The (3-1) Carolina Panthers welcome the (1-3) Philadelphia Eagles to town on Sunday. It’s a good opportunity for a growing Panthers offense to flex its muscles on a middle-of-the-pack Eagles defense. Let’s take a deeper dive into the two squads.
The Panthers offense showed me a lot last Sunday despite losing to the Cowboys. They stuck in the game for the most part against a very good Dallas offense with a great rush attack.
It’s probably at the point where NFL Network and social media can stop gasping with surprise when Darnold shows off his wheels and runs effectively. He can run, folks. Get over it. Some guys run well because of speed and others run well because of instinct and how their mind sees the game. It doesn’t matter how you get there, and Darnold is getting there. But the underlying assumption seems to be that since Darnold doesn’t “look like” an athletic quarterback, he shouldn’t be athletic. I think we can safely conclude that thinking now.
Meanwhile, DJ Moore is slowly emerging as a top tier NFL receiver. He’s getting a ton of targets (43, T-3rd) in Matt Rhule’s system and he’s responding with consistency. Robby Anderson has been quiet through four weeks, but he saw 11 targets on Sunday and hauled in five passes, equalling his total from the previous three weeks. Anderson is one of those guys who can get hot, and when he does it’s going to be an air show. He’s an absolute deep threat who can stun opposing defenses when he’s at top confidence.
Chubba Hubbard didn’t thrill in his first start after Christian McCaffrey’s absence, but McCaffrey practiced on Wednesday and is now a game-time decision for Sunday.
The Panthers can definitely move the football and score points. It’s not a fireworks show like Kansas City or Tampa Bay, but it works.
Yards per game: 387.5 (13th)
Pass yards per game: 280 (8th)
Rush yards per game: 107.5 (17th)
Points per game: 24.3 (13th)
The Eagles defense is a little better than Carolina’s last opponent, the Cowboys. Currently the Eagles sit around the middle of the NFL in yards allowed per game. The important thing to know is they’ve shown little ability to stop the run, but they have shown a decent pass defense. Also, they haven’t shown an ability to force turnovers (two all season).
All around it’s been a pretty brutal two weeks for defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. His defense was burned for 83 points, 851 yards, including 360 on the ground, in the last two games. The Eagles allowed 40 or more points in back-to-back games for only the fifth time in team history in losses to Dallas on Sept. 27 and Kansas City on Sunday.
On the plus side, defensive tackle Javon Hargrave has five sacks on the year and, as usual, Philly’s defensive line is effective. Hargrave (T-2nd) is the sole defensive tackle in the top ten sack list this season, which is mostly comprised of edge rushers.
Yards per game: 354 (14th)
Pass yards per game: 204 (7th)
Rush yards per game: 150 (31st)
Points per game: 26.5 (24th)
Turnovers: 2 (31st)
The overall match-up could play into Philly’s favor if McCaffrey doesn’t suit up. But that may not end up deciding the game.
The Panthers pass offense is a little bit stronger than its rush offense, despite Darnold’s knack for finding the endzone with his feet. Philly’s run defense is where we’ll likely see the biggest gains, so that’s why McCaffrey’s absence could present trouble. Conversely, we could see Hubbard step up and have a big game, but it doesn’t look like he’s reached that stage yet.
Despite this, I still think the Panthers are the stronger team. I’m not too sold on Jalen Hurts’ ability to be a consistently effective NFL quarterback. Let me put it this way: the Panthers offense against the Eagles defense is less of a concern than the Eagles offense going against the Panthers defense.