BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles will have their hands full on Sunday night, trying to mute the Arizona Cardinals, who are on a major roll at the end of the regular season.
Arizona will jet cross-country to the City of Brotherly Love with the best road offense in the NFL. They’ve scored a league-high 222 points away from the state of Arizona, and they’ve also scored an NFL-high 27 touchdowns on the road. These are two reasons why the Cardinals are one of three teams (Panthers, 6-0, Broncos, 6-1) in the league with at least six road wins this season.
Kelly says Arizona’s offensive explosion this season begins with the play of their MVP candidate, quarterback Carson Palmer, who he says will be tough to deal with on Sunday Night Football.
“He’s (Palmer) playing so well right now,” Kelly said. “He’s such a veteran and so smart. Completing a high percentage (64.5%) of his passes, doesn’t ever really put the ball too much in harm’s way. You need to give him multiple looks. You can’t use the same defense or he’ll pick you apart, no matter what defense you decide to choose. You’ve really got to be varying your attack against Carson, in terms of what you give him for looks, what type of pressure you exert on him, whether it’s coming from the outside or coming from the inside; you have to change things up on him so that he’s not always looking at the same thing, because usually when he’s looking at it and it’s always the same thing, he’ll come up with the right answer.”
Palmer hasn’t done it alone this season. The 4,003 yards and 31 touchdowns he’s racked up has come because he’s got elite talent to hand the ball off to, and to throw to.
One of the emerging stars that’s at Palmer’s disposal is rookie running back David Johnson, who’s come into his own since the injury bug hit Arizona’s backfield, with Chris Johnson working his way back from a knee injury, and Andre Ellington fighting a turf toe.
Johnson’s done it with his legs, his hands, and pretty much his entire body since he’s become the starting running back for the Cardinals.
Kelly says he and the Eagles were quite impressed with Johnson as he was getting ready for the NFL Draft. They loved what they saw from him coming from Northern Iowa.
“He (Johnson) did really well at the Senior Bowl,” Kelly said. “He’s a big back, but catches the ball extremely well; just a really, really good receiver. I think he was actually a receiver in high school (Clinton (IA) High School) before he went to Northern Iowa and moved to running back.”
“I think you don’t usually have that versatility,” Kelly said. “Usually, you have a big back that’s kind of a banger, but he can’t be a third-down back. I think David (Johnson) is a three-down back and has been very impressive. He’s very impressive running the ball, but he’s also someone you’ve really got to keep an eye on. He’s got 26 catches coming out of the backfield. He’s scored four touchdowns receiving right now, and I think (Arizona head coach) Bruce (Arians) is really putting him in positions to make plays.”
Just a few weeks ago, the Eagles were in the midst of a three-game losing streak. They lost at home to the Dolphins in a close one, 20-19, in Week 10. They were blasted in the two games following that one: 45-17 by the Buccaneers in Week 11, and 45-14 on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
Things took a turn in the right direction for Kelly and the Eagles on Dec. 6, when they shocked the world by beating the world champion Patriots 35-28 at Gillette Stadium – a place they hardly ever lose at.
Philadelphia’s on a two-game winning streak, and they’re fighting for the NFC East division title along with the Redskins and Giants. They’d love nothing better than to stretch that to a three-game winning streak at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday night, and put a gash in Arizona’s hopes of securing their first NFC West crown since 2009, and a potential No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
“Every game’s big for us at this point in time during the year,” Kelly said. “We’re fighting for a playoff spot. I know Arizona’s already clinched, but they’re fighting for home field advantage, playoff byes and all that. So, every game’s huge.”
“We have played well for the last two weeks,” Kelly said. “Literally, after the (Buffalo) Bills game (23-20 win last Sunday), very quickly our focus and attention turned to, really, one of the best teams in the league in the Arizona Cardinals.”