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."
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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.

Mathis
"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."
PHILADELPHIA – Nick Foles was lined up under center more than usual during the Eagles’ 27-0 victory against the New York Giants last week. The Eagles’ running game also made a resurgence, with LeSean McCoy running for 149 yards.

Is there a connection? Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur didn’t really want to say.

McCoy
“There are reasons why we do it,” Shurmur said, referring to having the quarterback under center rather than in the shotgun formation. “And we like to keep those somewhat private.”

There are all kinds of possible factors: center David Molk might not be as good at snapping the ball in the shotgun. Foles might prefer to get the ball snapped directly, then drop back. Head coach Chip Kelly talked last week about the angles created when the quarterback is under center.

All of those might be in the mix. But the one thing we now know for sure is that McCoy prefers lining up behind an under-center quarterback.

“It really helps out,” McCoy said Wednesday. “You can see it better. You can see the lanes better. If there is some pressure, you can adjust to it. In the [shotgun], you’re kind of going sideways and if there is pressure, it kind of knocks you back. I like under center more.

“What makes me a good back is just vision. I think being under center, about 7 1/2 yards deep, I can see everything happen. I’m the farthest guy from the game. I’m all the way in the back. If a guy has leverage on a block, or a guy gets beat, I can see it. I can adjust to it. That’s why I like it better.”

McCoy is facing a difficult challenge Sunday in Arizona. The Cardinals are ranked first in the NFL against the run. They have allowed 72.5 rushing yards per game while going 5-1. So the Eagles’ improvement against the Giants will be tested in Arizona.

“I’m sure they’ll try to take the run away,” McCoy said. “They’re a good team; they play well together. They do a lot of blitzes. We’ll see how they play us, a team that plays at a fast tempo. I’m waiting to see how they play us.”

The Eagles will try to run the ball, because that’s what they do. They just might find that lining up under center helps McCoy to get going again.
PHILADELPHIA -- It’s a fascinating suggestion from ESPN.com’s Greg Garber: the Philadelphia Eagles trading running back LeSean McCoy to the Oakland Raiders for what may be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

The biggest problem with the idea is the timing. The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday. That means the Eagles would have to pull the trigger on such a deal with nine games left in the 2014 season. With Chris Polk, Darren Sproles and Matthew Tucker in-house at the running back position, that would look an awful lot like tanking. And 5-1 teams in the process of defending a division title aren’t typically inclined to tank.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsWidely considered one of the NFL's top running backs, would the Eagles consider dealing LeSean McCoy?
Of course, the Eagles and Raiders would be free to make a similar trade after the season. That may be a little more palatable to Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who really does focus all of his energies on the game that’s next on the schedule. Most of what Kelly has preached to his players over the past two seasons would sound pretty hollow if the coach jettisoned McCoy in the middle of the season.

Plus a deadline deal would give the Raiders nine games with McCoy carrying the ball, nine chances to improve their record and hurt their draft position.

But the idea is provocative for a couple of reasons -- and not just that illustration with McCoy in silver and black. Garber lays out the key elements: While Kelly has done quite well with Nick Foles as his quarterback, it’s ever more clear that the Eagles’ offense is radically limited by the absence of a true read-option threat at that position. When Foles was throwing 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, that was a compromise Kelly could accept. With Foles throwing seven interceptions in his first six games of 2014, his lack of mobility may be a little tougher to accept.

If Kelly really believes it will take a quarterback like Oregon's Marcus Mariota to maximize his offense, then there will be few chances to get such a player. Mariota, whom Kelly recruited and coached, will be among the first players taken in the 2015 draft. For the Eagles to get him, they will have to be bold. Trading McCoy would certainly qualify.

As for replacing McCoy, it helps to bear in mind that he was a second-round draft pick. Running backs are easier to find than franchise quarterbacks. It's also possible, with a solid offensive line and a good scheme, to get more out of any back. As Garber writes, “Like Bill Belichick, Kelly passionately believes in the system, which is to say, himself.”

