The Philadelphia Eagles will head down to North Carolina to take on the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in their first game of the year that will take place under the lights. Both teams are 4-1 and in first place in their respective divisions, so it is very possible that we could be seeing a potential post season matchup taking place here. The Eagles are coming off of a game where they thrashed the Arizona Cardinals, while the Panthers took down a very talented Detroit Lions team on the road. Lets take a look at both teams and try to determine what the Eagles have to do to come away with what would be a big time win.
On offense, Doug Pederson seems to have finally figured out a game plan that the Eagles are going to stick to going forward. After a couple of weeks of scarcely running the football, Pederson has been feeding his backs and taking a lot of pressure off of Carson Wentz in the process. LeGarrette Blount has been nothing short of fantastic, Corey Clement is picking up the slack when Blount needs a breather, and the re-acquired Kenyon Barner made the most out of his opportunities last week, and was electric in the return game. The Eagles need to commit to running the football, and its going to be tough against Carolina’s solid defensive line. But if the Eagles have success there, that will allow Wentz to take advantage of Carolina’s rather weak secondary. Torrey Smith finally got going last week with a deep touchdown reception and Nelson Agholor had another spectacular game. The Cardinals do have a pretty good secondary, but the Eagles were still able to have big success through the air. If Wentz can spread the ball around and keep converting on third down like he did, the offense should once again have no trouble moving the ball. If they come away with touchdowns in the red zone, they’re going to put the Eagles in a good position to come away with a win.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles are really going to have to step their game up. Fletcher Cox is going to be a game time decision, and many players on the defensive line are banged up. The Eagles are going to need to put consistent pressure on Cam Newton and bring him down to the ground. They can’t allow him to get out of the pocket and change the game with his running ability. Also, we all know how shaky the Eagles secondary is. Both of Newton’s favorite targets, Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess are 6’5″. This is going to be a matchup nightmare for the Eagles, specifically for their smaller corners, Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson. Rasul Douglas is going to have to continue to play physical with these receivers, or else Newton is going to add to his seven touchdown passes over his last two games with ease. When it comes to the run defense, the Eagles should be sound. Carolina is in the bottom third in the league in rushing offense, and the Eagles run defense has been spectacular. The bigger concern is containing the running ability of Cam Newton. If he manages to get outside the pocket with ease, he is going to make things hard on the Eagles defense.
Overall, it is going to be tough for the Eagles to come out of here with a win. Lane Johnson has already been ruled out, and we all remember how well the Eagles played without him in the ten games he missed last season. Wendell Smallwood and Fletcher Cox are both going to be game time decisions for the Eagles. It would be nice to see Smallwood go, because he can provide the change of pace that the Eagles have been relying on at running back. If he can’t, then Barner is going to have to step up. Also, a lot of the defensive line is banged up, so we might get to see more of Derek Barnett, and hopefully he’ll be able to make a big impact for the Eagles.
With all the injuries the Eagles defense has suffered, the burden is going to be on the offense if the Eagles want to come out of here with a win. The Eagles need to have success in the run game to chew up clock and keep the defense off of the field, and Wentz is going to need to continue to convert on third down, like he has been doing all season. If Wentz can keep the offense moving on third down, and the Eagles can score touchdowns in the red zone, then I think they’ll come away with a tight victory in a shoot-out.