THIS game is bigger than just this game. One Panthers player has already said that it’s for the top seed in the NFC. There are still 10 games beyond this one, but still, the significance of early momentum is not wasted on either side.
We have a 4-1 record, but all of our wins were against sub.500 teams. The one winning team that we faced, beat us. They barely escaped with their lives, but a “W” is still a “W”. Yet there’s a mumbled perception out there, that the Eagles may not be for real.
Planting a flag in the chest of the Panthers would change the entire conversation, with regards to whether the Eagles are the real deal.
While there’s a lot of football still to be played after Thursday, this game is a pretty big deal. This is almost a midseason playoff game for us. It’s great practice and we need to show that we can win it.
So let’s talk about the Four Things we need to focus on this week versus the Panthers :
1) Dictate the action: The Panthers only loss this year involved taking away the outside passing game, and forcing everything into the lap of rookie WR Christian McCaffrey. (Yeah, he’s listed at RB, but that’s like calling a Pug, a dog. It’s more title than truth.) So the idea is to keep the Panthers offense in front of us, and tackle well.
2) Get pressure early: Getting back DT Fletcher Cox should help here immensely. Get pressure up the gut, force QB Cam Newton out of the pocket, and make him alter his launch point. Old intel says that you don’t want Newton running, but that is very old intel, indeed. After suffering concussions in 2015 and 2016, Newton has altered his style of play. He doesn’t run as much, and his yards per carry has gone down. Put another way, QB Carson Wentz has been more effective as a runner (26 – 108 – 4.2), than Newton (29 – 90 – 3.1). Newton also frustrates easily and goes into funks when he makes mistakes. If we take his head out of the game early, we’ll own the night.
3) Rip up the seams: Carolina has very good LB’s, but neither OLB is even 6’2”, and both lack the man skills to handle TE Zach Ertz or WR Mack Hollins. Seeing WR Nelson Agholor step on the field, would be enough to take Carolina out of their base.
4) Send a message: No one expects us to do well against the Panther’s run defense. Run anyway. While it may not contribute many yards, it will help keep Wentz upright and healthy. It will also show upcoming opponents that we can grind down even a good team. We can use this game to attack an opponent’s confidence weeks in advance.
If we do all these things, we’re just about guaranteed to win. Now that we’ve covered what should happen, let’s get into what likely will happen:
The Panthers are pretty nice about letting people meet their QB (15 sacks), and they aren’t very good at running the ball. The result is that they’re a fairly one-dimensional offense. A shaky O-line and one dimensional offense is fine against Bill Davis, but it may get your QB killed against Jim Schwartz. The upshot is, they’re going to try and hide their flaws by attacking our reputedly weak Secondary. With Newton out of the pocket, that will be a mistake.
When facing QB’s like Brian Hoyer and Tyrod Taylor, the Panthers give up an average of 3 points. One field goal. When facing QB’s like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Stafford, the Panthers give up an average of 29.3 points. Or four touchdowns. So which group would you say Wentz is closer to?
Expect Wentz to put on a clinic Thursday night. You may even see Newton taking notes. Unless Carolina plays more Nickel, I have no idea how they intend to handle Ertz. However, if they line up in Nickel, I have no idea how they intend to handle RB LeGarrette Blount. My guess is that the Panthers will spend Thursday night grasping for answers that stay tantalizingly, just out of reach.
PREDICTION: EAGLES 28 – Panthers 21