Eagles set to face Panthers in primetime: Could traveling on a short week spell trouble for The Birds?

Evin Hartsock, Managing Editor

      In the Philadelphia Eagles’ 34-7 statement win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, the Birds positioned themselves as the team to beat in the NFC East. Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz had arguably the best game of his young career as he completed 70 percent of his passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns, and just one interception. Wentz linked up with wide receiver Torrey Smith, who has been quiet early in the season, three times for 70 yards and a touchdown. The offense maintained the balanced attack that it showed in recent weeks, drawing up 33 runs for a total of 122 yards with running back LeGarrette Blount leading the way with 74 yards.

     The Eagles’ defensive front dominated the Cardinals’ offensive line and had quarterback Carson Palmer on his backside most of the game. Defensive ends Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry each tallied a sack, and the entire defensive front combined for six tackles for loss, holding the Cardinals to just 31 yards on the ground. Although the Philadelphia secondary gave up 291 yards through the air, they made plays when it mattered, holding Arizona to just 7 points. Even Philadelphia’s special teams stepped up, as running back Kenjon Barner did his best Darren Sproles impression, returning three punts for 110 combined yards.

     Philadelphia will have bring that same level of play into Charlotte tonight as they face their toughest opponent so far this season, Cam Newton and the 4-1 Carolina Panthers.

     After an abysmal 2016 campaign, Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton is starting to look like the 2015 MVP version of himself. Newton has started off the season completing 68% of his passes for eight touchdowns and racked up two more TD’s on the ground, throwing five interceptions in that span. Despite some struggles with turning over the football, Newton has gotten hot his last two outings, surpassing 300 passing yards in back-to-back games, something he hasn’t done since his rookie season. He has also limited his turnovers in the last two games, throwing for six touchdowns and just one pick against the Patriots and the Lions.

      Newton will be a handful for the Eagles’ front seven, and he will serve as a test to see if the defense has what it takes going forward. His ability to throw from the pocket and his dangerous mobility and agility can cause quite a conundrum for opposing defenses. The Philadelphia front seven will need to find a balance between a rushing the passer to disrupting Newton in the pocket, and dropping back to contain him. That could create significant holes in the defense.

     The Panthers’ quarterback won’t be the only player the defense will have to key in on. Carolina possesses two big receivers on the outside in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess. After dealing with some injuries in prior seasons, Benjamin has looked like the Florida State version of himself, catching 17 passes for 272 yards and a touchdown. Funchess has also been a reliable target for Newton, who is second on the team in targets behind rookie running back Christian McCaffery.

     McCaffery has helped Newton improve his passing game by providing him with a reliable target in the backfield, adding a dimension to Panthers’ offense that it lacked in the past. McCaffery currently leads the team in targets and receptions, averaging 8.8 yards-per-catch with a touchdown, giving the Eagles’ defense another challenge they will have to figure out. It is important to note that the Eagles have been able to stop the run game this season, which could force the Panthers to go one-dimensional with an emphasis on the passing game. Watching that will be a key for the Eagles’ defense on Thursday night.

     The Panthers’ defense will also spell trouble for the rolling Philadelphia offense that might hit a wall in Charlotte. The Panthers rank third in total defense, sixth in rushing defense, and fifth in passing yards allowed. Their front seven has accumulated a league-high 17 sacks with a pass rush led by veteran Julius Peppers, who has 5.5 sacks. The Panthers have found a way in each of their first five games to disrupt the pocket and hit the quarterback. This could make it a long night for Carson Wentz, as the Eagles’ line is without arguably its best member, tackle Lane Johnson. Johnson suffered a concussion last week against the Cardinals and will be unavailable for Thursday night’s game and will be replaced by second-year offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

     Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson will have to draw up plays for Wentz that will allow him to get rid of the ball fast, as the line without Johnson has not held up long in the past.

     Due to a shortened week and various injuries Philadelphia is dealing with, there is a very high chance that the Panthers’ will come out on top with Newton and a stingy defense leading the way.   

     Evin’s Pick: Panthers 21, Eagles 14



So far this season, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has thrown for 1,237 yards, which ranks 10th in the NFL.