GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — They are second-year coaches who have zoomed up the success ladder in the NFL.
Chip Kelly, who built a collegiate powerhouse at Oregon, has put together built a winner in Philadelphia. Bruce Arians, after toiling for decades as a highly thought of assistant coach, got his chance for the top job in Arizona. He has the Cardinals alone atop the NFC West at 5-1, the franchise’s best start since 1976. The Eagles, also 5-1, are a half-game behind Dallas in the NFC East.
Philadelphia and Arizona face each other Sunday in one of the weekend’s most intriguing matchups.
While Arizona was winning at Oakland 24-13 last Sunday, Philadelphia had a welcome bye.
“We played 10 games, including the four preseason games, so you get a little chance to rest up,” Kelly said, “get away from it for a little bit, not only physically, but mentally, so I look at it as a plus. ”
The Cardinals are still stinging from their 34-31 loss at Philadelphia last Nov. 24.
“Because I thought at that point in time it was probably going to cost us the playoffs,” Arians said. “It was an NFC game, and when tiebreakers came out, that was the conference performance that actually got us.”
The Eagles won the NFC East at 10-6. The Cardinals also finished 10-6, and wound up third in the NFC West, left out of the postseason.
Here are things to watch for when the Eagles meet the Cardinals:
GROUND SHOWDOWN: Arizona comes into the game with the NFL’s No. 1 defense, allowing 72.5 yards per game. No opposing team has reached 100 yards. Now the Cardinals have to try to corral LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s leading rusher last season. McCoy, who had some trouble breaking loose, ran for a season-best 149 yards in the rout of the New York Giants two weeks ago.
McCoy admires the way the Cardinals play defense.
“Just the way they play up front,” he said. “They play, well, tough and aggressive. I think every player on that defense plays together, whereas sometimes where guys want to make the plays and get all the attention.”
Then there’s the ultra-elusive Darren Sproles, another potential big problem for the Cardinals’ D.
Sproles sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the win over the Giants on Oct. 12. The injury appeared worse when he went down and didn’t return, but Kelly alleviated concerns when he said it wasn’t serious before the team broke for the bye.
If the Cardinals can stop the run, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will ratchet up the pressure with blitzes from all sorts of angles to try to confuse quarterback Nick Foles.
TIGHT ENDS: The Cardinals have had their problems with tight ends, especially last year. In the loss to the Eagles, tight end Zach Ertz had five catches for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Brent Celek caught four for 29 yards and two TDs.
Both will be on the field Sunday. A third tight end, James Casey, has two catches this season for 45 yards and a score.
“Yeah, I think each week the tight ends are involved, certainly,” Philadelphia offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “There are a lot of times when we’ll have two or three on the field at one time. In terms of opportunities, we’ve just got to play our game, and the production will sometimes show up when you least expect it.”
Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson says the team has emphasized the issue and is “a lot better” at stopping tight ends.
KEEPING UP: The Cardinals have had the scout team emulate the up-tempo style the Eagles like. Arians brushes aside any concern.
“We didn’t really have any problems last year,” he said. “They played a lot of two and three tight ends against us last year. The tempo, we have no problem practicing against a high tempo. That no-huddle stuff we’ve seen almost every week now, so it’s nothing really new.”
TWO GOOD: The Cardinals and Eagles have played 117 times and never have both teams entered the game 5-1.
Arizona’s signature wins are both at home: over San Diego in the opener and San Francisco. Its one loss came in a blowout at Denver when the Cardinals were without quarterback Carson Palmer and lost his backup during the game.
Philadelphia’s biggest win was at Indianapolis. Its lone loss was a close one at San Francisco.
ACHO VS. ACHO: The Acho brothers will play against each other for the first time at any level. Emannuel for Philadelphia, Sam for Arizona. They are both linebackers, so don’t expect them on the field at the same time.
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