The Eagles keep winning, Nick Foles keeps making the right decisions and Bill Davis’ defense keeps delivering stops. The Eagles survived a late charge and beat the Cardinals, 24-21, to move to 7-5 and stay on pace with the Cowboys atop the NFC East. Here are some instant observations:
-- The Eagles have won four in a row and two straight at the Linc with four to go. They have the Lions (7-5) at home next Sunday, followed by the Vikings (3-8-1) on the road, the Bears (6-6) back at the Linc and finally the Cowboys (7-5) in Dallas. The Cowboys visit the Bears on Sunday after a 10-day rest, they host the Packers (5-6-1), who may still be without Aaron Rodgers, a week later, travel to the Redskins (3-9) the following week before the season finale against the Birds. If Dallas wins at least one more game than the Eagles and one of those wins is over the Redskins before the Dec. 29 finale, there would be no way the Eagles could win the NFC East. The Cowboys would own the second tiebreaker – a perfect divisional record – after head-to-head meetings.
-- The Eagles could be in contention for a wild card berth, but they need the 49ers to start losing. San Francisco moved to 8-4 with a win over the Rams on Sunday. The other wild card spot is likely to go to either NFC South team the Saints (9-2) or the Panthers (9-3). The Cards (7-5) are still in the hunt, as well.
-- As Chip Kelly said, though, “It’s one down, one to go.” The Eagles seem to be taking each game at a time and it has been working. When the season is over, as Kelly has also said, they can look up and see what they’ve accomplished. But it’s going to be difficult with each passing week as the stakes keep rising. The Eagles have had a hard time putting teams away mostly when they’ve built large, early third quarter leads. The Cardinals spotted them a 17-point lead, but for many reasons the Eagles offense once again went into shutdown mode and the defense allowed 14 straight points. They held on for dear life -- soimething I wrote more extensively about here -- but Kelly has to do a better job with more white-knuckle moments sure to come.
What is the Eagles’ fate?
-- Foles continues to confound his critics. He completed 21 of 34 passes (61.8 pct.) for 237 yards and three touchdowns and once again didn’t have a turnover. He’s tossed 19 touchdowns on the season without an interception. Peyton Manning set the NFL mark for touchdown passes without a pick earlier in the season with 20. Foles wasn’t as sharp in the second half, completing only 6 of 14 passes, and he nearly tossed an interception to Patrick Peterson late in the game, but those moments will ultimately be forgotten. He did what he’s done for most of the season – make the right decisions and win games. I still don’t know if he’s the quarterback of the future. If you said you knew, you’re lying. There are obvious reasons for looking ahead, but as long as Foles keeps playing the way he’s playing, there might not be a need to even argue about his legitimacy. He made some very strong throws in the first half, a few times hitting receivers in tight spots. The running game still doesn’t click as much with Foles under center rather than Michael Vick, but teams are picking their poison and he’s making them pay through the air.
-- Foles isn’t especially mobile, that we know. But, as Kelly has insisted, he’s more athletic than many give him credit for being and he moves well in and out of the pocket. He was sacked five times and pressured on multiple occasions, but the lead-footed Carson Palmer made him look like an Olympic sprinter.
-- Zach Ertz was Foles’ favorite downfield target. They connected for five passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. It was the rookie tight end’s best game and he’s only going to get better. I don’t know what his ceiling is but he can create mismatch problems for many defenses. He outran linebacker Daryl Washington for a 16-yard catch in the third quarter and then followed it up with a 24-yard touchdown pass when he ran a crisp corner post to the middle of the field and found a hole in the zone. Earlier, Ertz opened the game with a 6-yard touchdown grab. Brent Celek also got in on the action and tallied four catches for 29 yards and a second-quarter score. The Eagles figured they could utilize their tight ends against the Cardinals and it was another example of Kelly dialing up plays for one of several facets to his offense.
-- No one is going to mistake Davis’ defense for the 1991 Eagles, but there has been a consistency since Week 5. The Birds have yet to allow more than 21 points since the Broncos roasted them back in September. The secondary is still occasionally leaky, but the defensive backs kept Larry Fitzgerald (five catches for 72 yards and a TD) and Michael Floyd (five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown) from torching them. Nate Allen and Cary Williams recorded interceptions. Palmer floated up gimme picks, but both made proper plays on the ball and, more important, the catches. Allen recorded his first interception in two seasons. Williams has three on this season. I have to re-watch the tape, but Patrick Chung often looked out of position in the secondary. He rammed into Brandon Boykin on Fitzgerald’s 43-yard TD and knocked the corner to the ground and out of a tackle.
-- Trent Cole deserves special mention. He forced a fumble sacking Palmer on the Cardinals’ first possession, later added another sack and had a few other hurries. Cole, who didn’t have a sack in the first eight games, now has five in the last four. Brandon Graham, Cole’s co-defensive-end-turned-outside linebacker, also notched two sacks. The switch to the 3-4 has probably been more difficult for Graham to adjust to, but he’s never complained and always given 100 percent, so it’s nice to see him rewarded for his efforts.
-- A few quickies … There were calls that could have gone against both sides, but the Cardinals seemed to get the worst of some sketchy officiating late in the game when Bradley Fletcher wasn’t called for illegal contact and Matt Shaunhnessy was whistled for a hold. … Riley Cooper not only skied for a one-handed catch, but he spun away from a Cardinal and ran 24 yards for a highlight-reel play in the second quarter. Too bad the Eagles wasted the effort when Kelly trotted Brad Smith onto the field on first and goal at the six and he fumbled the snap out of the shotgun. … DeSean Jackson survived a few body blows and had a punt return touchdown called back, but he went over 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in three seasons. … Donnie Jones has quietly become one of the Eagles’ better offseason signings. His 44.4-yard yet aided an offense that couldn’t get anything going for most of the second half. … LeSean McCoy somehow mustered 79 yards on 19 carries even though a stout Cardinals defense was intent on stopping the NFL’s leading rusher. They had more success against Bryce Brown, who rushed five times for four yards. … DeMeco Ryans recorded his third sack on the season. He should give Vinny Curry, who forced Palmer up in the pocket, an assist.