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NFL Preview - Arizona (2-6) at Philadelphia (3-5)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - It is probably fair to say that Kevin Kolb never really got a chance at replacing Donovan McNabb as the Philadelphia Eagles' next franchise quarterback.
It's kind of fitting, then, that the former second-round draft pick and current Arizona Cardinal might not be able to play in his return to Philadelphia.
Kolb will try to take the field this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field for the first time since his trade to Arizona against an Eagles team that saw its season of high expectations take another hit earlier this week.
Philadelphia took Kolb with the 36th overall pick in the 2007 draft as an apparent heir to the then-Pro Bowl quarterback McNabb. Kolb had several solid outings in relief of an injured McNabb early in his career and was slated to take over the starting role full-time in 2010 after McNabb's trade to Washington.
However, Kolb suffered a head injury in Week 1, opening the door for Michael Vick to put together a Pro Bowl season and claim the starting role. Vick's resurgence in the NFL made Kolb expendable, and the Eagles traded the 27- year-old to the Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick.
Kolb has struggled as Arizona's No. 1 quarterback this year and missed last week's thrilling 19-13 overtime victory against St. Louis due to turf toe. That leaves him questionable for this game, though hopeful to play.
"Anybody can say they don't circle it on their calendar, but that's what you do," said Kolb, who had a trio of 300-yard games in seven career starts with Philadelphia. "I have a lot of friends and there's a lot of good people back there and I'm looking forward to going back, but I definitely want to be in uniform and have a chance to play."
Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt called it a tough situation for Kolb because of the uncertainty due to his injury, while wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said the club is ready if backup John Skelton makes a second straight start in Kolb's place.
"[Skelton] made plays when we needed it, with his feet, with his arm," Fitzgerald said in reference to last week's win. "He's got a big, strong cannon and he can make all the throws.
"I think he's going to do a good job if Kevin can't go."
Sunday's game will also mark a return to Philadelphia for backup linebacker Stewart Bradley, who joined Arizona as a free agent after appearing in 44 games with the Eagles after they selected him in the third round of the 2007 draft.
Arizona snapped a six-game slide last weekend with its first win since Week 1 and had special-teams play to thank. Defensive end Calais Campbell blocked a potential game-winning 42-yard field goal attempt as time expired in regulation and rookie Patrick Peterson returned a punt 99 yards for a score in overtime for the deciding points.
Peterson, who said he "decided to catch the ball and just run for my life," posted the second-longest punt return in league history and is the first player in the NFL to return three punts for a score in his first eight career games.
After last week's home win kept the Cardinals five games off the pace in the NFC West, they will now try to snap an 11-game road losing streak dating back to Sept. 12 of last year. They are 0-4 on the road this season and play the first of three straight as the guest, the Cards' longest road trip since 1997.
The Eagles, meanwhile, entered the season as contenders after adding a slew of players to their defense this past offseason, including Rodgers-Cromartie and fellow Pro Bowl corner Nnamdi Asomugha to a secondary that already included Asante Samuel.
Philadelphia's defense has struggled keeping teams off the scoreboard, though, and it was denied a third straight victory on Monday night after Chicago rallied for 13 points to hand the Eagles a 30-24 defeat.
The Birds were coming off a convincing 34-7 win over Dallas, but struggled on both sides of the ball to fall to 3-5 on the year. That has them three games back of the first-place New York Giants in the NFC East.
"I know there's things I could have done better," Vick said afterward. "Against a team like that you have to be precise. We didn't make the plays. We wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to get to .500. We had a chance to win this game and we let it slip away."
The Eagles play the final contest of a three-game homestand this weekend.
The all-time regular-season series between the Cardinals and Eagles dates all the way back to the 1935 season and is knotted at 53-53-5. Philadelphia evened the set by virtue of a 48-20 victory at Lincoln Financial Field on Thanksgiving night in 2008, with Arizona's last non-playoff win over the Eagles occurring at Sun Devil Stadium on Christmas Eve of 2005. The Cardinals are 0-2 in Philadelphia since recording a 21-20 decision over the Eagles at Veterans Stadium on Oct. 7, 2001, the last year in which the two clubs were still each members of the NFC East.
The Cardinals have prevailed in two of three lifetime matchups with Philadelphia in the postseason, breaking a tie with a 32-25 home triumph in the 2008 NFC Championship. The then-Chicago Cardinals also downed the Eagles by a 28-21 count in the 1947 NFL Championship, with Philly returning the favor via a 7-0 verdict in the 1948 NFL title game.
Philadelphia's Andy Reid is 5-5 against the Cardinals during his 13-year tenure as the Eagles' head coach, while Whisenhunt sports a 1-1 lifetime mark against both Philadelphia and Reid in his present position.
WHEN THE CARDINALS HAVE THE BALL
In his first start of the year for an injured Kolb (1706 passing yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), Skelton had an up-and-down outing against St. Louis. Arizona managed just 58 yards in the first half and Skelton and the Cardinals handed the Rams four points on back-to-back safeties. Still, the second-year quarterback found Fitzgerald (38 receptions, 3 TD) for a 13-yard touchdown pass with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Skelton also led the Cardinals with 38 yards on four carries as running back Beanie Wells (526 rushing yards, 7 TD) continued to battle a knee injury while posting 20 yards on 10 carries. Wells has been a solid contributor to Arizona's 25th-ranked offense when healthy and is one shy of his career high for touchdowns in a season. While Skelton was far from perfect, Arizona did not have a turnover last weekend for the first time all year and the backup improved to 3-0 at home as a starter. He also targeted Fitzgerald on 12 occasions, though the two only hooked up four times for 43 yards. Fitzgerald's touchdown was the 68th of his career, one shy of Roy Green's all-time club record. Wide receiver Early Doucet (34 receptions, 3 TD) led the team with six catches for 78 yards last week, while Andre Roberts (18 receptions) added five for 55 yards.
