host the Carolina Panthers in a Monday night game Nov. 10. That's the first game Mathis can play under the NFL's injured reserve rules. Those rules also allowed him to return to the practice field Wednesday for the first time, which Mathis did.

"It's a very good feeling to get out there and try to do all the things I hadn't done in so long, and for them to go so well," Mathis said after the indoor practice. "I went out there with the attitude that I was not going to hesitate. I was not going to be gunshy. Even warmups, full speed, I started testing it. The hitting comes after that. Everything was awesome."

Mathis sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the season opener against Jacksonville. He said that if there were a playoff game this Sunday, he could play. But that would be pushing his sprained left knee. This way, he gets two weeks to practice before the rules allow him to step into a game.

"If I was not on this designation and there was a very important game, I would push it and do it," Mathis said. "It pretty much lines up with the IR designation. I've gone into this with the mindset that it's the best option for the injury that I had, because if I wasn't on that, I would probably be trying to rush back and put myself and my team at risk."

That uncertainty surrounds the other Eagles who are returning from injuries. Center Jason Kelce has worked out the last two days, but appears unlikely to return this week. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks has also practiced more than in previous weeks, but was unavailable in the locker room. His status for Sunday's game is uncertain.

Those players have been on the 53-man roster and inactive for games. Mathis holds the lone spot on the IR/designated to return list. Mathis wore a brace on his left knee and was optimistic about the prospect of playing with it.

"It didn't affect me at all," Mathis said. "I thought it might. My range of motion is normal in the brace. It's very, very light. I was worried that it might slip down or come undone, but it was there the whole practice. It was a full practice, so it was the best opportunity for me to test it. It feels great."