The Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) and Carolina Panthers (3-2) are set to play on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. In order to preview this Week 7 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Cat Scratch Reader. The wonderful Walker Clement (no relation to Corey) took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming game. Let’s take a look at the answers.
1 - In a recent CSR column about Ron Rivera, you wrote the Panthers “are winning more games than they are losing, but they are not playing winning football.” Can you sum up your frustrations with Carolina’s head coach?
The man has the best short yardage weapon in the history football -Cam Newton- and he refuses to use him except in the most painfully obvious short yardage situations. In other words, forget everything you ever heard about the nickname “Riverboat Ron.” The Panthers won’t even consider attempting to convert a fourth and one on their side of the field and they might not consider it on their opponents side either if they like how the wind is blowing. Rivera would rather punt or kick than risk his team scoring a touchdown in a competitive game.It all fits in with his overly conservative mind set, like keeping the ball on the ground on second and long and running headlong into stacked boxes, or having his defensive backs play 10 yards off the line of scrimmage when the Panthers have a lead, essentially inviting opposing offenses to march down the field and score -just so long as they don’t do it on one play.
Rivera coaches games to minimize the risk that the Panthers do something wrong and lose the game. He doesn’t maximize opportunities for the Panthers to take risks nor does he do anything to stop opposing teams from making safe plays that keep them in the game. His ideal game is probably an 8-6 victory featuring a safety and two field goals by his side off of two 10:00 minute drives. It is maddeningly antiquated and, if you can’t tell, I can go on about it at length with little prompting. (Here is the column you mentioned if you would like to read more about this.)
2 - On a scale of 1-10, what’s your confidence level in Cam Newton right now? (10 being the most confident.)
10. Cam is on fire this year. He had a period against Washington where the coaching staff finally took his leash off and he completed 10 straight passes, the first seven of which resulted in a touchdown and two-point conversion. He is saddled with a very slow offense that has little understanding of its skill players, including Newton. That said, there are few other quarterbacks that I would take in a two minute drill.
It’s easy to look at his stats and think I am being overly optimistic about my home team. Cam does, after all, have four interceptions on the season. It’s hard to pin a single one as his fault. The first was a pass that hit running back C.J. Anderson right in the hands, but got knocked in the air for an easy pick. The next two were both timing throws where rookie tight end Ian Thomas quit early on a route and left the ball sailing into areas that were only occupied by defenders. The last was lame duck that fell into Josh Norman’s hands in Washington after Cam was hit as he threw. He’s gotten lucky on a few bad decisions, but don’t expect him to turn the ball over barring exceptional circumstances.
3 - What is the Panthers’ biggest strength? Where do they have the biggest edge in this game?
Their biggest strength is absolutely their speed on offense. Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Curtis Samuel are an unfair trio of speedsters, and that doesn’t even consider the muted-so-far contributions of Torrey Smith. That said, their edge is in run defense. The coaching staff refuses to take advantage of the actual skills of their skill position players, so the edge goes to the team’s next most talented position group. With Thomas Davis back from a suspension, he and Luke Kuechly head up the best group of linebackers in the NFL. If the defensive line can keep them clean, the Panthers linebackers have the ability to take over a game. It’s why they have shut down your friends, the Cowboys, the last two times they’ve met.
4 - What is the Panthers’ biggest weakness? What concerns you the most about the Eagles?
The answer here should be the offensive line. Matt Kalil, Trai Turner, Taylor Moton, Jeremiah Sirles, Amini Silatolu, Ryan Kalil, and Daryl Williams, have all either lost significant time or been ruled out for the season since the start of training camp. But the surviving members and the patchwork replacements have held up remarkably well so far this season. The real weakness so far has been the defensive line. It turns out that relying on a 38 year old athlete to rush the passer may not be a viable long term strategy, even if that athlete is Julius Peppers. Add that to free agent aquisition Dontari Poe being all but invisible in run defense and I start to get worried about the Panthers ability to keep the Eagles offense off the field.
5 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Panthers season?
The Eagles win this game because their offense will find efficiency easy against the Panthers if their defensive line can’t hold up well enough for the linebackers to make plays. They’ll also win because Doug Pederson will coach circles around Rivera. That said, the Panthers are the weirdest team I have ever watched. They never look like the same team from week to week and rarely do they lose games that aren’t close. If I had to put money on it, I would bet on the Eagles to win 30-24 but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Panthers come out looking like a completely different team and torch the Eagles 34-10.