Here are 10 things to know about how the Eagles’ defense matches up with the Panthers’ offense:
1. The Panthers rank 27th in scoring, averaging 18.4 points per game. Football Outsiders has Carolina’s offense ranked 19th – 17th in passing and 20th in rushing. The Eagles rank 22nd in scoring defense, allowing 25.2 points per game. Football Outsiders has them ranked 17th – 23rd against the pass and seventh against the run. The Panthers have lost seven of their last eight. But six of their eight losses on the season have been by 7 points or fewer. Carolina is coming off a 27-21 overtime loss to the Bucs. The Eagles have lost six in a row. Their last four defeats have been by an average of 17 points. They are last in the NFC with a point-differential of -90.
2. So, what exactly is the significance of this game? According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles have a 0.2 percent chance of making the playoffs. Raise your hand if you’re still holding out hope for a turnaround. Didn’t think so. The 2-8 Panthers, meanwhile, have a less than 0.1 percent chance. OK, so no playoffs. What else is there? Well, draft positioning. Carolina has a 3.8 percent chance of landing the top pick and a 24.2 percent chance of getting in the top three. The Eagles have a 2.4 percent chance of landing the top pick and a 23.4 percent chance of finishing in the top three.
3. Cam Newton’s numbers are down from his rookie campaign. He’s completing 57 percent of his passes (29th), but averaging 7.98 yards per attempt (third). The Eagles’ pass defense has been horrible the past four weeks. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 78.4 percent of their passes for 910 yards, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s truly remarkable when you consider they led the NFL in opponents’ completion percentage (52.3) through the first six games. And the Eagles have suffered no injuries in the secondary, aside from Nate Allen missing one game. The Juan Castillo/Todd Bowles move seemed like a good one at the time. Instead, it’s turned out to be a complete disaster.
4. Despite his struggles, Newton can still get the ball downfield. He’s tied for sixth with 23 completions of 25+ yards. And according to Pro Football Focus, 51.4 percent of Newton’s attempts of 20+ yards have been on-target (either completed, or dropped by a receiver). That’s the second-highest-number in the league, behind only Peyton Manning. Allen and Kurt Coleman have struggled for much of the year. Coleman failed to make a play on the ball on a 61-yard touchdown to Santana Moss last week. Allen cheated up, leaving Aldrick Robinson wide-open for a 49-yard score. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played poorly after getting off to a good start. And Nnamdi Asomugha admitted on Friday that he’s been disappointed with his own play.
5. We know this team has huge decisions to make at coach and quarterback in the offseason. After those, the priority has to be on fixing the secondary. As recently as last summer (2011), it looked like the Eagles were in great shape with Rodgers-Cromartie, Asomugha and Asante Samuel. Now? They may have to start from scratch. Rodgers-Cromartie is a free agent at the end of the year. Asomugha’s deal could be restructured if the new coach finds him valuable, or he could be let go. Coleman and Allen have not proven to be good enough as starters. Aside from Brandon Boykin, who’s had ups and downs but shown potential as the nickel corner, we could be looking at quite a few new faces. Getting Curtis Marsh some playing time before the year’s up might not be a bad idea.
6. The Panthers’ biggest receiving threat is veteran Steve Smith, who’s got 44 catches for 710 yards, including nine grabs of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 16.1 yards per catch, 10th in the NFL. Tight end Greg Olsen leads the Panthers with 45 catches (539 yards). And Brandon LaFell leads Carolina with 12 catches of 20+ yards. He’s averaging 16.9 yards per catch (seventh). Newton leads the NFL in average yards-after-the-catch for quarterbacks (6.5). The Eagles are 29th in the league against opposing teams’ No. 1 receivers, per Football Outsiders. And they have one of the worst-tackling secondaries in the NFL.
7. Newton is the team’s leading rusher with 394 yards on 74 carries (5.3 YPC). Last year, Newton ran for 14 touchdowns. This year, that number is four. The Panthers gave Jonathan Stewart a six-year, $37.8M deal in the offseason ($22.5M guaranteed). He’s averaging 38.6 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. Meanwhile, DeAngelo Williams got a five-year, $43M deal ($21M guaranteed) last offseason. He’s averaging 27.1 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. Now that’s what I call value. One of the major reasons Carolina fired GM Marty Hurney during the season.
8. The Eagles are allowing 4.3 yards per carry (20th). DeMeco Ryans has been outstanding against the run with 77 solo tackles (13 for loss). Fletcher Cox is coming off a 10-tackle performance against the Redskins and leads all Eagles defensive linemen with 50 tackles on the season (per team stats). The Eagles limited Alfred Morris to 3.8 yards per carry last week, but Robert Griffin III had 12 runs for 84 yards. They’ll face a less-imposing option attack against the Panthers.
9. Up front, the Panthers go with Jordan Gross (LT), Amini Silatolu (LG), Geoff Hangartner (center), Garry Williams (RG) and Byron Bell (RT). Gross has started 145 games for the Panthers since 2003. He’ll go up against Trent Cole, who has 1.5 sacks on the season and none since Week 3. Vinny Curry will see his first action of the season, likely spelling Cole at RDE. Silatolu is a rookie second-round pick out of Midwestern State. He leads the team with eight penalties. Williams has started 14 games in four seasons. He could have a rough time with Cox. Bell, an undrafted free agent in 2011, has started 21 games the past two seasons. He’ll get matched up with Jason Babin and Brandon Graham. Babin had one sack and one hurry against Washington, but was more active than he had been in previous weeks. Newton’s been sacked 26 times this season (tied for fifth-most).
10. Leftovers: Special teams continue to be a disaster for the Eagles. Bobby April may want to start with just getting 11 players on the field at the right times. According to Football Outsiders, the Panthers’ average starting field position has been their 23.48 yard line, second-worst in the league. The Eagles, meanwhile, are allowing opponents to start drives at the 30.87 yard line, third-worst. …The Panthers are sixth in red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns 62.5 percent of the time. The Eagles are fifth in red-zone defense, allowing touchdowns 42.4 percent of the time. …Carolina is 19th in third-down offense, converting on 36.1 percent of its opportunities. The Eagles are 10th, allowing conversions 36 percent of the time.