|GAME TIME||8:25 PM EST|
|STADIUM||Bank of America Stadium|
|NETWORK||CBS/NFL Network/Amazon Prime|
PANTHERS KEY PLAYER: JULIUS PEPPERS
It’s hard to imagine a 37-year old defensive end being a primary factor in this game, but believe it. Peppers is having a throwback year in 2017, his 16th season in the league. Also, Carolina’s other edge rusher, Mario Addison, is back from a knee injury. Peppers should expect to be on the field a ton even with Addison back. His 5.5 sacks lead the team and Peppers is looking to add to that total on Thursday against a backup offensive tackle for the Birds. With Lane Johnson out due to a concussion, Peppers could have a field day lined up over young tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. It’s no secret that the Eagles are a worse team without Lane, so hopefully Vaitai can mitigate the damage Peppers is sure to cause.
EAGLES KEY PLAYER: MALCOLM JENKINS
In Carolina’s ground-and-pound offense, Cam Newton loves throwing to his big receivers off play action sets. With the way the Eagles’ cornerbacks are playing lately, Cam might be looking for Ed Dickson and rookie Christian McCaffrey with mismatches over the middle. That’s where versatile safety Malcolm Jenkins and terrific cover linebacker Jordan Hicks come into play. Jenkins will most likely be given the responsibility of dealing with Ed Dickson 1-on-1. Most recently, Dickson burnt a very good Lions’ secondary for 175 yards on 5 catches. His connection with Cam is growing each game, and the Eagles need to make sure that safety blanket is not there for Newton when the front four pressures him.
GAME PREVIEW AND ANALYSIS
This Thursday night matchup against the Cam and the Carolina Panthers is going to be the Eagles most difficult test to date. It’s a short week, their best offensive lineman is down, and they are the traveling team with one less day to prepare. On top of that, the Panthers recently manhandled the Lions in a physical road win that was much more one-sided than the final score suggests. Many people are saying Superman Cam is back to his 2015 NFL MVP form. That will surely be tested against an Eagles’ defensive front that is firing on all cylinders.
Carolina’s defense is no joke, playing their best ball since 2015 as well. The Panthers rank 6th in rushing yards allowed per game (79.8) and 5th in passing yards allowed (194.2). This unit is led by the premier linebacking core in the league, made up of Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis Sr, and Shaq Thompson. Running the ball is going to very difficult for the Birds, and the offensive line will absolutely have to match the physicality that the Panthers are sure to bring. Most importantly, Carson Wentz has to be very sharp on Thursday night. It will be a constant audible battle with Kuechly, and Wentz must win the chess match against perhaps the game’s best linebacker right now.
Defensively, Fletcher Cox is back for the Birds this week. His presence is sure to be felt in this game with Panthers’ center Ryan Kalil sidelined for his 5th straight game with a neck injury. His brother, left tackle Matt Kalil, is battling an ankle injury he suffered against Detroit, but is set to go Thursday. Vinny Curry will line up over Kalil, and after predicting his first sack last preview, I’m predicting back-to-back sacks.
My only concern on this side of the ball is that Carolina’s receivers are BIG. Although the Eagles cornerbacks have played well as a whole this season, the Panthers wide outs on the outside are a dangerous matchup. Kelvin Benjamin (6’5″, 240 pounds) and Devin Funchess (6’4″, 232 pounds) could cause problems against the Birds’ corners with their combination of size and speed. Jalen Mills (6’0″, 191 pounds) and rookie Rasul Douglas (6’2″, 209 pounds) have to be very physical on the outside and not let those big targets get position on them, especially in the redzone. Thursday night is going to be a heavy hitting, smashmouth football game, and the Birds should be ready for the bout.