Six Points: Eagles vs. Panthers
The Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) are heading into Carolina on a two-game winning streak, with both wins coming in dominating fashion. The Eagles first dropped 39 points on the New Orleans Saints in Week 5, then shut down the rival New York Giants’ offense, winning 27-7. Next up? The undefeated Carolina Panthers (5-0), who are fresh off their most impressive victory of the 2015 season.
Before Carolina’s recent 27-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on the road, there were plenty of doubters. While there still may be a few who aren’t ready to jump on the Panthers’ bandwagon just yet, Cam Newton and company are ready to continue their incredible run. Will Newton be slowed down by Philadelphia’s defense like Eli Manning was in Week 6? Or will he prove to be too much for the Eagles in this prime time matchup?
Here are three keys to the game for both the Eagles and the Panthers.
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1. Use Ryan Mathews more in the run game
The Panthers are stout up the middle with defensive tackles Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei as the first line of defense in front of all-pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. However, on the edge, their outside linebackers have struggled to set the edge and make plays in the running game. Strong safety Roman Harper has also struggled to make plays in the run game at the second and third levels of the defense. The Eagles haven’t been able to generate any rushing yards on sweeps and stretch plays with DeMarco Murray, and although he finally got going in Week 6 when the Eagles ran power plays for him, this is not an easy matchup to run the same plays. Mathews has had much greater success on the kinds of runs that will work well against the Panthers.
2. Use bracket coverage on Greg Olsen
The Eagles are banged up at inside linebacker with injuries to Kiko Alonso, Mychal Kendricks and now DeMeco Ryans. Kendricks could be back this week if all goes well, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles should leave him one-on-one with Olsen. The Panthers are lacking talent at wide receiver, and Newton likes to lock in on Olsen — he leads the team in targets, receptions and yardage. The Eagles need to focus extra attention on him in this matchup.
3. Do not test cornerback Josh Norman in single coverage
The Eagles like to take their deep shots under Chip Kelly, but Sam Bradford hasn’t always been on the same page as his wide receivers on long pass attempts. If they find themselves on the wrong page when targeting Norman on Sunday night, it could lead to an interception. Norman already has a league-leading four interceptions on the season, and opposing quarterbacks have a 24.1 passer rating when targeting him in coverage.
1. Let Cam Newton use his legs
The Philadelphia Eagles haven’t been tested by opposing quarterbacks on the ground much this season, which could bode well for Newton. Philadelphia has allowed just 16 rushes for 51 yards and a touchdown to quarterbacks, but as we know, Newton loves to run the football. Through five games this season, Newton has rushed 50 times for 225 yards and three touchdowns. Don’t be surprised to see him tack on one more rushing score and quite a few yards against the Eagles on Sunday.
2. Get pressure in Sam Bradford’s face
There’s only one quarterback with more interceptions than Bradford to this point in 2015. Surprisingly, that player is Peyton Manning. Regardless, the Panthers need to attack Bradford and make him force the ball into tight spaces. Carolina has 13 sacks this season, so it’s obviously an area where they could be a bit better, but they still find themselves in the top half of the league. Bradford has already had four games with multiple interceptions, including the five he threw over the last two games. Expect Carolina to be ready to swarm in the secondary.
3. Shut down DeMarco Murray
Yes, Murray has gotten back on the right track, scoring a touchdown in each of the last two games, while averaging 97.5 yards per game on the ground. What’s interesting about the five games that Murray has played in, is the two games he produced well, the Eagles won. The three where he was essentially a non-factor? Well, those were all losses. In those three games, Murray rushed 29 times for 47 yards and one touchdown. If the Panthers can keep Murray to a quiet day rushing, it’ll bode well for their chances to win this game, as it’ll also make Bradford’s life quite a bit tougher.