Ranking ninth in the league against the run, the birds will face one of its toughest challenges this Sunday night when they pay visit to the Carolina Panthers Sunday night at Bank of America field.
This offseason the Panthers lost running back DeAngelo Williams in free agency, his talents now in Pittsburg, leaving his long time and oft-injured running mate Jonathan Stewart as the bell cow back of the offense.
“The challenge is they’re going to pound you and they have a back in Jonathan who’s a big physical down hill running back,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said Thursday.The Panthers of course have another running threat in their backfield. He’s not a tailback but quarterback Cam Newton, who stands 6-foot-5 245 pounds, presents a running threat that rarely if ever is seen at the quarterback position.
“[The Panthers] are different than other zone read type teams you face where it’s a quick, agile quarterback that’s going to break outside,” Kelly said. “Cam can pound you too. He’s got to be the biggest quarterback in the league from that stand point, in terms of rushing.”
Outside of the well noted running ability of Newton, 26, is having one of his best seasons as a quarterback. Newton’s passing numbers aren’t jaw dropping but the strong armed QB is showing skills that made him the no.1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The success of Newton may come as a bit of a surprise, not as an indictment on his talent, but more to the lack of talent on the Panther offense.
The most important and perhaps the most impressive part to the Panther’s offensive success is something that Eagle fans are not too familiar with; they protect the football. Carolina has only turned the ball over five times in five games, tied for fourth in the league in that category.
Tight end Greg Olsen has been a reliable target in the Carolina offense for five years now and after a preseason season ending ACL injury to second year wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin; Olsen has established himself as the premier target for Newton in the Carolina passing attack. Olsen is coming off a career year in 2014 where he set career highs in receptions and receiving yards.
Olsen is once again off to nice start as he has 24 catches for 374 yards and three touchdowns through five weeks including a seven catch 131 yard and game winning touchdown against the Seattle Seahawks last week.
Carolina also boasts a formidable defense of its own. The Panthers rank seventh overall defense allowing only 18.8 points per game and have allowed a stingy 94 total points. Carolina also ranks among the tops in the league in yards per play as it allows just 4.88 yards per play.
“Sean [McDermott] does a great job of is he always makes adjustments,” Kelly said.
“You can see it whether its in the Houston game or the Saints game if somebody beat them with something or hurt them with something he makes an adjustment on that and that’s what makes them a really good defense.”
The lynchpin of the Panthers defense stems from its linebacking corps with one of the best duos in the league with middle linebacker Luke Kuechly and strong side backer Thomas Davis. Kuechly returned last week after missing three games (four weeks) due to a concussion but make no mistake when these two players are healthy they’re two of the best in the game.
“He’s a true three down linebacker, he’s sideline to sideline, and he’s one of the fastest linebackers in the league,” Kelly said of Davis. “Now that you have Kuechly back with him, that’s why I said that pair is the best pair we’re going to face and they come off the field.”
Secondary play has also been stellar for Carolina through five games. Cornerback Josh Norman has been the best corner in the league this side of Darrell Revis this year. Last week the Seahawks targeted the 2012 fifth round draft pick only once in their 27-23 loss.
If the Eagles are going to extend their winning streak to three games on Sunday night they will have to continue to be stellar against the run and get the uncharitable Panther offense to turn the ball over.