It was a close game, but the Philadelphia Eagles’ 24-21 victory Dec. 1 against the Arizona Cardinals was by far their most impressive performance of the season. The Cardinals arrived at Lincoln Financial Field red hot on the back of a four-game winning streak, with their latest victory a 40-11 win against a solid Indianapolis Colts team. Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer had thrown for 1,146 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions over those four games, while the Cardinals defense had forced eight turnovers. But the Eagles (7-5) were not intimidated and did not trail at any point in their victory, which happened to be their only win this season against a team that currently has a winning record.
Often an overlooked key component of success on the gridiron, turnover differential is the primary reason for Philadelphia’s recent success. Simply put, the Eagles have been winning as of late because they have been avoiding mental mistakes while taking advantage of their opponents’ mental mistakes. The Eagles did not commit a single turnover in their last game, but the Cardinals committed three. The first was a fumble forced by Trent Cole and recovered by Bennie Logan on Arizona’s opening drive. This first turnover led to a touchdown reception by tight end Zach Ertz, effectively swinging the momentum over to the Eagles’ side, where it would remain for much of the game. In fact, over Philadelphia’s four-game winning streak, the turnover differential stands at a whopping 9-1 advantage, which is a ridiculously efficient number for the Eagles.
On a week-to-week basis, head coach Chip Kelly’s offense is playing smart and putting up points, while Billy Davis’ defense is making plays and preventing scoring. Such consistency is rare, especially considering that both Kelly and Davis are in their first year with the team.
A bunch of players deserve credit, starting with quarterback Nick Foles, who still has yet to throw an interception this season. But do not forget about running back LeSean McCoy, who is currently second in the league in rushing yards, or DeSean Jackson, who is eighth in the league in receiving yards. All three key offensive stars are making strong cases for Pro Bowl consideration, as are a few offensive lineman — Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans in particular — who have kept the pocket clean for Foles and opened lanes for McCoy. On top of that, the aforementioned Ertz is starting to become a legitimate offensive factor himself. The former Stanford University Cardinal had two touchdown grabs against Arizona.
The defensive unit has held opponents to 21 points or fewer in eight consecutive weeks and is led by middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who has also played himself into the Pro Bowl conversation. Other defensive performers — specifically outside linebackers Trent Cole, Vinny Curry and Connor Barwin, as well as defensive tackle Fletcher Cox — have generated a tremendous amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This has allowed members of the secondary like Brandon Boykin and Bradley Fletcher to make plays on the ball and has effectively destroyed the opposing offensive game plans.
But the Eagles must continue to grind because if the season ended today, they would be left out of the playoffs. The Dallas Cowboys (7-5) have managed to win their last two games, and they are now tied with Philadelphia for first place in the NFC East. Meanwhile, the two NFC Wild Card positions currently belong to the Carolina Panthers (9-3) and San Francisco 49ers (8-4).
Drexel business student Ryan Bannon does not believe that the Eagles’ recent success will last, going as far as saying, “Foles is getting too cocky, and his luck is going to run out when his receivers can’t bail him out anymore.”
Bannon may be on to something regarding the “luck” part. Foles actually did throw an interception late in the game against Arizona, but it was negated by a controversial defensive holding call. If it weren’t for that penalty, the Cardinals would have had one last opportunity to try to tie — or win — the game.
Luck aside, the Eagles’ next matchup Dec. 8 at home against the Detroit Lions (7-5) is a must-win game. A victory would not only put pressure on the Cowboys to match the victory but also keep the Eagles alive in the Wild Card race. In the event of a tiebreaker, the Wild Card spot is awarded to the team with the best head-to-head record, and after that the best divisional record. This furthers the importance of the Eagles’ next game.