Their current record may not be fully representative of how good the Carolina Panthers actually are, but at 5-0 they still arguably pose the biggest challenge that the Eagles have faced this year. If the birds are to come away from their showdown with Cam Newton and crew with a 4-3 record then they will need to do the following:
Stop Cam Newton
It sounds obvious but this is the first real dual threat Quarterback the Eagles have faced this year, and he’s a damned good one but the Eagles were able to sack him nine times when they last met…nine. With the Eagles Defense currently dominating on just about every front and Cam’s lack of receiving help we could well be in for another brutal Newton beatdown. But Newton wasn’t as mobile when the teams last met due to coming off of an ankle surgery and a lot can change in 12 months.
Newton has had very little in the way of help from his receivers so whilst the Panthers have been looking to run him less, he’s actually run a lot more. Through the first four games alone, Newton averaged 10.75 rushes and 48.75 yards…not to mention three rushing touchdowns in five games to go alongside his eight overall. With just four picks on the season, Newton is much more agile and far more complete than he was a year ago and with a big running back behind him as well, will certainly be looking to grind his way up the field with a lot of ground work. Containing Cam and making sure what has previously been an inconsistent pass rush is at its best like it was against Eli is going to be absolutely crucial in stopping the two time pro-bowler.
Red Zone success
Sam Bradford has thrown more red-zone interceptions than any other Quarterback in the league and is now facing a defense ranked 8th when it comes to defending the pass. 8 seems to be a common theme as the Panthers Defense have also forced 8 interceptions through so far..for the Eagles to find success through the air, Bradford simply has to be more conservative before throwing deep down the field. The first read isn’t always the best and unfortunately it’s been an issue that’s plagued him all season. The Eagles build up steam, get close to the promised land before a fateful pick is thrown after a poor read or miscommunication. If the Eagles want to come away with a win, a lot of responsibility is going to fall on the Offense’s shoulders. Bradford does need some help from his receivers, he isn’t “superman” after all..but needless to say this is a Defense that will punish him far more brutally for the errors he makes than any other Defense he’s faced so far.
War in the trenches
The Eagles simply have to win the war in the trenches against Carolina, for a few reasons. The first being that the Panthers have 13 sacks this season and are able to establish a pass rush early on. Linebackers like Luke Kuechly are going to be the big names to stop but this is an Offensive Line that until the last two games had struggled massively. The Defense they will face on Sunday poses almost a mirror threat to that of their own and will need to be prepared for a lot of blitzes and big hits.
Not only that, but as the line has improved, so has DeMarco Murray statistically. Murray had his first 100 yard rushing game in an Eagles uniform on Monday Night and to get close again this weekend, will need his Line to push the Panthers’ D Line into spots where Murray can make the most of the holes given to him. Murray has become a far more intellectual back as of late but he still needs some help from his Offensive Line, if the Line begin to fall under pressure against Carolina and the Eagles lose the running game as they have numerous times this season, then all that pressure falls on Bradford who already has enough to carry on his shoulders. This may be the toughest challenge yet for the Eagles’ Offensive Line but a challenge where success is almost certain to end in an efficient Offense.
Nolan Carroll is yet to give up a touchdown, Byron Maxwell is steadily improving and the two Eagles Safeties are among the top in the league. Davis has truly created the secondary fans have craved since Dawkins left but against a Panthers team with a lack of receiving star power, their main threat comes from Tight-End Greg Olsen. Three touchdowns to his name already and an average of over 15 yards per reception, the birds have to be prepared for one of the most versatile Tight-Ends in the league charging down the seams. Ted Ginn Jr also has three touchdowns but at 5″11 is going be at a big disadvantage when going deep. This could be a blessing or a curse for the Secondary who have to maintain elite man to man coverage, especially on slant routes and curls.
The Eagles should have a successful game against the Panthers defensively just as they did against Eli and the Giants, but ensuring that they are able to stay on the inside of their matchups and not allowing them to wreak havoc over the middle is going to be crucial.