A year ago, the Eagles' defense gave up a league-high 72 "X'' plays – pass plays of 20 or more yards. After rebuilding their secondary, they have improved in that area this year, giving up just 44 of them in the first 13 games.
But they will be tested in a big way in that department Sunday night by the 4x100 relay team known as the Arizona Cardinals.
The 13-2 Cardinals lead the league in "X'' plays with 59. They have 10 different players with at least one 20-plus yard reception. Larry Fitzgerald has 16 of them. Michael Floyd and John Brown, who had a 75-yard touchdown catch late in the game to beat the Eagles last year, each have 11.
Rookie JJ Nelson has seven. Running back David Johnson has four.
"We need to continue to improve there,'' Chip Kelly said Thursday. "We've done a better job. Obviously last year it was really our Achilles heel in terms of getting off the field on third down and giving up huge, huge chunks of yardage in the "X'' play category.
"We are better this year. The statistics will tell you that. But we need to continue to improve from that aspect. That's really the biggest emphasis, especially against this team.
"They do such a good job of getting the ball and pushing it down the field. They've got outstanding speed out there. It's something you have to be conscious of, especially against this team.''
The Cardinals are second in the league in third-down efficiency on offense, converting 46.3 percent of their third-down opportunities. The Eagles defense, despite reducing the "X'' plays, are 24th in third-down defense.
--Asked Thursday if he has any concern about running back DeMarco Murray being upset about his reduced workload, Kelly said, "No. Everybody wants to win. We're going to do whatever we can to win the football game.''
Kelly indicated that the more manageable third-down situations the Eagles get in, the more effective Murray will be. Murray has 42 rushing first downs on 174 carries this season. He had an NFL-high 89 rushing first downs last season on 392 carries.
"Last week, we had 18 third downs, but 13 of them were five (yards) or less,'' Kelly said. "When we get to workable third-down situations, he's a downhill, physical runner that gives you an opportunity when you're in a third-and-one, third-and-two, third-and-three – we talk about the line getting us half of it and the back getting us half of it. But he always seems to be going forward. So that's a positive thing he brings to the table for us.''
That said, despite those 13 third-and-five-or-less situations last week, Murray only had 11 rushing attempts.
Murray has converted 17 of 22 situations of two yards or less in the first 13 games. Ryan Mathews has converted 10 of 13.
Thursday practice note: Cornerback Byron Maxwell practiced Thursday. He injured an ankle in Sunday's win over Buffalo, but said Wednesday it would not prevent him from playing this week. Maxwell said it is not – not – a high ankle sprain.