By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles hit the road once again on a short week against one of the top teams in the NFC on Thursday night, and they won. The Eagles returned to Philadelphia with a 5-1 record following a 28-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers in a game that exhibited hard-fought defense and Carson Wentz throwing three touchdowns. As good as the Eagles should be feeling right now, Thursday night showed there is still room for improvement with the current leaders of the NFC East, and that is exciting to think about as the Eagles are proving they may be a legitimate contender in the NFC.
The offensive line suffered without Lane Johnson available, and there were a few throws Carson Wentz would likely want to have back. But the Eagles played well enough against a tough defensive team on the road, and were able to convert on five of 14 third downs against one of the top third-down defenses. Wentz passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover, clearly outshining Cam Newton. Running was tough, but LeGarrette Blount muscled his way for 67 yards and picked up a pivotal two-point conversion with a push up the middle. Zach Ertz caught two touchdowns and Nelson Agholor caught four passes for 55 yards and a score, but he couldn’t land a couple throws you would have liked to see him make.
Picking off Cam Newton three times, recording two sacks and making some outstanding tackles in the open field is worthy of a high grade here, even with some of the flaws and missed plays witnessed. Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham combined for 27 tackles and four players picked up credit for half a sack as the defense swarmed the Carolina backfield to make things difficult for Newton. The Eagles held Carolina to just 4-of-16 on third-down conversions and 1-of-3 on fourth downs. Rasul Douglas got picked on a little bit in the second half and he dropped a probable interception late, but he also recorded one of the team’s three picks on the night.
Special Teams: A-
There may have been nothing to speak about on special teams returns, and Kenjon Barner avoided a disaster on his lone punt return, but the coverage continued to be pretty good. Christian McCaffrey had just 35 punt return yards on three punts, and 25 of those came on one return. Jake Elliott remains automatic since his initial struggles, as he kicked two field goals on Thursday night. This included a 50-yard field goal that was handled perfectly by punter and holder Donnie Jones, who had to adjust to get a rough snap down for Elliott. Jones was busy on punt duty as well with six punts for an average of 50.8 yards per punt to help flip the field position as much as possible. Only one of his punts were downed inside the 20-yard line.
Doug Pederson once again made some good calls that paid off in a big way. Deciding to go for a two-point conversion early in the third quarter after a penalty on Carolina on an extra point attempt gave the Eagles the chance to really put the pressure on the Panthers the entire second half. The Eagles never quite found a great way to address a weakness on the line without Lane Johnson, and there was a minor clock management issue on a late punt in the fourth quarter where the Eagles downed the ball with three seconds until the two-minute warning. However those problems didn’t come back to haunt the Eagles in this one. The refs had a rough night, but the Eagles were called for 10 penalties, and not all of them were bad calls.
Up Next: After playing four of their first five games on the road (and going 3-1 in those road contests), the Eagles now prepare for a little stretch at home starting next week with a Monday night game against Washington. The Eagles defeated Washington in the season opener, 30-17, and already have a 2.5 game lead on them after Thursday night’s big win. No matter what Washington does against San Francisco on Sunday, the Eagles will have a chance to really grab a firm hold of the NFC East.