The Philadelphia Eagles are facing the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday afternoon. In order to preview this Week 5 matchup, I reached out to our enemies over at Cat Scratch Reader. The wonderful Walker Clement kindly took the time to answer my questions about this upcoming tilt. Let’s take a look at the answers. (Don’t forget to also check out my side of the exchange coming up at CSR.)
1 - Everyone was talking about how the Panthers had the No. 1 defense prior to Week 4. But then Carolina got worked by the Cowboys. What went wrong and what issues might linger?
Part of what went wrong was the age old story of injuries. One of their two conventionally sized defensive ends, Yetur Gross-Matos, was out with an ankle injury, which made it hard for the team to field the beef up front to counter Dallas’ supercharged rushing attack. That was one, albeit significant, domino in a series of injuries and overcompensations that allowed the Cowboys to produce 245 yards on the ground.
Another big one was the recent loss of first round pick Jaycee Horn and the less permanent absence of safety Juston Burris. There was a wealth of inexperience and communication issues in the secondary that combined to create an uncharacteristic performance. Burris, Horn, and now linebacker and team captain Shaq Thompson will all miss the Eagles game this week, but their replacements have had an extra week to get up to speed. We’ll see how much that helps. At least Gross-Matos is expected to return.
2 - What’s the confidence level in Sam Darnold? Based on what you’ve seen early on, are you buying him as a franchise quarterback?
I feel weird saying it, but I think I like Sam Darnold? Expectations for him were below the basement floor after his disastrous career with the Jets, but he has come in and been safe (mostly) and accurate when throwing the football. He has the arm to push the ball down the field and he doesn’t mind spreading it around—though DJ Moore is easily his favorite target now that Christian McCaffrey has missed time.
He still makes a baffling decision every other game or so, but he isn’t nearly the train wreck that the previous New York Jets administration had led the world to believe.
3 - It feels like there’s potential for a coaching mismatch here with Nick Sirianni and Jonathan Gannon still finding their way (to put it nicely). What about Matt Rhule and Joe Brady makes you feel good about them?
Rhule is devoted to having the Panthers “trust the process.” Basically, he doesn’t mind bad results when he takes risks so long as he agrees with the logic that led him to taking that risk in the first place. If he expects to make a 50 yard field goal 75% of the time, he isn’t going to cut the kicker when he misses 25% of his long attempts. This philosophy has played out in every facet of the team and it has led to the players buying into what Rhule is trying to do. Last year was a bumpy ride while rebuilding the roster. This year, with a roster that is only partially ‘finished’, we can already see some of the results.
I can’t say much about Sirianni or his staff, but there aren’t a lot of people I’d want coaching the team I root for over Rhule.
4 - What is the Panthers’ biggest strength? How should they be attacking the Eagles?
Their biggest strength is easily their speed on defense. The secondary has taken a beating in four games, and the team is in the middle of a lot of work trying to rebuild it in both the long and short term, but the speed up front is still a nightmare for opposing offenses. Brian Burns (3) and Haason Reddick (4.5) are leading the team in sacks, while seven other players have combined to produce 7.5 more. The team’s 14 sacks are second in the league and that’s with not registering a single sack or quarterback hit against the Cowboys.
I’d expect them to attack the Eagles the same way that defensive coordinator Phil Snow has had them attacking every other team we’ve played: early, often, and through whatever gap looks the most inviting on a given play.
5 - What is the Panthers’ biggest weakness? What should the Eagles be looking to exploit?
The Panthers defense came out of training camp with a lot of confidence this year. That was in large part due to the fact that they had been practicing against the Panthers offensive line. These guys really mean well and it’s hard to be mad at them for trying, but, well. . . there’s a reason I sound like a kindergarten teacher when trying to say nice things about them.
The left side of their line, from center to tackle, is the biggest weakness on the team. The original starter at left guard, Pat Elflein, is on injured reserve with a wrist injury and left tackle Cam Erving has missed two practices this week with a neck injury. Y’all will get to see another new starting five linemen for the Panthers. We’ll be looking to see if they fare any better than the last combination.
6 - Who wins this game and why? Score prediction? And what are your expectations for the rest of this Panthers season?
I think the Panthers defense is going to tie Jalen Hurts into knots. Let’s say it’ll be 24-7. He is a relatively inexperienced quarterback (there are a lot of injuries and half seasons on his resume) who is probably feeling the need for a win right about now. The Panthers speed on defense should allow them to disguise coverages and pressure packages in a way that will keep him off of his toes more often than on them. That is, of course, assuming the Panthers secondary looks even mildly competent with all of its replacement parts and the front seven can keep Hurts from running for 200 yards by himself.
As for the rest of the season, it all depends on who comes back healthy and when. They have a soft middle of their schedule that they should be able to keep a winning record through. The questions really start in the second half of the season when they face the Bucs twice, the Cardinals, and the Bills. The team they were when healthy in Weeks 1 and 2 could grow to be a contender by the end of the season, but right now they are clawing for a wild card spot while juggling waiver wire signings and surprise trades week to week.