Three-And-Out: Eagles-Panthers Predictions

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Photo by: Jeff Fusco.

Player I’ll be watching: Mark Sanchez

I’ll take the obvious one this week.

The last time Sanchez started a game was Dec. 30, 2012. He completed 17 of 35 passes for 205 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. The Jets lost to the Bills, 28-9, ending their season.

It’s amazing how much has changed since then. Sanchez missed all of 2013 with a shoulder injury. He turns 28 on Tuesday and how has a chance to make the most of his second opportunity. Sanchez has completed 55.2 percent of his pass attempts in his career and thrown 71 interceptions, compared to 70 touchdowns.

His defenders are quick to point out that Sanchez didn’t get great coaching in New York and was not always surrounded by a lot of talent.

There will be no such excuses this time around. Sanchez has a receiver playing at a Pro Bowl level in Jeremy Maclin and one of the best backs in the league in LeSean McCoy. The Eagles have four of five starters healthy on the offensive line going into the second half of the season. If Sanchez can take care of the football and play within Chip Kelly’s scheme, he could earn himself a starting job – either in Philadelphia or elsewhere – in 2015.

If Sanchez is a turnover machine, and the Eagles’ offense struggles down the stretch, it’s unlikely he’ll find more than a backup role anywhere next season.

The stakes are high personally for Sanchez. And the stakes are high for the Eagles – a team that has overcome injuries and inconsistent quarterback play to post a 6-2 record. All eyes will be on Sanchez Monday night, and we’ll start to get hints about what’s in store in the weeks ahead.

McManus: Casey Matthews/Emmanuel Acho

As rosters were being trimmed to 53 late this summer, many debated whether Matthews and Acho would even make the team. They now assume a major role in this defense. DeMeco Ryans was Billy Davis‘ on-field general. He made the calls and could quickly check the unit into an appropriate look in response to what the offense was showing.

Matthews and Acho will take over at MIKE when the Eagles are in base. The rest of the defense will be relying on that duo to put them in the right position pre-snap.

“The past couple weeks being at the WILL with DeMeco out there, DeMeco had control of the defense. He would make the calls and we just had to worry about what we were doing. Now that he’s out we have to have guys step up and make that call,” said Matthews. “It’s a little different but you get more comfortable every rep you get in practice.”

It sounds like Mychal Kendricks‘ responsibilities won’t change much. The key for him is to not try and do too much. Similarly, Matthews and Acho don’t have to play at Ryans’ level in order for this defense to be successful, but they do need to be competent and firm decision-makers in his absence.

Over/under: 1.5 turnovers for the Eagles — Whaddya got?

Season records: Kapadia (5-3); McManus (4-4)

Kapadia: Give me the over. There are just too many signs pointing in that direction.

In his last 32 games, Sanchez has been intercepted 38 times and fumbled 24 times. Maybe he’s found ways to cut down on the giveaways, but I need to see it to believe it.

And then there’s the Eagles as a team. They have turned it over on 20 percent of their offensive possessions. That’s the worst mark in the NFL. The turnovers have come in various ways and have been committed by several different players. The ceiling for this team gets raised if it finds a way to take care of the ball and cut down on the self-inflicted wounds.

McManus: I’ll take the over as well.

Chip Kelly said that he didn’t judge Sanchez by the numbers he put up in New York, noting all the variables that are involved.

“How they grade somebody out and say that they know ‑‑ what was he told to do on that play?  He may have been told to throw it to the ‘Y’, and he threw it to the ‘Y’ but the ‘Y’ tipped off his hands and someone else caught it, so it’s an interception.  I don’t know, so we didn’t pay attention to any of that stuff,” he said.

There is merit to what Kelly is saying, but when you average 17 interceptions a year over four seasons, that’s a good enough sample size to suggest the QB is turnover-prone. I think this system fits Sanchez better than the ones he ran in New York and believe he can have success here. I also think he’s going to turn the ball over.

Predictions

Kapadia: Eagles 27, Panthers 17

Even though the quarterback situation is a bit of a mystery and the Eagles are turning the ball over at a high rate, I still think they win this one pretty comfortably.

The offense started to regain its identity with the run game last week, and I expect that to continue against a defense that’s allowing 4.8 YPC. The offensive line is healthier than it’s been in awhile, and the flexibility the Eagles have in getting contributions from three different running backs is huge. My guess is Kelly will lean on the run game and won’t ask Sanchez to do too much.

Defensively, it’s all about cutting down on the big plays. The run defense is dealt a blow with the loss of Ryans, but the Panthers haven’t been a very good rushing team this season. Davis’ ranks eighth, according to Football Outsiders. I don’t see them getting picked apart by Cam Newton and company.

McManus: Eagles 35, Panthers 20

Over his last three games, Newton is 39-of-81 (48 percent completion rate) with one touchdown and three interceptions. He remains a threat on the ground — rushing for 257 yards and a pair of scores through eight games — but overall hasn’t been playing at a high level. Even without Ryans, the defense should be able to hold its own Monday.

There are some question marks hovering over the Eagles’ offense now that Sanchez is at the helm. One thing the QB has going for him is a ground game that appears to be hitting its stride, as evidenced by its 190-yard outburst in Houston last week. The degree of difficulty for Sanchez should remain fairly low so far as the ground game is effective.

I say McCoy, Darren Sproles and Chris Polk lead the way, and the Eagles improve to 5-0 at the Linc.