There is good reason for that. McCoy has been exceptional in Kelly’s offense. But other backs -- Bryce Brown, Polk, Sproles -- have stepped in and put up big rushing numbers. If Kelly was willing to jettison DeSean Jackson for nothing, he’d probably be willing to part with McCoy for a chance to acquire a quarterback custom-built to run his offense.

Will it happen? It’s unlikely, as Garber says right upfront. But it certainly makes a lot of sense, for both the Eagles and the Raiders.
PHILADELPHIA -- Nick Foles and Carson Palmer, whose teams will meet Sunday in Arizona, are having opposite experiences this season.

Palmer
Foles
Last year, Foles threw just two interceptions while Palmer threw 22 picks. This year, Foles has thrown seven interceptions through six games. Palmer has played only three games, but he has just one interception so far.

That’s life as an NFL quarterback, right? But there may be more to it than that. Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday that Palmer’s interceptions are tied to his reliance on wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Last season, Fitzgerald caught 82 of 136 passes thrown his way for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns. Through six games this year, Fitzgerald has been targeted 39 times (which would prorate to 104 targets over a full season). He has caught 23 passes for 283 yards and one touchdown.

Simply put, the Cardinals have diversified their offense more this year. Michael Floyd has 19 catches, while rookie John Brown has 17. Running back Andre Ellington has 25 catches, two more than Fitzgerald.

Last season, Arians said, “Carson was going to get the ball to Larry, even if he was double-covered.” This year, Palmer is more likely to throw the ball elsewhere. That means Fitzgerald’s numbers are down from previous seasons, but it also means the quarterback is making higher percentage throws that are less likely to be picked off.

The Eagles intercepted Palmer twice in their 24-21 victory over the Cardinals last season. Cornerback Cary Williams and safety Nate Allen got the picks. The Eagles also sacked Palmer five times in that game. He was sacked 41 times in 2013. Palmer has been sacked just four times in his three games this season.

Foles’ increased interceptions can’t be blamed on his reliance on a particular receiver. Chip Kelly’s offense, like Arians’, is based on exploiting what the defense allows. Foles has simply made some poor decisions and equally poor throws.

“Ball security is important,” Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “When you’re the quarterback, you’re responsible for a lot of things. Interceptions need to be evaluated by themselves. There’s different reasons those happen. Certainly, he’s aware of it. We’re working on it.”
PHILADELPHIA -- Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has adjusted his practice schedule. Whether that was a result of cornerback Cary Williams' comments earlier this season or something Kelly already had planned, however, remains unclear.

Williams
Practices are closed to the media, so there’s no way to gauge the exact changes.

Williams revealed the schedule change while talking to reporters at his locker Tuesday afternoon. Last month, after the Eagles’ home win against Washington, Williams said Kelly’s uptempo practices were like playing a couple games during the week. Players were fatigued by Sunday, Williams said. Kelly called Williams in for a meeting the next day.

“We shortened a couple days,” Williams said, according to Birds 24/7. “We've taken a couple portions out of practice on both days. We've got a different schedule. We practice three days a week really, and everything else is a walk-through, tempo type thing. He's shortened some of those down.”

According to Kelly’s coordinators, the head coach constantly evaluates where the players are in terms of fitness and preparation and adjusts his practice schedule accordingly.

“As you get toward the middle of the season, we make slight adjustments,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “What we do is very dynamic. Certainly, we listen to what the players are saying. What they’re saying is important to us. But we have a plan, as we go forward, how much work we’re going to get done each week.”

“I haven’t seen a problem since Day 1, Week 1," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “Chip is doing what Chip always does. He reads the information. He gets the feedback from every player, from all the data he gets from all the sports-science things we do. And he adjusts daily, weekly. We’re always moving the target to make sure that the players are at the optimal spot on Sunday. I don’t think he’s missed the mark yet this year.”

Whether it was Williams’ words or the fourth-quarter collapse that almost cost the Eagles against the Rams, Kelly’s adjustments helped the team maintain its focus through the 27-0 shutout of the Giants.

