The message Andy Reid is going to drum into his players as they prepare for Sunday's NFC championship game is that the Arizona Cardinals that showed up at Lincoln Financial Field Thanksgiving night are not the same team that will be hosting them at University of Phoenix Stadium with a trip to Super Bowl XLIII on the line.
"To be honest with you, I didn't think we got their best shot when they were here," the Eagles' coach said at his noon news conference today. "They didn't play good football. They were coming off a tough (home loss to the Giants), it was Thanksgiving Day and they had to travel here.
"This will be a different football team that we will see out there. I have had a chance to go through four games now -- the last four games of their season -- and it's very obvious when you put on the film that schemetically they are doing some different things. They are way more aggressive from a defensive standpoint. Offensively, they've always been aggressive, but they've got their run game going and I think their offensive line is playing better. They're playing very good football right now."
The Eagles, of course, blew out the Cardinals, 48-20, at the Linc and started to put back together their season, which seemed to be on the skids after Donovan McNabb was benched in a lopsided loss at Baltimore.
Veteran running back Edgerrin James, after carrying the ball just 18 times in an eight-game stretch from Week 8 through Week 16, has once again become an integral part of the Cardinals' offense. In two postseason games, the former Indianapolis Colts' star has ran 36 times for 130 yards and a touchdown. He has carried the ball 13 more times than rookie Tim Hightower, who had emerged as Arizona's featured back in the second half of the season.
The Cardinals, of course, are built to throw the football and Larry Fitzgerald has been their postseason star, catching 14 passes for 267 yards and two touchdowns in wins over Atlanta and Carolina. Quarterback Kurt Warner, intercepted three times in the game at the Linc, has a 93.9 passer rating in the postseason, completing 40 of 64 passes for 491 yards and four touchdowns. He has thrown two interceptions.
Reid held a team meeting when the Eagles returned home following yesterday's win over the Giants and he gave the players off today.
The coach said receiver Jason Avant was moving around better today after hyperextending his knee and leaving yesterday's game in the third quarter. Also on the injury front, Reid said Jon Runyan remains sore with a right knee sprain and Brian Westbrook has knee swelling.
"I don't think any of these are too major," Reid said. "We'll just see how they do in the next few hours here."