By Kevin McGuire
After picking up another win to go 4-1 and stay in a comfortable spot on top of the NFC East, the Philadelphia Eagles have a short week to prepare for yet another road game. And this one is a big one.
The Eagles are taking on the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football and will have a chance to win what could be an important head-to-head tiebreaker down the road as the Eagles are quickly becoming a team that can begin focusing on a possible playoff run in the middle of October. Here’s a look at this week’s opponent for the Eagles.
Like the Eagles, the Panthers are off to a solid 4-1 start to the season. This past weekend, the Panthers traveled to Detroit and held off a fourth-quarter rally by the Lions to return home with a win.
The Eagles are 6-3 all-time against the Panthers (including a loss in the NFC Championship Game in the 2003 season) but are an even 2-2 when the game is played in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Eagles came away with a 27-16 setback their last time in town in 2015 and last won in North Carolina in 2009.
Panthers on Offense
The Panthers may have a weak spot in run blocking, which could be used to the advantage of the Eagles defense. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has expressed some concern about how well his team is blocking for Jonathan Stewart, who is without a touchdown on the ground this season. The Panthers had just 28 rushing yards on 28 rushing attempts against Detroit. But they make up for it in the passing game, with Cam Newton coming off a 355-yard, 3 TD afternoon against the Lions. Newton also lit up New England the previous week, so he is riding a bit of a hot streak right now.
Panthers on Defense
The Panthers have been difficult to score on so far this season. Carolina owns the NFL’s eighth-best scoring defense by allowing just 18.8 points per game, but they allowed 34 points to the New Orleans Saints in their last home game three weeks ago. The defense is a bit banged up with a few players likely to be questionable on a short week, including free safety Kurt Coleman and cornerback Daryl Worley. The Panthers have a solid linebacker combo with Luke Kuechly and Shaq Thompson to lock down the action in the middle of the field.
Panthers Players to Watch
Christian McCaffrey, Running back: The rookie running back out of Stanford is pulling double duty in the running game and on special teams, and he has the potential to break a big play any time he touches the ball. He is used more as a passing option out of the backfield and had 101 receiving yards a few weeks ago against the Saints.
Kawann Short, Defensive tackle: Short may not be the star attraction on the defense, but he is capable of causing some problems on the line. Last week against the Lions, Short recorded two sacks and a safety.
The Panthers are playing very well right now, and are looking forward to playing at home after two weeks on the road and a short week to prepare for their next game. But the Eagles are battle-tested on the road so far. Philadelphia is playing as well as anyone around the league right now, so they have no reason to roll over for the Panthers. If the Eagles keep Newton from beating them outside of the pocket, Philadelphia could manage to come home with a hard-fought win. But if Newton finds ways to keep plays alive by rolling out and taking off or buying time for a receiver to get open, it could go the other way in a hurry.
Watch the game on CBS3 or listen in on WIP!