Monday Night Football Preview: Carolina @ Philadelphia

Panthers - Eagles

When, Where, Forecast

8:30 EST, ESPN

Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA

In the 30’s, 20% chance of rain, and low wind.

What’s on the Line

ESPN did not anticipate this would be a matchup of two of the worst teams in the NFC when they selected it. Rather it was supposed to be a battle of high octane offense lead by duel threat quarterbacks Cam Newton and Michael Vick. Now both teams are injury laden with embattled head coaches who are fighting for their jobs. While the records may not suggest it, the game should still be exciting. Electrifying players are still all over the field in the forms of Desean Jackson, Cam Newton, Steve Smith and others.

Philadelphia has slid from 3-1 and atop the NFC East to losing six straight games and being the cellar dweller. At 3-7, Andy Reid’s seat is as hot as its ever been. With lofty preseason expectations, the Eagles have fallen way short. The owner stated anything not over .500 and a playoff appearance was a failure. In recent weeks that hope of climbing back into the race has continued to dwindle. Anything short of winning their last six of games will leave Andy jobless and the Eagles in a rebuilding mode. Against a struggling Carolina team, it is the perfect chance to at least make some positive strides at the end of the year.

Carolina was supposed to be competing for a playoff appearance in late November, not clawing to save Ron Rivera’s job. This is however the scenario they find themselves in. Cam Newton and company were supposed to escalate their explosive stats from last year and combined with an improved defense be a dark horse candidate for the Super Bowl. Rob Chudzinski scrapped what made them successful in the first place and his new playbook has failed miserably. His passive play calling at the end of the game matches perfectly with the defenses ability of allowing the opposing offense to score at will in the last 2 minutes of a game. To avoid more criticism, and to win, they will need to blow out a listless Eagles team.

How the game will be decided

1.       Can Nick Foles and Bryce Brown replace Michael Vick and Lesean McCoy?

The preseason dynamic duo of Michael Vick and Lesean McCoy are out for Monday night, meaning backups Nick Foles and Bryce Brown will have to step up and replace their production. Last week, they got down early and didn’t even run the ball with McCoy. If they barely run the ball with one of the best backs in the league, you can expect few carries for Bryce. They over relied on Nick’s passing ability and need to seek balance in their attack. Neither have proven to be explosive, but they both get their shot. It’s a long shot to expect them to perform as well as who they’re replacing.

2.       Which team can limit their turnovers?

Both teams have suffered from turning the ball over too much. When Cam Newton starts and turns the ball over he has not won an NFL game. With 26 NFL games played, it’s amazing that stat still holds. Meanwhile we all heard about the fumble problems that Vick had earlier in the season. He’s now out but Foles threw two interceptions in his first start. While a problem for Carolina (17th in giveaways) it is pertinent to the Eagles (31st in giveaways) to limit their turnovers. Carolina’s defense has more of a habit of causing takeaways, ranking 17th in takeaways compared to 30th for Philadelphia. Evidence points to Carolina winning the turnover battle.

3.       How will the Panthers attack on offense?

I mentioned in a prior piece how they need to attack the Eagles on the ground. Give more touches to Jonathan and DeAngelo in traditional running formations as compared to the read option. Unfortunately, this is only one of the problems the offense has faced this year. It needs to get back to the down field throwing to Steve. It worked like a charm last year, however this year we have yet to really see it. The offense has not been as explosive as it was last year, Chud has gotten too conservative and strayed too far away from what helped him succeed last year. In order to win tonight, they must pound the rock against the suspect Eagles run defense, and use play action to spring big plays to Steve Smith and others. Recent weeks suggest a return to the power running game.

Biggest Matchups

1.       Cam Newton vs. Nick Foles

Battle between the two signal callers will be crucial to the outcome of the game. Nick is coming off a ghoulish first start against the Redskins; the same team that Cam efficiently dismantled only a few weeks earlier gave Nick fits. He completed 21 of 46 attempts for 204 yards with 2 interceptions. It will be interesting to see if he can rebound against a better defense than the Redskins. Cam on the other hand completed 16 of 29 attempts for 252 yards for a touchdown and added an additional 40 yards on the ground. He was efficient in his performance and was good enough to win the game; he’ll need to perform as well as he did last week to get a win. Cam has struggled through his second season and will be in the spotlight on Monday; while Nick will be having just his second start in front of a national audience. The pressure is on both of their backs to perform well and the stage sets nicely for a breakout performance from Cam. Advantage: Cam.

2.       Panthers D-Line vs. Eagles O-Line

The Eagles have allowed 33 sacks this season, third worst in NFL. Carolina meanwhile ranks eleventh in the league in sacks on the defensive side. The pass rush combo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have come on in recent weeks to create one of the most feared defensive lines in the NFL. Last week Nick was sacked four times by the Redskins. While the Panthers haven’t gotten to the quarterback much the last two weeks, a game against one of the worst pass protection units in the league will help them get back on track. Advantage: Panthers D-Line.

3.       Desean Jackson vs. Panthers Secondary

The Panthers have struggled to hold the number one receiver of its opponents in check this season. DeSean is an explosive receiver with elite speed; the exact type of receiver that have given this secondary fits. Roddy White hauled in 169 yards and two touchdowns in week four against the Panthers, Desean can put up similar numbers. Part of the answer to who wins this matchup lies in the trenches; if Nick can get time in the pocket; Desean will find holes to exploit. Advantage: Desean Jackson.

Prediction

Carolina has shown signs of life while the Eagles have all but mailed in their year. Carolina wins the all important turnover battle and makeup for their horrid prime time showing against the Giants earlier this season. Panthers win and win big; perhaps putting the final nail in Andy Reid’s coffin.

Carolina 35, Philadelphia 16

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