The Eagles looked to have improved their pass defense this offseason and do come into the game ranked ninth in that category. However, they have struggled against the run (124.0 ypg allowed) and rank 18th in the NFL with 22.8 points allowed per game. They gave up 164 yards rushing to the Bears despite forcing two fumbles by running back Matt Forte. Red-zone defense has also been an issue, with Philadelphia giving up 15 touchdowns and five field goals on 22 instances inside its own 20. Philadelphia is tied for third in the league with a plus-eight sack differential, but failed to get to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler even once on Monday. The Eagles also failed to notch an interception, but did get a 22-yard fumble recovery and touchdown from rookie linebacker Brian Rolle (30 tackles). Safety Kurt Coleman (29 tackles, 3 INT) led the team with 12 tackles versus the Bears and middle linebacker Jamar Chaney (53 tackles, 1 INT) added 10 stops. While Asomugha (21 tackles, 2 INT) and Samuel (24 tackles, 1 INT) have both picked off quarterbacks, the Eagles hope that Rodgers-Cromartie (17 tackles) can get going against his former club. Now Philadelphia's nickel corner, he had 16 interceptions in 54 games (including the postseason) with the Cardinals from 2008-10. Philly should be able to get pressure this weekend with solid ends in Jason Babin (23 tackles, 9 sacks) and Trent Cole (17 tackles, 4 sacks). Safety Nate Allen (25 tackles, 1 INT) is questionable for this game, however, after suffering a concussion on Monday.
WHEN THE EAGLES HAVE THE BALL
The Eagles were held to a season-low 330 yards versus the Bears as Vick (2065 passing yards, 11 TD, 9 INT) threw for only 213 yards without a touchdown. He added 34 yards rushing and was picked off once. Philadelphia's best offensive weapon continues to be running back LeSean McCoy (825 rushing yards, 28 receptions, 11 total TD), who ran for 71 yards and a score on 16 carries while adding five catches for 46 yards. McCoy tied a club record by scoring in each of Philadelphia's first eight games, and another score this week would make him just the fourth NFL player since 1960 to reach the end zone in a season's first nine games. Tight end Brent Celek (27 receptions, 2 TD) has also gotten more involved as of late, making a game-high seven catches for 60 yards against Chicago. He has 18 receptions, 196 yards and two scores in his last three games. Playmaking wide receiver DeSean Jackson (29 receptions, 2 TD) was held to just two catches for 16 yards and lost a fumble on a punt return, however, while leading receiver Jeremy Maclin (44 receptions, 4 TD) notched four catches for 63 yards. Philadelphia ranks first in the NFL in rushing yards (172.3 ypg) and third in total offense (434.4 ypg), but is only ninth in scoring at 25.4 points per game.
Arizona comes in with the 28th-ranked defense in the league and is giving up 24.5 points per game, but did not allow a touchdown last week versus the Rams for the first time since Oct. 18, 2009 in Seattle. It was also the first time the franchise did not yield a touchdown at home since a 14-3 win over the Giants on Oct. 10, 1999. The Cardinals got outstanding contributions from inside linebackers Paris Lenon (50 tackles, 1 sack) and Daryl Washington (46 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT), who combined for 18 tackles against the Rams, while rookie outside linebacker Sam Acho (12 tackles, 3 sacks) recorded a sack for a third game in a row. Another sack in this game would match Simeon Rice's 1996 club rookie record of four straight. Arizona's secondary is already without safety Kerry Rhodes (24 tackles, 2 sacks) due to a foot injury and linebacker Joey Porter (16 tackles, 1 sack) continues to miss time with a knee ailment, so the loss of cornerback Michael Adams (17 tackles) last week was a major blow. It was also a scary incident, as he was carted off the field with a head/neck injury. Arizona will need its young corners in Peterson (35 tackles, 2 INT) and A.J. Jefferson (44 tackles) to step up, along with veteran safety Adrian Wilson (34 tackles, 1 INT). In addition to his second blocked field goal of the season, Campbell (44 tackles, 5 sacks) also came up with two sacks last week.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Both teams have punt returners that can change of the course of game in Peterson and Jackson. The Cardinals' return man is already tied for the most punt return touchdowns in club history with three and is one shy of the NFL's single-season record. Jackson has just 3.7 yards per return on nine attempts t his year, but owns a career average of 10.6 with four touchdowns. Also, Philadelphia has not allowed a punt or kickoff return for a score since Sept. 15, 2008 versus Dallas.
Philadelphia's embattled secondary faces a major test in Fitzgerald, who has six touchdowns in three career games versus the Eagles including the playoffs. In the 2008 NFC Championship meeting, the wideout went off for nine catches, 152 yards and three scores.
The Cardinals have been solid against the run this year, but will have their hands full with McCoy, a speedy cutting machine who makes plays on the ground and as a receiver. Arizona faced a similar back in Baltimore's Ray Rice in Week 8 and held him to 63 yards on 18 carries, but Rice scored three touchdowns.
This has been an anticipated game since the Eagles decided to trade Kolb to the Cardinals, so his questionable status is a bit of a disappointment. While his matchup is personal for Arizona's quarterback, Philadelphia's season could very well be on the line. At 3-5 and three games off the pace in the NFC East, the Eagles will need to play nearly flawless to make the playoffs. Their playoff hopes stay alive for another week against a Cardinals team that nearly lost a week ago to a Rams club that Philly handled, 31-13, in Week 1.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eagles 28, Cardinals 20
11/10 17:17:27 ET