Week six of the NFL is just around the corner. For the Eagles, there’s little time to waste as a short trip to Carolina sees them take on a team with whom they are tied for the lead of the NFC, the Panthers. This is debatably both team’s biggest complete challenge so far, so here are five things to watch when the teams meet on Thursday Night.
Alshon’s chance to break out:
it feels like every week that the same points are made regarding Alshon Jeffery. He’s performing adequately as a wide receiver and is opening up the offense in ways that many deemed impossible or extremely unlikely. What he isn’t doing however, is proving himself as a dominant number one receiver. Jeffery has 246 yards and 2 touchdowns on the season…but his quiet performances aren’t all down to him.
Jeffery has faced Josh Norman, Marcus Peters and Patrick Peterson already this season and falls only second to Dez Bryant in most routes lined up against Top-25-Graded cornerbacks. 57% of Jeffery’s routes have came from such looks and 42% of his targets. The good news is that the Panthers do have a growing secondary, but not an elite one.
Daryl Worley battled two bad PI calls on Sunday, while LaDarius Gunter missed the game entirely. The secondary is banged up and even though they have one of the league’s top nickel corners, that shouldn’t affect Jeffery too much. Jeffery theoretically finally has a chance to break free of the cornerback chains shadowing him across the field and make some home-run hits in the process.
A test for the cornerbacks:
On the other side of the field, the Eagles cornerbacks have had a rollercoaster season so far. Without Ronald Darby, the tandem of Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas have played efficiently, but for every highlight play there have been several for the opposing offense.
This week, they face a Carolina Offense where FOUR receivers have already passed the 200 yard receiving mark. The Eagles are going to be treating those wideouts with respect as they always do, but the near college-like scheme Carolina is implementing will prove problematic for a Defense focused on bending and not breaking. This brings us very neatly onto our next point.
How to keep a fire from exploding:
The Carolina rushing attack is lethal. Whether it’s the bruising Jonathan Stewart, the super-athletic Cam Newton or a Mac attack, the Panthers have a variety of ways to punish Defenses. McCaffrey already has 237 yards receiving this year and the Panthers backfield has combined for 493 yards on the ground.
The Eagles run defense doesn’t just face a test because of the yardage Carolina can put up, it’s the way they do it. Trick plays, a lot of play-action and capitalizing on whatever the opposing Defense show are rapidly becoming staples of this Panthers Offense. The run D for the Eagles has been magnificent this season so far, but the linebackers will need to bring their A-game to stop one of the most Lethal dual-threat backs in the league along with a mobile quarterback and a group of receivers who constantly shift along the line of scrimmage.
This may be the Eagles toughest task defensively yet…and it’s an assignment that’s really going to show the true character of this Jim Schwartz defense.
Last week saw a huge narrative on how many times Carson Palmer was sacked…but Cam Newton isn’t in an overly favorable spot either. He’s been sacked 15 times already this season and as we all know, has a tendency to make inaccurate throws under pressure. His 8/5 TD/INT ratio isn’t overly concerning, but if the Eagles can condense the pocket and force Newton to stand and throw under pressure, they at least have a chance at winning the turnover battle and helping out their corners against a group of wideouts that have already accounted for 58 first downs.
It’s not yet known whether Fletcher Cox will be back on Thursday night, although he was a limited participant in Monday’s walkthrough. In the absence of the man-dog, the Eagles have performed well against sub-par offensive fronts. They will need to do so again if they’re to come away with a victory on Thursday night.
Carson Wentz and the entire Eagles Offense are bursting with confidence. They’re running the ball assertively and more excitingly, the deep-ball is finally coming to life. Wentz is finding a new sense of aggression slinging it downfield that’s partnered with a new-found accuracy when targeting his receivers on deep looks. Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor found this out first hand on their touchdown receptions on Sunday, while Zach Ertz and Alshon Jeffery have been benefitting from it all season long. If Wentz can attack this Panthers Defense with the same mentality, picking a part a weakened secondary with deep shots may be the best way to force Cam Newton and the Panthers into a more aggressive gameplan that lends itself in favor of the Eagles Defense, giving them time to get to the quarterback and marginalize the offense.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports