Football is won and lost in the trenches, or so they say. When it comes to the Eagles and the Panthers, that saying rings true. The star power of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey vs Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz will undoubtedly dazzle the fans in attendance, but make no mistake; this matchup will start and end with the beef up front.
The Panthers limp into this matchup offensively, missing both bookends on their line. Matt Kalil and Daryl Williams are both injured, leading Chris Clark and Taylor Moton to try and pick up the slack. This will hurt the team in two key areas offensively.
Carolina are one of the most unpredictable teams in the league due to their multi-dimensional nature. Christian McCaffrey already has 349 rushing yards on the season (he amassed 435 behind Jonathan Stewart in his rookie year) and an astonishing 113 targets. When you factor in the freakishly athletic Cam Newton, you have an offense that will take your commitment to the run and burn it out over time, dinking and dunking all over the field until eventually, there’s a gashing 45-yard run.
Containing the run thus far hasn’t been a problem for the Eagles, who are giving up under 80 rushing yards per game. But with Derek Barnett and Haloti Ngata, two of their premier run defenders on the injury report this week, things could begin to get messy. The Panthers are banged up on the offensive line and the Eagles will lack interior depth on the defensive line, with Fletcher Cox almost forced to play the majority of the game without rotating.
Secondly, the Panthers have allowed the second fewest QB hits in he NFL and E I G H T sacks. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an average of 1.3 per game. In comparison to what we see from the Eagles, it’s safe to say that the Panthers have molded their offense around screens, checkdowns and getting the ball out fast, which of course bodes well against a defense that has is leaking 273 yards through the air per game.
BUT, before we declare this game a bloodbath. The Eagles have produced more QB hits than any team in the NFL. Sure, teams are trying to get the ball out hastily and as a result, the Birds can’t finish the explosive plays they create, settling for QB pressures instead. That may be all that’s needed to rattle Newton though. According to Pro Football Focus, the dual-threat QB sees his passer rating drop from 91.2 to 24.8 when under pressure and against an Eagles defense that can throw the kitchen sink without needing to blitz 10 times per game, that could be a problem.
On the other side of the field Eagles offensive line aren’t in great shape either. Lane Johnson and Jason Peters have battled injury this season and Isaac Seumalo has stepped in for a benched Stefen Wisniewski. Plagued by penalties and inconsistency, the Eagles have allowed 47 QB hits this season, which is the third-most in the NFL, while their quarterbacks have been sacked 18 times.
It’s safe to say that since his, return, the rust has been shaken off from the body of Carson Wentz and against the Giants, when the offensive line was arguably at its weakest, Wentz was brought down once and hit just 5 times as his incredible escapism came back into play once again. The Panthers may not have the most rampant pass-rush int he NFL, but like the Eagles, their run defense is among the league’s best. Without Jay Ajayi or Darren Sproles, the Eagles will want to relieve the pressure form Wentz’s shoulders early, but it won’t be easy.
“Up front very hard to move.” Offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters this week. “They’re big, hard to run against. [LB] Luke Kuechly, it’s a chess match with him on every down in terms of his ability to read and react and understand what the offense is trying to do to him and attack their defense. We know we got our work cut out for us. Excellent scheme, very good players, we know it will be a challenge this week.”
No matter which lens you choose to view this game, it all starts and ends in the trenches. Which big-bodied unit is going to come out with that extra chip on their shoulder to create a game-changing play? Will it be an incredible run-block, or a strip sack? Only time will tell, but don’t take your eyes off the big boys doing ballet this Sunday.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports