The Eagles are just two days from hosting the Carolina Panthers in what will be a key game ahead of next week’s trip to London. The two teams are also very similar, which adds even more intrigue to this matchup. Here are the five matchups to keep an eye on when kickoff takes place this Sunday.
Eagles running backs vs Panthers run defense
No Jay Ajayi, no Darren Sproles. The Eagles running backs are facing a tall Mountain to climb once again. However, they do rank sixth in total rushing yards coming into this week, which is staggering when you think about it. The Panthers have a strong run defense, but allowing 4.6 yards per carry could open the doors early for the Birds.
The Panthers have evened out defensively, but they’ll go from making Saquon Barkley look like a modern day Adrian Peterson, holding him to 3.2 yards per carry, to making Adrian Peterson look like a modern day Saquon Barkley, where he averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
The Eagles would like nothing more than to establish the run early and take the weight off of Carson Wentz’s shoulders. It’s something they struggled to do against the Giants, but if the backs can hit the ground running and start moving the chains, keeping the dynamic Carolina offense twiddling their thumbs, then Doug Pederson can allow his quarterback to do what he does best.
Eagles defensive line vs Panthers offensive line
I wrote an article just yesterday detailing the importance of these units and you can check that out here:
Stars may light up the Eagles week 7 clash with Carolina, but it will be won and lost in the trenches
But with injuries to both starting bookends on the offensive line, the Panthers limp into a key matchup against the team that has amassed the most QB hits in the NFL. The Eagles have been unable to finish their explosive plays and without much in the way of depth next to Fletcher Cox, could struggle to do so once again…but if there’s ever blood in the water, it’s now. Cam Newton relies on his O-line, that has been rebuilt and subsequently done an excellent job of keeping him upright all season long and if the Eagles can begin to crash through the Walls, then forcing turnovers will be possible…and something that has plagued the mobile QB during his games against the Eagles.
Torrey Smith vs Jalen Mills
Much has been said of Jalen Mills over the last few weeks, but we can all agree his performance against the Giants on Thursday Night was certainly an improvement. Inside the red zone, there aren’t many who are more productive, but when it comes to defending deep and having to respect the speed of opposing wideouts, the problems crawl out of the wood work.
In what is bound to be an emotional game for Torrey Smith, he’ll be lining up against the corner he worked tirelessly against in practice for an entire year. With all the tricks in the book fresh in his memory, the veteran is averaging 9.2 yards per reception, but could be poised to finally take the lid off the Eagles defense.
The key here is that the Eagles reverted to two-safety shells last week due to a severe lack of depth. This helped Mills and Darby massively but if Schwartz decides to redeploy a one-safety look, where the corners look after 50% of the field each, it could be more than problematic.
Christian McCaffrey vs everyone:
One of my favorite running backs out of the 2017 draft class, McCaffrey’s slow start seems to be behind him. Gone are the days of being swallowed behind the line of scrimmage before Jonathan Stewart threw himself up the middle and in their place are the nights of quick cuts, electrifying runs and an absolute barrage of passes out of the backfield. In fact, the Stanford product already has 113 targets this year, which is just ridiculous.
McCaffrey is averaging 4.9 yards per carry on his 71 rushing attempts and with the Eagles lacking some interior bulk, could be set to rip an aching unit down as Barkley did one week ago. Not only that, but the Panthers offense is built on misdirection and making every player on the other side of the ball think twice. With Cam and McCaffrey lining up, anything is possible. If McCaffrey lines up in the slot, breaks outside, or makes it to the second level, it’s on the linebackers, corners and safeties to take strong tackling angles and set a tone.
This is the league’s best run defense playing at home where they tend to completely silence their opponents. Will McCaffrey change that?
Carson Wentz vs Luke Kuechly:
I know, this is a strange matchup, but hear me out. Kuechly is a quarterback’s worst nightmare and while his phenomenal athleticism and playmaking ability is a large reason why, it’s not why this matchup counts. What Kuechly is able to do better than anyone is work out exactly what the offense is doing, signal it to his defense and then make the relevant adjustments. An on-field coordinator in every sense of the word, the elite linebacker who unsurprisingly leads the team in tackles faces one of the most creative offenses in the league.
“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.” Mike Groh explained this week. ” We know we got our work cut out for us. Excellent scheme, very good players, we know it will be a challenge this week.”
If Carson Wentz and the Eagles are going to soar, trying to catch one of the most diligent and dangerous linebackers in the history of the game off guard is going to be key. Wentz has improved exponentially since his return and the offensive flairs with formations are beginning to be sprinkled back into the equation. It’s going to take some magic, but expect plenty of audibles at the line in this battle of Football IQ.
Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports