The Philadelphia Eagles will look to make it two straight prime time victories when they face the undefeated Carolina Panthers Sunday Night. After a terrific defensive performance that had Eli Manning in complete disarray, the challenge of slowing down dual threat quarterback Cam Newton is next on the list.
Cam Newton was injured when the Eagles and Panthers played last season, but that’s not the case this time around. After losing 2014 standout Kelvin Benjamin for the season, Newton has looked impressive throwing the football to an average wide receiver core. Tight-end Greg Olsen will be the guy outside of Cam Newton that Billy Davis will need to game plan for. With 24 receptions 374 yards and 3 touchdowns, Olsen is a mismatch for linebackers with his athleticism and route running, and is the go to target in the red zone and on third down.
Jonathan Stewart is the Panthers leading rusher but only has one run of over twenty yards and last week was the first time he found the end-zone this season. The offensive line for the Panthers has received a lot of praise for their improvement this season. Their weakness is at the tackle position, which could allow Graham, Curry and Barwin to use their strength and speed to cause havoc for Newton.
The Panthers defense is a solid showcasing a strong front seven that has similar strengths to the Eagles defense. They run a 4-3 scheme led by defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, a unit who looks to shut down the run and force erratic throws with unique blitzing schemes.
The Eagles need to deviate away from running or passing in the direction of Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly, he is one if not the best linebackers in the NFL. Similar to the Redskins game, the area to attack with the Panthers defense is their safety pairing. Veteran Roman Harper and former Eagle Kurt Coleman are sound tacklers, but don’t have the athleticism to stay with receivers.
The Eagles offense continues to be a question mark, and Chip Kelly and the coaching staff spent the entire week dedicated to improving the turnover issues with quarterback Sam Bradford. The Panthers are going to focus on stopping the Eagles rushing attack, putting the weight on Bradford’s shoulders to succeed with the passing attack.
Sproles has been invisible in the offensive game plan the last few weeks, something Chip Kelly acknowledged he couldn’t repeat in 2015 after falling into this trend last season. The head coach has made adjustments with both the offensive line and rushing attack the last two weeks, but he has also made critical errors with not involving all of his offensive weapons in the game plan. Last week should be a point of reference for Chip.
Against the Panthers defense, the Seattle Seahawks were able to get tight-end Jimmy Graham in the passing game. Will Chip use Zach Ertz in the same way and will Sproles once again be used creatively in the passing game?
The Eagles defense continues to improve on a weekly basis, but they have yet to play a quarterback that has the versatility like Cam Newton. Billy Davis needs to designate a “spy” for Newton, but it doesn’t necessarily need to one player. The Eagles may decide to play close to the line of scrimmage, using a combination of Malcom Jenkins, Connor Barwin and Nolan Carroll throughout the game, forcing Newton to decipher what the defense is trying to do. By using a corner or safety to spy on Newton, it would require another guy to step up. It’s time to get second round pick Eric Rowe more involved on a weekly basis, he demonstrated some good things week three against the Jets, but has seen on a limited basis since that time.
I’ve gone back and forth with this game; trying to figure out if the strengths of this football team are enough to mask the weaknesses. It’s impossible to ignore how poorly Bradford has played the last two weeks, which would make you believe it can’t get any worse.
What gives me confidence is how the Eagles defense has looked and the fact that the running game is slowly starting to look like everyone anticipated heading into the 2015 season.
Heading into the bye week with a 4-3 record would be tremendous achievement for the Eagles, but it’s going to take an effort that hasn’t been shown throughout the first six weeks.
I feel this is going to be a huge week for the Eagles; the team is starting to show an identity, even if it’s not the offensive fire power that many envisioned after preseason game three against the Green Bay Packers.
Eagles 30 Panthers 20