PHILADELPHIA – Todd Bowles has rebounded nicely in Arizona after a tough season coaching in Philadelphia. Vice versa for Bill Davis a few years later.
The two defensive coordinators face their former teams when the Cardinals (7-4) visit the Eagles (6-5) on Sunday. Both are doing just fine with their current teams after struggles in the other cities.
Bowles replaced defensive coordinator Juan Castillo six weeks into last season when the Eagles were on their way to a 4-12 finish. He never had a chance with a team on a downward spiral.
But when Bruce Arians was hired by Arizona, he chose Bowles to run his defense. The Cardinals have the NFL's eighth-ranked defense, and the unit is a major reason the team is in the playoff mix.
"If a player has a bad year they work hard to come back, and it's no different for a coach," Bowles said. "No matter what the situation is, you think as a coach you are good enough to turn anything around."
Davis spent four years in Arizona from 2007-10, serving as the defensive coordinator the last two. His units didn't fare too well, but Chip Kelly brought him to Philadelphia after two years as Cleveland's linebackers coach.
Davis had a rough first month with the Eagles, but his defense has drastically improved. It hasn't allowed more than 21 points in seven straight games.
"There are highs, lows," Davis said. "Sometimes you're doing a good job. Sometimes you're not. But if you just continue to take it in smaller chunks and don't overreact to the praise, and don't overreact to the criticism, it's all a balance that you've got to hold to survive."
Here are five things to watch for when the Cardinals visit the Eagles on Sunday:
TEST OF STRENGTHS: Led by LeSean McCoy, the NFL's leading rusher, the Eagles are first in rushing, averaging 150.6 yards per game. The Cardinals have the league's second-best run defense, allowing just 81.3 yards per game. Something has to give.
The Cardinals have faced top-10 rushing teams five times and held them to less than their average four times.
"They're definitely a stingy defense," McCoy said. "They're a big, aggressive group."
FOLES VS. PALMER: While it certainly doesn't compare to Manning-Brady, Nick Foles vs. Carson Palmer is a matchup of two hot quarterbacks. Palmer was the NFC offensive player of the week after throwing for 314 yards and two TDs against Indianapolis. He also became the first player in franchise history to have at least 300 yards passing, at least 70 percent completions and at least a 110 passer rating in consecutive games.
Foles was the NFC offensive player of the month in November. He has 16 TDs and zero interceptions this season, and leads the NFL with a passer rating of 128.
"When things weren't going well, I knew they would," Palmer said. "I knew we would start trusting each other and get on the same page, and get that time and rhythm of the passing game and the running game."
STREAKING CARDINALS: The Cardinals haven't won five straight games in a single season since 1977. They're 0-7 the last seven chances going for five in a row. An extended winning streak was difficult to expect early in the season when the Cardinals were 3-4 and struggling to adjust to a new coaching staff.
"The guys we brought in are great locker room guys and fit in so well with the group that was already here," coach Bruce Arians said. "When you have a team who cares about each other, then you have accountability."
STOPPING FITZGERALD: Seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has played some of his best games against the Eagles. He's twice been the NFC's top offensive player and both times came after his last two games vs. Philadelphia. Fitzgerald has 35 receptions for 570 yards and nine TDs in five games.
"I feel he's a tremendous player," cornerback Cary Williams said. "We played in the past and I did well. It's a new year and I'm going to go out there and play within the confines of the defense and do what coach asks me to do."
AVOIDING PETERSON: Two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson is arguably the top cover guy in the league, so the Eagles may try to throw the ball away from him. If Peterson shadows DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper could get even more targets from Foles.
"He's got size, he's got the skill and ability to play bump and run," Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "Then when the ball goes up in the air, he's got outstanding ball skills. You can't be sloppy with where you place the ball, because he could make a play on it."
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