By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Bill Davis wore the calm, cool veneer of someone who knew something as he hopped on the elevator Sunday morning toward the coach’s box at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles’ defensive coordinator appeared content with his plan on stopping the streaking Arizona Cardinals.
Pressure, pressure, pressure.
The Eagles swarmed all over Carson Palmer and the Arizona offense for five sacks and three turnovers, then hung on for dear life in an easier-than-it-should-have-been 24-21 victory over Arizona on Sunday, snapping the Cardinals’ four-game winning streak.
It marked the fourth-straight victory for the Eagles, who now move into a first-place tie with Dallas atop the NFC East at 7-5, and firm up their playoff position as a possible NFC wildcard.
Nick Foles kept up his quality play, completing 21 of 34 for 237 yards and three touchdowns—without an interception—against the NFL’s No. 8-ranked defense.
It was the defense, however, that proved to be the difference.
“I thought we did a great job as a team overall, and of finishing the game,” Eagles’ defensive end Fletcher Cox said. “I know it got tight there at the end and someone had to make a play, and we got the job done. We knew we could keep pressure on Palmer and get him out of his comfort zone. It’s what we talked about all week. We wanted to shake him up a little bit and get into his head. That was the plan. I think we did that.”
A Palmer incompletion on a fourth-and-five at the Arizona 15 spelled the end with 1:51 left to play and no timeouts left. From there, the Eagles whittled down what was left on the clock for their second-straight victory at the Linc.
The Eagles never trailed, though there were a few times when they could have put some distance between themselves and Arizona. A DeSean Jackson punt return for a touchdown was called back due to a penalty early in the fourth quarter, and a rare glaringly bad call by Chip Kelly in the second quarter resulted in another squandered opportunity for a touchdown in the red zone.
The Eagles went into halftime leading, 17-7, helped by a big second-quarter explosion. The Birds scored 10 points on 141 yards of total offense in the quarter. Foles was 11 for 15 for 128 yards, which included a 1-yard TD strike to Brent Celek.
While there were times the Eagles’ offense sputtered during the first half, it was the defense that maintained the lead. The Eagles had Palmer dancing around in the pocket, looking for time, sacking him three times for minus-25 yards.
Thanks to the defense, the Eagles charged out to a 7-0 lead, when Foles hit Zach Ertz in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 12:30 left in the first quarter.
It was a nice play by Foles, going play-action to the left, causing the Cardinals’ defense to swing left, then rolling to his right with two choices in the end zone, Celek cutting underneath and Ertz deeper in the end zone. A pair of completions to Celek for a combined 19 yards put the Eagles there.
That was made possible by a Trent Cole strip sack and Bennie Logan fumble recovery at the Arizona 25. Four plays later, Foles hit Ertz for his 17th TD pass against no interceptions. Foles now had 19 touchdown passes without an interception, placing him second all-time for touchdown passes without throwing an interception behind only Peyton Manning, who began this season with 20 TD passes without throwing a pick.
“Palmer is a real good quarterback, not to take anything away from him, but we knew if we let him get comfortable back there in the pocket, he would have picked us apart,” Logan said. ‘We didn’t want our DBs covering their receivers that long. We knew up front, we had to pressure on Palmer, causing havoc. We really didn’t do anything different, no stunts or anything, just straight up pressure.”
After the Eagles’ third sack, Palmer stood up to the Eagles’ pressure coming through the middle to connect with Larry Fitzgerald for a 43-yard TD with 7:50 left in the half, which tied the score at 7-7.
Fitzgerald took the pass in between Patrick Chung and Brandon Boykin, who collided into each other, freeing up Fitzgerald to run unfettered to the end zone.
About the only Eagles’ foul up came in the second quarter on a wildcat play in which Kelly trotted out wide receiver Brad Smith to take a snap. Foles just completed a 24-yard pass to Riley Cooper, whose amazing one-handed catch-and-run took it to the Arizona 6.
On the ensuing play, Smith fumbled the snap and the ancient John Abraham flopped on him at the 10—a 4-yard loss that eventually forced the Eagles into an Alex Henery 32-yard field goal with 3:59 left in the half.
Aside from that, it was timely offense, without a turnover, and Davis’ defensive schemes that prevailed.
With threats like Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, who were combined targeted 18 times, yet caught 10 passes for 171 yards and two TDs, Davis wanted to alleviate as much stress on the secondary as he could.
“We knew their offensive line was something we had to attack, because of their strength at wide receiver,” Davis said. “With [Andre] Ellington going down, we knew he’s a huge part of their third-down package. We came in sticking with the four-man rush, which we felt would work, and it did. The guys did a good job today. The guys did a great job scrapping. We pressured and fell back, pressured and fell back, and guys made plays.”