The Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles are done for the week after trouncing the hapless New York Giants. This means we get to enjoy a full Sunday of stress free NFL action. If you want to peek ahead to the next match-up with the 3-1 Carolina Panthers, they travel to play the 2-2 Washington Redskins in a game that is definitely not without meaning for the Eagles.
Looking at the offensive side of the ball for the Panthers, here’s what they do well and where they need to improve at this point in the 2018 NFL season.
Where They Win...
GROUND AND POUND
The two-headed monster in Carolina is the combination of Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey. Both of them rank highly in Pro Football Focus’ “elusiveness rating”, with Newton topping the charts among ball-carriers with at least 30 carries. McCaffrey has been credited with 23 avoided tackles and has showcased an ability at to run between the tackles that was his bread and butter at Stanford.
His efficiency is key and his 49% success rate as a runner has been aided by an offensive line that keeps him clean from contact for an average of 3.3 yards (per ESPN Stats & Info).
The Panthers opt to run the ball 56% of the time on 1st & 10 and McCaffrey’s 6.56 yards per carry with fresh sticks is 2nd highest in the league behind Ezekiel Elliott. They will be tested by a Redskins’ run defense that is only allowing 3.78 yards per carry on 1st & 10 but has struggled mightily otherwise.
Where They Struggle...
NFL Next Gen Stats tracks separation for wide receivers and tight ends and you have to scroll a long time before finding a Panther. Teams aren’t afraid to play Devin Funchess close and Torrey Smith has been summarily blanketed. Because of their lack of separation, the unit also fails to create yards after the catch.
This could change if they work in more of second year weapon Curtis Samuel and rookie DJ Moore, but for now, their top trio remains uninspiring. They sprinkled this in against the Giants and got great results so it may be a bigger part of the plan on Sunday.
When your receivers can’t separate, won’t create after the catch, and outside of Funchess have issues with drops, it doesn’t inspire a whole lot of confidence from your quarterback. Newton, who has a big arm to fit tight window throws, ranks in the middle of the pack for aggressiveness.
Per PFF, Newton’s only thrown 12 balls over 20 yards in the air, which ranks tied for 30th out of 35 qualifying signal callers. Making matters worse, his accuracy on those deep throws (33%) ranks between Eli Manning and Joe Flacco at 29th, albeit with a small sample size.
The Panthers can scheme open some windows for Newton with play-action, an area in which the Eagles have struggled this year. Newton has been fantastic in the short and intermediate areas on these concepts. He’s completed 75.7% of his passes with a 136.1 QB Rating that ranks 4th in the league. The Panthers recognize this and utilize play-action on 28% of his dropbacks.
The Redskins will have to counteract this by getting quick penetration that moves Newton off the spot. Under pressure his QB Rating is higher than only Buffalo Bills’ rookie quarterback Josh Allen. This is an area of Newton’s game that he’s always struggled with, but the Redskins aren’t creating pressure and the Panthers aren’t allowing it, so it may not matter.
In summary, be on the lookout for a variety of run concepts with a dash of option, a heavy dose of intermediate throws after play-fakes and a side of window dressing.