This feature is a weekly piece on BleedingGreenNation.com titled From The Eagles, featuring Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro. The intention is to provide a perspective directly from the Philadelphia Eagles in this forum for the great fans who visit BGN.
Three of the four road teams on Thursday night football (not including the season-opening game between) Kansas City and New England have won in 2017, bucking the numbers that say road teams win roughly 30 percent of the time in this in-season challenge.
Throw it all out the window here. The Eagles leave Wednesday for Charlotte and play a very good Carolina Panthers team on Thursday night. Here is how the Eagles win the game, with some additional thoughts sprinkled in …
- Make sure they handle the right tackle position properly. It’s going to be very difficult for Lane Johnson, in the concussion protocol, to play in this game, and his absence would be a big loss for the offense. But the Eagles have confidence in Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who would get the start on the right edge. Vaitai made good progress last year and he’s played in 95 offensive snaps this year, so Vaitai should be ready to go. Here’s the challenge: Julius Peppers is a savvy veteran who, at age 37, has 5.5 quarterback sacks and he’s playing at a very high level. Remember this, though: Peppers is playing on a short week. He’s a bit banged up as well, with a shoulder injury that kept him off the field in the team’s walk-through on Monday. Maybe Peppers isn’t at his best. Maybe he’s just a little bit off his game. If Vaitai can handle Peppers one on one, it’s a great boost. If not, the Eagles have to recognize it early and help the edge.
- Carolina averages 98.6 rushing yards per game, ranking 19th in the NFL. Quarterback Cam Newton has helped with 90 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s very much a dual-threat quarterback. So the Eagles have to account for his option reads and make sure they are physical with him. But the fact is, the Panthers have not been very balanced offensively. They rely on big plays in the passing game to a receiving corps that is very large. The good news is that the Eagles tend to handle one-phase offenses pretty well. Carolina’s big receivers, Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, are not the fast, quick receivers that give these cornerbacks trouble. I like the Eagles offense against the Carolina defense if Jim Schwartz comes up with something to limit the damage Newton does out of the pocket.
- After doing a nice job on Cardinals running back Andre Ellington in the passing game on Sunday – Ellington had only 3 of his 9 receptions in the first half – the Eagles see the speed and versatility of Christian McCaffrey on Thursday night. Who can stay with his speed? Maybe the Eagles play a lot of nickel and keep an extra corner on the field and match up with McCaffrey. Maybe they try to beat him up at the line of scrimmage in press. You’ll see Carolina getting the ball to McCaffrey on screens and jet sweeps and all kinds of ways to put the football in his hands. He is the Panthers’ version of Tyreek Hill.
- Carolina isn’t great up front offensively, so the Eagles once again match up well here. If they can pressure Newton, not let him break the pocket, stop the run, well, this defense has the advantage.
- How do the Eagles score? Carolina won’t have starting safety Kurt Coleman, the former Eagle. Jarius Byrd played 24 snaps in Carolina’s win on Sunday over Detroit and the Eagles can maybe get him into some favorable matchups. Colin Jones is a safety with a lot of speed and he played 36 snaps on Sunday, so the Eagles have had a chance to get a good look at him. One starting cornerback Daryl Worley (a Philly native) has an ankle injury and won’t be 100 percent. This sounds like a throw-early, run-late kind of offensive approach. The Eagles have depth at wide receiver and you have to see if the Eagles try to exploit whichever cornerback tries to stay with Nelson Agholor.
- It could very well come down to which quarterback plays better, and there aren’t many playing better in the league right now than Carson Wentz. Get him off to a good start and let’s see how the Panthers handle Wentz.
- It is critical that the Eagles hold up inside against Panthers tackles Kawaan Short and Star Lotulelei. Jason Kelce and guards Stefen Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks have their hands full, and if they win inside, the Eagles are going to be fine.
- Watch out for linebacker Luke Kuechly and the way he disrupts things at the line of scrimmage. I can see the Eagles trying to run at Kuechly to try to minimize his sideline-to-sideline pursuit skills.
- Don’t be upset if the Eagles look more at the passing game here: Carolina allows just 80 rushing yards per game.
- Is there a special teams playing better than the Eagles’ this season? Even without Darren Sproles and changes in the kicking game (new placekicker, new long snapper), the Eagles have been awesome on teams. Win here and it’s huge.
- And this is no surprise, but if the Eagles win the turnover battle and score touchdowns in the red zone, they’re going to win another road game and enjoy a nice, long weekend as they look ahead to Washington one week from Monday.