The Carolina Panthers are expected to have linebacker A.J. Klein back this week after missing the previous game due to a concussion. It couldn't come at a better time as the Panthers are most likely going to be without first round rookie Shaq Thompson, who suffered a knee injury at the end of the Seattle Seahawks game.
Entering the season, the plan was for Klein and Thompson to split time at the outside linebacker position as a way to ease the rookie into the league. However, when Luke Kuechly went down with a concussion of his own, that plan had to change with Klein moving inside to middle linebacker. He now can move back to his natural position at outside linebacker, which will be a boost for the Panthers' run defense.
The Eagles' run game has been a bit of a disappointment so far this year, currently ranking 19th in rushing yards per game at 103.5 yards. However, they have the leading rusher from a season ago in DeMarco Murray who looks to be getting into a groove in this offense. After only 47 rushing yards in the first three games, he has 40 rushing attempts and 195 rushing yards the past two games. The Panthers defense should expect a heavy dose of Murray on Sunday night and Klein will play a big role in slowing him down.
Another player returning from injury that fans should be watching is defensive end Jared Allen. The veteran pass rusher has not had much of an impact after the Panthers acquired him from the Chicago Bears prior to Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did play in that game but suffered a back injury that limited his snaps and eventually kept him out of last week's game against the Seahawks.
The pass rush as a whole looked better against the Seahawks with Wes Horton registering a sack and defensive tackle Kawann Short registering two as well. Even undrafted rookie Ryan Delaire has shown burst off the edge and would have had a sack against Seattle but the play was negated due to a penalty on the defense. The improved play against Seattle is one of the reasons Ron Rivera said after practice on Thursday that even though Allen is coming back, he may not be starting on Sunday.
Even if Allen doesn't start, I would expect him to see the field plenty and should have an impact rushing Eagles' quarterback Sam Bradford.
It remains to be seen what exactly the Panthers' coaching staff is doing with the other safety position opposite Kurt Coleman. At the start of the season, Harper was the primary starter but the two games before the bye week second-year player Boston started to see a decent amount of snaps. The thought may be the team was working him into the game as a way to keep the veteran Harper as fresh as possible over the long season. That changed against the Seahawks as Harper played a majority of the game and Boston was on the field for only five defensive snaps.
It hasn't necessarily been a strong year for the veteran Harper as he is rated as the ninth worst safety in the NFL among safeties who has played at least 60% of the team's snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Opposing quarterbacks have found success throwing his way as they have a QB rating of 107.2 and wide receivers are averaging 21 yards per reception when he is in coverage.
Now, Harper's struggles in pass coverage hasn't hurt the Panthers too much but the coaching staff may want to think about incorporating Boston into the gameplan more.