When the 2015 schedule was released the Carolina Panthers looked like they would have a tough October to November. A four game stretch that features three playoff teams from last year and the Eagles, who finished 10-6 but missed the postseason, was seen by many as a potentially troublesome few games for the Panthers.
With all of those teams, outside of the fellow undefeated Packers, struggling early, the coming weeks don’t seem too daunting but they do still pose a tougher task than what Carolina has dealt with in the early portion of the season and this week they will face off against the 3-3 Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles were the talk of the offseason with lead man Chip Kelly making big moves and making over his squad. The results have been less than stellar though.
Philadelphia has struggled its way to .500 and even in a few of their wins they have performed unimpressively. There certainly have been flashes of positive signs though that makes this team a tough opponent regardless.
Carolina looks to match up well against this Eagles team but they will have their hands full making sure this one doesn’t get away from them.
Here are three things to watch for during the Sunday night matchup in Carolina.
A big key in any game is generating turnovers on defense and limiting them on offense and this matchup features two defenses ranked in the top five in defensive takeaways. The turnover stat has been a big reason for the success of the Panthers and has helped the Eagles stay afloat this season.
The other side of the ball tells a different story for the two teams. Carolina ranks as the fourth fewest in giveaways as Cam Newton and the offense have done an excellent job of playing smart and limiting turnovers. Philadelphia has struggled in that regard and has the second most giveaways in the league this year with Sam Bradford accounting for 10 of the teams 14 turnovers.
Carolina’s takeaways have helped put them in the driver seat in many of their previous matchups and against a turnover prone Eagles offense they’ll need to capitalize in the turnover battle. On offense, Newton and the rest of the team will need to keep up the good work and not allow a tough Philadelphia defense to take the ball away and kill drives.
One way or another, there will likely be at least a few turnovers in this one.
How to Handle Pace
The Eagles are touted as one of the quickest teams in the league in terms of tempo. Kelly likes to run a fast-paced, up-tempo offense that gets the play out quick and keeps the defense off-balanced. Although that style of play hasn’t done them much good this season it will still be a factor for the Panthers to deal with and adjust to on defense.
Lucky for Carolina, they have a group of players that seem to be well-equipped to handle a faster offense like Philadelphia’s.
Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are two players that, as usual, will be essential in making plays and stopping the Eagles’ offense from getting anything going. Both players are involved on almost every play and will need to be all over the field to prevent Philadelphia from getting into a rhythm and tiring out the defense. Losing Shaq Thompson for this contest is a tough loss as his skill set matches up well with an offense like this but Kuechly and Davis are more than capable.
Capitalizing on errant throws from Bradford will be key for the Panthers defenders and locking down receiver Jordan Matthews will be another important task for the secondary to deal with. As a possession receiver for the Eagles, Matthews has done well this year and will need to be limited.
Carolina’s defense has done a solid job of forcing teams into consistent three-and-out situations and that will be the biggest thing for them here. The key to slowing down a hurry-up offense is to stop it before momentum can be built and a rhythm can be established so continuous three-and-out series will be a must for the Panthers in this one.
Keep the Offense Rolling
The Panthers’ offense has not been great but they have done an excellent job making plays when it’s needed most and that’s really all that they need with the defense they have to back them up.
Newton and the rest of the unit tend to start slowly but here they’ll need to move the ball with relative consistency and capitalize on the good field positon that their defense usually is able to set them up with.
The Eagles defense poses a tough matchup for this Carolina offense, with difference makers like Fletcher Cox and rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks playing extremely well this season. The offensive line for the Panthers will have their hands full but they have done surprisingly well so far. Interior lineman Ryan Kalil, Andrew Norwell and Trai Turner will have to be at their best to prevent Cox from being a constant and disruptive force.
For the skill players, key receptions for the entirety of the receiving group are essential as always here in moving the chains and they’ll look to limit the drops and tipped passes that have plagued them to this point. Greg Olsen should be looked to early and often to get the offense rolling and Jonathan Stewart will look to continue running hard after last week’s impressive performance.
With Newton at the helm and playing the way he is, Carolina’s offense has been able to overcome slow starts and limited weapons and against Philadelphia they’ll need to keep it going.