Who has the edge? Eagles-Panthers scouting report and prediction | Paul Domowitch
Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense is coming off its best overall performance of the season. Panthers QB Cam Newton is a dual threat that the defense needs to neutralize.
The Eagles take on Carolina at home at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Who has the edge? Paul Domowitch breaks it down.
When the Eagles run the ball
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Eagles have yet to make a move for another running back. Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement split the ball-carrying duties against the Giants, combining for 94 yards and a touchdown (by Clement) on 29 carries. The Eagles are averaging 110.3 rushing yards per game, which is 22.1 fewer than last year. Smallwood, who was on the roster bubble in the preseason, is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. In the last four games, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry on first down. Offensive tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are nursing injuries, and their status for Sunday is uncertain. The Panthers have one of the bigger defensive fronts the Eagles will face. They are 15th against the run (102.4 yards per game) and 23rd in opponent rush average (4.6). But the Redskins managed to rush for 132 yards against them last week, and the Falcons put up 170 in Week 2.
When the Eagles throw the ball
Carson Wentz is slowly but surely returning to 2017 form. He's ninth in the league in completion percentage (68.4) and has thrown just one interception in 158 attempts. After leading the league in third-down passing last year, he is fourth (109.3) after a 13-for-14, 167-yard, two-touchdown third-down performance against the Giants. Wentz's ability to extend plays puts pressure on opposing secondaries to hold their coverage, as evidenced by his 13-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery last week. Jeffery has 18 catches and three touchdowns in three starts since returning from shoulder surgery. Fourteen of his 18 catches have resulted in first downs or touchdowns. The Eagles have used 12 (two tight ends) and 13 (three tight ends) personnel 50.4 percent of the time this season, and have thrown out of those groupings 60.8 percent of the time. Wentz has a 113.1 passer rating with 12/13 personnel. The Panthers have had problems this season defending tight ends in the passing game.
When the Panthers run the ball
Christian McCaffrey leads the Panthers in both rushing and receiving. He's averaging 14.2 carries a game and 4.9 yards per carry, and benefits tremendously from the attention defenses have to pay quarterback Cam Newton in the run game. Newton is averaging nine carries per game. He had nine carries for 43 yards and six first downs in last week's loss to the Redskins. Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner uses Newton on both designed runs and zone-reads. Twenty of his 45 rushing attempts have resulted in first downs, the ninth-most in the league. Newton is averaging 6.12 yards per carry on first down. The Eagles gave up 130 yards to Giants rookie Saquon Barkley last week, but they still have one of the league's top run defenses. Gap control is going to be critical against Newton's zone-reads. He is going to stretch them horizontally, which could open them up to some big run plays. The Panthers have 15 runs of 15-plus yards, which is the fifth-most in the league.
When the Panthers throw the ball
The Eagles did a nice job on Newton in last year's 28-23 win over the Panthers. They intercepted him three times – all on third down – and held him to 4.6 yards per attempt. Newton has completed a career-high 65.9 percent of his attempts this season, but that number has been enhanced by all of the shorter, high-percentage throws to running back Christian McCaffrey, who has a team-high 34 catches. The Panthers' passing game got a lift last week with the return of tight end Greg Olsen from a foot injury. Olsen had four catches for 48 yards against the Redskins. Newton is 27th in third-down passing. He's averaging just 3.76 yards per attempt on third down. He has a 20.4 passer rating on third-and-6 or more. Three of his eight sacks and two of his four interceptions have come on third-and-6-plus. Injuries have wreaked havoc on the Eagles' secondary. Safeties Rodney McLeod and Corey Graham and nickel corner Sidney Jones all are out.
Jake Elliott has converted 10 of 13 field goal attempts but doesn't have any longer than 37 yards this season. Elliott is second in the league in touchback percentage on kickoffs (82.8). Twenty-three of his 28 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. Cam Johnston leads the league in gross punting average (50.2) and is third in net average (44.3). But 48.2 percent of his attempts have been returned and he has a league-high five touchbacks. The Eagles have held opponents to 5.1 yards per return on punts. DeAndre Carter has done a nice job subbing on punt returns for injured Darren Sproles. He's averaging 12.7 yards per return, and has 42-, 23-, and 19-yard returns the last three games. Eagles are 26th in kick returns (19.6) and 29th in average drive start after kickoffs. Panthers kicker Graham Gano has made 25 straight field goal attempts. He's 37-for-38 over the last two seasons. He made a 63-yarder against Giants two weeks ago and also made a 54-yarder earlier this year.
Carson Wentz has won 13 of his 16 starts at the Linc. He has a 30-9 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential at home. The Panthers are 0-2 on the road this season.
Eagles C Jason Kelce vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly: Nobody is better at getting to the second level than the athletic Kelce. But Kuechly is one of the top linebackers in the league.
Eagles TE Zach Ertz vs. Panthers S Mike Adams: Adams is 37 but still fairly productive. He'll need all the veteran savvy he can muster to stop Ertz, who already has 48 receptions.
Eagles LBs Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks vs. Panthers QB Cam Newton: Newton already has 20 rushing first downs and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry on first down.
Domowitch's prediction: Eagles 30, Panthers 27
Hot and not
Eagles: QB Carson Wentz. He threw three TD passes and no interceptions and completed 13 of 14 third-down attempts against the Giants.
Panthers: PK Graham Gano. He has made 25 field goal attempts in a row.
Eagles: TE Dallas Goedert. He has just five five catches for 36 yards in the three games since his seven-catch, 73-yard, one-TD Week 3 performance against the Colts.