"Physically, I definitely feel a change,” Williams said. “I think a lot of guys feel the same way. Chip is definitely understanding that, he understood that, and he came out and said that is probably the reason why we came out and did what we did and played at a high level (against the Giants).”

Eagles, Cardinals at top of their games

October, 22, 2014
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ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan discusses what at one time was an NFC East rivalry and with the Eagles and Cardinals playing well that the game may once again be elevated.
PHILADELPHIA -- Chip Kelly likes to describe his approach as a “one-week operation,” meaning the Philadelphia Eagles are currently focused only on the Arizona Cardinals, their next opponent. That was true last week during the Eagles’ bye.

Well, mostly true. The Eagles also focused a little bit on another team. Themselves.

Jones
Kelly
“We just analyze what we did in certain situations,” Kelly said Tuesday. “We went through goal line, we went through coming out, we went through third-down situations, we went through openers, kind of looked at everything. What we were successful at -- kind of looked at it on film -- what we weren't successful at, why we weren't successful at it. Was it personnel, was it scheme, was it we weren't prepared for this? So, you're kind of looking at everything that you're doing.”

Late last week, the coaches began zeroing in on the Cardinals. It helps that the Eagles played Arizona last season. That gives the coaches a starting point in their preparation.

“We always look at everybody,” Kelly said. “We looked at both Giants games when we played the Giants. If we've played a team before, it's a benefit to us. We'll go back and watch it. When we played the Bears in preseason, we watched the Bears from the year before. We played the Patriots preseason, we watched the Patriots game in preseason from before. Whenever you have a game from a year ago and the coordinators are the same and the coaches are the same, you're going to take a look at it. If it's a whole new coaching staff, then sometimes that doesn't benefit you, but if it's got the same coaching staff, and obviously they do, so we looked at it.”

The Eagles won that game, 24-21. As it happened, they were also coming off their bye week before playing the Cardinals. That game was in Philadelphia. This week’s will be in Glendale, Arizona.

Kelly was asked if it was easier to prepare after a poor effort or a loss than it was after arguably the Eagles’ best overall game of the season, their shutout win against the Giants last week.

“I hope not,” Kelly said. “I wouldn't want it the other way, I'll tell you that. If I had my choice, I would rather have it the way we have it right now. I mean, you always want to continue to play, but we still have a lot of things from the Giants game that we can improve on. We didn't play a complete football game. We turned the ball over a couple times on the offensive side of the ball. We punted six times. You know, we've got to do a better job in a lot of categories, so it's not like we're patting ourselves on the back after that performance. I thought we played well, I thought we played with good energy, I thought we played hard, but there's still a lot of things we can do to be a better football team.”
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Here is the latest look at what could turn out to be a banner crop of rookie receivers.

They are ranked by targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We’re using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game.

Here’s the list of the top-targeted rookie receivers (28 targets needed to qualify):

Watkins
Sammy Watkins, Buffalo (62 targets): He had a monster game in the Bills' 17-16 victory over Minnesota. He was targeted 14 times and caught nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. He now leads all rookies with 35 catches and has 433 yards and four touchdowns. This is the first time he’s topped this list.

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (61): He only had three catches for 61 yards on six targets in a 38-17 loss to Green Bay, though one was for a touchdown. He has 34 catches for 477 yards and five touchdowns. The yardage and TDs lead all rookie receivers.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (52): He had four receptions for 60 yards in the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over Cleveland. One was a 31-yard catch-and-run that resulted in his first career touchdown. He has 34 catches for 371 yards.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (42): Cooks had just two catches for 23 yards in the Saints’ 24-23 loss to Detroit. He has 34 catches for 278 yards and one touchdown.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (40): He had just one catch for 7 yards against the Browns and has 19 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns.

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia (36): The Eagles were idle. He has 23 catches for 226 yards and two touchdowns.

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (33): The Buccaneers were idle. He has 21 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns.

John Brown, Arizona (33): He had a light day in the Cardinals’ 24-13 victory over Oakland, catching just two passes for 41 yards. He has 17 catches for 197 yards and three TDs.
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles finally figured out a way to get unstuck from the No. 4 spot in ESPN's NFL Power Rankings: Don't play a game.

