As noted in my prediction column, I would be fairly surprised if the Philadelphia Eagles do not beat the Carolina Panthers on Monday night. This isn't a matter of disrespect to the Panthers. It's just a vote of confidence for an Eagles team that seems to clearly be at an advantage in this match-up.
With that said, here are three keys to a Philadelphia victory while we wait for kickoff to arrive.
1) Run the football
I was tempted to just write "1) LeSean McCoy, 2) Darren Sproles, 3) Chris Polk" as the three keys to an Eagles win. But that's not far from the truth. The Eagles should be able to gash Carolina's 26th-ranked run defense on Monday night. Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce are back which means the offensive line is mostly intact except for Matt Tobin starting at right guard. The Eagles need to utilize all three running backs against Carolina.
2) Play action
The return of Philadelphia's run game should really open things up in their passing attack. The Eagles shouldn't be overly aggressive with Mark Sanchez under center but they don't need to hide him either. Successful play action should lead to more receivers getting open which means easier throws. Easier throws could mean less turnovers, which is obviously an area where the Eagles have majorly struggled.
Play action or not, keep an eye on the Sanchez to Jordan Matthews connection. As someone who watched Sanchez during every training camp practice, it's not an exaggeration to say the veteran quarterback loved targeting the rookie wide receiver. He had no hesitation connecting with Matthews over and over again. As an added bonus, the two would stay after practice each day and get some extra repetitions together. It's clear there's a real chemistry between Sanchez and Matthews.
3) Keep Cam Newton in the pocket
For the most part, the Eagles defense did a good job of keeping San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick contained in Week 4. Philadelphia lost that game, of course, but Kaepernick was held to 7.27 yards per attempt on 56.7% passing. Kaepernick's numbers would look even worse if not for the combination of a blown coverage by rookie linebacker Marcus Smith II and a brutal tackle attempt by backup safety Earl Wolff.
Newton has struggled this season as a passer. He has limited offensive weapons and his offensive line hasn't been of much assistance. Newton's 57.4% completion rate is one of the worst in the league. The Eagles were willing to contain Kaepernick and force San Francisco to beat them with his arm. The Eagles need to force Newton to hold onto the ball and finish on sacks. Last week Philadelphia generated decent pressure on Ryan Fitzpatrick but allowed him to escape at the last second too often.
Along with the keys to victory, here are some things to watch:
• Mark Sanchez's demeanor - How confident will he be?
• Jeremy Maclin's hot streak
• Casey Matthews and Emmanuel Acho filling in for DeMeco Ryans
• Marcus Smith II on passing downs
• Josh Huff's growing offensive role
• Jason Avant jazz hands
• Kelvin Benjamin's ups and downs
• Blown coverage from Carolina's lackluster defensive backs: Roman Harper, Antoine Cason, Thomas DeCoud