Last time the Eagles faced the Panthers was the Thursday night of week 6 of the 2017 NFL season. They were both 4-1, and it felt as if whoever won would have an early stranglehold on the NFC. It feels like déjà vu, but instead of fighting for dominance in the NFC, both teams are clawing to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Eagles (3-3) come into the game with a mini bye after having squashed Saquon and the Pips last Thursday night. Let’s hope the extra time off has allowed them to get healthier and not rusty. The Panthers (3-2), meanwhile, let all the Eagles’ fans down on Sunday by losing to the Redskins in a game that was not as close as the final score made it seem.
What to watch for when the Eagles have the ball
The Eagles are pretty banged up across the board, but the biggest concern heading into the matchup is both former First Team All-Pro tackles, Jason Peters (Torn Bicep) and Lane Johnson (High Ankle Sprain). The concern is not just can they play, but rather can they play effectively? Hopefully the Eagles will take some pass protection pressure off of them and run the ball.
Look for how Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood play on Sunday. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching (October 30th at 4:00PM). There have been rumors swirling since Jay Ajayi tore his ACL that the Eagles will trade for a running back. Before the Giants game, Clement reportedly approached Eagles’ GM Howie Roseman and told him that the Eagles didn’t need another back. Howie challenged Clement and said, “Make me believe that we don’t need another back.” This week will be a huge “Make me believe” week for all the running backs on the roster. If they play well against a stout Carolina front seven, we may see a new member of the secondary, instead of a new running back, being welcomed to Philadelphia.
Keys to Victory
- Limit Penalties – Mind boggling pre-snap, false start, and holding penalties have really put us in some bad spots this year (Anyone remember the 3rd and 41 against the Bucs??). The Eagles need to limit the penalties like they did against the Giants. No team can win when they are consistently going backwards because of penalties.
- Run the Ball – In 2017, the Eagles passed just over 55% of the time; this year, it’s over 62%. Last week, in the beatdown of the Giants, the Eagles passed on (you guessed it) 54% of their plays. Doug must get back to his roots and pound the rock. Running the ball is the reason the RPO (Run Pass Option) and Play-Action passes work. If the run option is never used while employing the RPO, it is no longer an RPO; it is just a poorly run pass play, and opposing defenses will not be fooled.
- Fast Start – The Eagles need to score on their first possession. Since the beginning of 2017, they are 11-1 when they score on their opening possession and 8-0 when they score a touchdown. Conversely, when they fail to score on their first drive, they are 8-5. It is crucial for this team to score early.
What to watch for when the Panthers have the ball
As much as the Eagles’ offensive line looks banged up, the Panthers are in an even worse position. They lost three starters before the season started, but surprisingly the rag tag team has held together surprisingly well. The Eagles need to be the team to exploit this weakness with their superior pass rush. Listen for the Panthers O-Line to get called out on TV. Nine out of ten times when you hear an O-Lineman’s name, it is not a positive thing. Let’s hope to hear theirs early and often.
Watch Panthers’ second year “do everything” running back Christian McCaffrey. He has led the team in either rushing or receiving yards in every game but one this year. He and wide receiver Devin Funchess are the only two skill players who should make anyone nervous. Perpetually injured tight end Greg Olsen is a shell of his former self with just six catches this year.
Cam Newton should concern Eagles fans though, especially if the Birds’ front four is not able to create pressure. Cam can run and throw the ball with the best of them when he is engaged in the game and not sulking on the sideline with the white towel on his head tucked into his jersey. Keep an eye out for that towel; if you see it on TV often, the game should be going well for the Eagles.
Keys to Victory
- Hit Newton – The Eagles must hit Newton and take him out of his game early. We need to see the Cam that throws off his back foot while retreating, not the Cam who can make all the throws if given enough time and space. Running QBs have given the Eagles fits in the past.
- Win the turnover battle – The Eagles must create turnovers in this game. In 2017, the Eagles averaged 1.94 Turnovers/Game, and this year are averaging 1.0 TO/G, while giving up 1.5 TO/G. This is not a recipe for success. If the Eagles get at least two turnovers, they should win big.
- Force 3 and outs – Bend but don’t break, stop ’em once they’re in the red zone, give up the yards but not the points: this defensive philosophy is creating unnecessary stress in Eagles fans’ lives everywhere. Stop it. Get early pressure on Newton, and don’t let them get on a roll. Whaddya say, Schwartzy? Let’s get some three and outs this week!
The Eagles will win this game handily. Doug will establish an early lead by pounding the rock and using short RPO’s and play-action passes. Carson will keep being Carson, and the defense will leave Cam looking forlorn on the sideline, towel firmly tucked into his jersey.
Eagles 34 Panthers 17