The Eagles moved up to No. 3 during their bye week. That's the good news for Eagles fans. The not-so-good news is that the No. 2 team in the weekly rankings is the Dallas Cowboys. Interesting: The NFC East was widely believed to be one of the worst all-around divisions in the NFL. Now two of the four teams are ranked in ESPN'S top three. Only Denver is ranked higher at No. 1 overall.

Also worth noting: The Eagles' next opponent, the Arizona Cardinals, are ranked No. 5. The Cardinals play in the NFC West, widely considered the best division in the NFC and perhaps the league. Seattle, at 3-3, and San Francisco, with a 4-3 record, have been beatable this year. The Cardinals, tied with the Eagles at 5-1, have been winning despite injuries at quarterback.

The Eagles are ranked one spot ahead of Indianapolis, a team they beat in Week 2, and three spots ahead of Green Bay, a team they will play in four weeks.

The rest of the NFC East is in the 20s. The Giants are at No. 21 and Washington, another team the Eagles have played and defeated, is down at No. 26.

Injured Eagles returning after bye

October, 21, 2014
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PHILADELPHIA -- The cavalry rode into town with the rest of the Philadelphia Eagles after the bye week. It will take a day or two for Chip Kelly to figure out which of his injured players is ready to help his team.

Left guard Evan Mathis is the easiest case to figure out. The Eagles placed Mathis on injured reserve with a designation to return. That means he can begin practicing Wednesday and he can play against the Carolina Panthers on Nov. 10. Mathis, who sprained his medial collateral ligament in the season opener, told CSN Philly that he planned to practice this week.

Kelce
Center Jason Kelce, who had surgery to repair a sports hernia, also will try to practice this week. Kelly declined to speculate on Kelce’s return until he saw him on the field.

“I hope he ties his shoes right,” Kelly said. “I haven’t seen Jason Kelce do anything since before the surgery.”

Linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who injured his calf muscle in the Indianapolis game, was on the field for the early part of practice Tuesday. Kendricks wrote on his website last week that he hoped to practice this week.

Running back Darren Sproles, who sprained his MCL in the Giants game, was also taking part in practice Tuesday. Kelly indicated last week that Sproles’ injury was not as serious as it looked.

As always with Kelly, all injury information is filtered through the coach’s evident lack of interest. Unlike Andy Reid, who read from a detailed list of injuries from the training staff, Kelly wants to know only which players are available to practice or play. The specifics don’t interest him and neither does wasting time worrying about what might happen next week.

“We’re on a one-week season,” Kelly said. “We have been. That’s our total focus.”

Bottom line: There is a reasonable chance Kendricks and Sproles will be back for Sunday’s game in Arizona. Kelce could be back for that game or the one in Houston the following week. Mathis appears to be in line to play against the Panthers.

The Film Don't Lie: Eagles

October, 21, 2014
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A weekly look at what the Philadelphia Eagles must fix:

The Eagles beat the Arizona Cardinals at Lincoln Financial Field last season by playing a mistake-free game. Nick Foles threw zero interceptions, and the Eagles did not lose a fumble in that 24-21 victory.

Coming off their bye week with a game in Arizona, the Eagles need to clean up that aspect of their game. Let’s be completely honest with one another: Foles must clean up that part of his game. Watching the game tape, it’s hard to believe that Foles throws the two passes that wound up in the hands of New York Giants this past weekend. They were the kind of passes he never threw last year -- careless, poorly considered, badly aimed. Foles has turned the ball over 10 times this season with seven picks and three lost fumbles.

Coach Chip Kelly has said that sooner or later, turnovers will catch up to his quarterback.

“We were a lot cleaner last year from a turnover standpoint,” Kelly said, “and he'll be the first to tell you that. Because you can't continue to do it at that rate and end up on the right side of the ledger. The turnover differential is really big in this league in terms of being an indicator of wins and losses.”

With Patrick Peterson lined up on the other side, there’s little that Kelly can do about this problem. The ball is literally and figuratively in Foles’ hands.

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