October 07, 2021
It's been a tough three weeks for the Eagles, who haven't picked up a win since their season-opening victory over the Falcons. And while that was just under a month ago, it feels like it could be a year.
This week, the Eagles will get a bit of a reprieve when they head to Carolina to face the Panthers, who sit at 3-1 but shouldn't present the same level of challenge as the Cowboys or Chiefs did the past two weeks — or as the Bucs will on Thursday night when the Birds host the defending Super Bowl champions.
But before facing Tom Brady and Co., Nick Sirianni's team has a date with Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers, who are led by former Temple coach Matt Rhule. And despite the Panthers being tied with Tampa for first place in the NFC South, it's hard to imagine that will be the case when the season is over. For starters, the Panthers' three wins have come against a trio of less-than-stellar teams: the Jets, the Saints and the Texans, who are a combined 4-8 to start the season. And last week, in their first matchup against a legit contender, the Panthers defense was torched by the Cowboys (not unlike the Eagles a week earlier) — although they made the game look closer in the end with some fourth-quarter scoring of their own.
The bigger issue for Carolina is the fact that they could be missing their best player: running back Christian McCaffrey, who returned to practice this week in a limited fashion but is likely to be sidelined again with that hamstring injury. That would be good news for an Eagles defense who hasn't been able to stop anyone on the ground since Brandon Graham went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. That should allow their defense to focus on stopping Sam Darnold, who has five rushing touchdowns himself through the first month of the season to go along with five passing touchdowns.
Shutting down the Panthers offense should be priority No. 1 for the Eagles, who gave up just 23 points over their first two games before giving up an astounding 83 points over their last two. That, and finishing drives, as the Eagles haven't had a ton of trouble moving the ball, but have recently struggled converting those yards into points, settling for more field goals than they'd like for a variety of reasons, from penalties to poor play-calling to poor execution. If they can fix that — and can actually move the ball on the ground against a Panthers defense that surrendered 245 rushing yards to Dallas — they should have a decent chance at pulling off the upset.
Of course, that's always easier said than done.
As we do every week, let's take a look at what our writers have to say about Sunday's matchup and who sees the Eagles snapping their current losing streak...
TV: FOX (Joe Davis and Greg Olsen)
RADIO: 94.1 WIP (Merrill Reese and Mike Quick)
|DraftKings||CAR -3.5||PHI +160|
|FanDuel||CAR -3.5||PHI +154|
|UniBet||CAR -3.5||PHI +157|
|BetMGM||CAR -3.5||PHI +160|
Eagles at Panthers (-4): The Panthers are 3-1, but I don't think they're "a 3-1 kind of team," if that makes any sense. It's an average roster with its share of holes. For example, they have four replacement-level players starting along their offensive line, and for now, until newly acquired Stephon Gilmore is ready to play, their personnel at cornerback isn't great.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, they feel ill-equipped to take advantage of the Panthers' deficiencies. Javon Hargrave aside, their defensive line has been a major disappointment throughout he first four games, and they're not yet a team that can consistently burn a depleted secondary all day, as we saw against the 49ers Week 2.
Meanwhile, the Panthers' biggest strength — their edge-rushing duo of Brian Burns and Haason Reddick — could be poised for a big day against an Eagles offensive line that will very likely be without Lane Johnson, and possibly also Jordan Mailata. If Mailata can't go, it'll probably be Andre Dillard at LT and Jack Driscoll at RT, like it was against the Chiefs Week 4. If Mailata can play, the guess here is that Dillard will start at LT, and a gimpy Mailata will flip sides and start at RT. The Eagles' offensive line survived against a depleted Chiefs defensive line, but I don't like their chances quite as much against Burns and Reddick.
The Eagles' secondary will also have to figure out a way to defend the WR duo of D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, a week after they got roasted all day by Tyreek Hill. I like Moore's chances of having a big day.
Yes, I know I am the moron who picked the Eagles to beat the Cowboys two weeks ago so why listen to me here? Well, while I still 100% acquiesce that the Eagles are going to finish below .500 and are not a good football team, I do not think they are bad enough to be losers of six in a row — which is what they would be if they to the Panthers this weekend, and then drop a pair of games they are sure to be underdogs in (vs. the Bucs, then at the Raiders).
I think the rule of averages says this team is good enough to muster up at least one win in this brutal stretch, and the Panthers are a bit overrated. Their defense was ripped apart by the Cowboys recently, and without Christian McCaffrey they'll offer much less difficulty on the ground for the Eagles. I think the defense will be slightly better than last week, and the offense, if it plays like it did against Kansas City, should put up enough points for a "W."
Do I feel confident about this pick? Hell no. But there aren't a lot of games you can look to on the Eagles schedule and pencil in a win. This game, however, against a Sam Darnold-led offense that could be without its most dynamic playmaker, is certainly one of them. There's not really a lot to fear about Carolina, at least when compared to the Eagles' two most recent opponents, and it's a game that many people looked to as a potential win before the season even started.
Should the events of the last three weeks — or the fact that Darnold is playing better than expected — be reason to change that? Perhaps slightly, but Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense hasn't really been the biggest issue as of late (aside from those red zone issues). The biggest problem has been Jonathan Gannon's defense and those 83 points allowed in eight quarters, and D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson could give the secondary fits if the front four again fail to put pressure on the QB. That being said, I just don't trust their quarterback.
I know, I'm not offering a ton here in terms of Xs and Os analysis — and the Eagles offensive line situation terrifies me — but this one just feels like a win ... as long as the Birds don't have three scores wiped off the board due to stupid penalties.
Let's see, I have a choice between picking the 3-1 home team with a top-five scoring defense or the 1-3 road team with a slightly worse offense (through four weeks, anyway) and a defense that has given up 40+ points each of the last two weeks. Are there any reasons to overthink this?
Well, sure. Wins over the Jets and Texans are not exactly statement victories, and though they hung tougher against the Cowboys than the Eagles did, you'd be within your right to question if the Sam Darnold breakout is real. His performance vs. Dallas could be a sign of things to come against better competition, with Darnold putting up decent numbers that are slightly inflated by extended garbage time stats.
That said, we might as well make it five weeks in a row picking against the Eagles. Christian McCaffrey playing or not might be viewed as an X-factor by some, though Philly's run defense has been so putrid lately that I'm not sure how much it matters. At least Stephon Gilmore isn't available to play for his new team this week, because an interception would have been inevitable after Eagles fans (briefly) clamored for Howie Roseman to go get him.
If this were in Philly, I might possibly see the Eagles prevailing. But right now, I can't see them beating even a decent team, which Carolina is, especially on the road. I anticipate improvements, but Eagles fans better get a grip on reality, because that's the only thing to look forward to this year. Eagles Team MVP through 4 games: offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
The Eagles are facing one of the toughest tests on defense and may have to alter the game plan of “taking what the defense gives them”, especially on the road. I think Jalen Hurts will be able to continue his upward trajectory, and hopefully Devonta Smith and guys around Hurts continue to adjust to this new offense. But the penalties… man, the penalties and mental mistakes are too much to ignore. Sam Darnold is playing with new life, and the Eagles let anyone run on them. Hard to take Philadelphia in any game outright until they prove us wrong, I won’t even lay the points here, just take Carolina to win.
After four weeks of the season we probably still don't know who the Eagles and the Panthers are. We do know what Carolina thinks it is and that's a playoff contender after a 3-1 start with a somewhat soft schedule featuring wins over the New York Jets and Houston. Any doubt over that was lifted earlier this week when the Panthers traded for veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The Eagles won't have to worry about Gilmore who will remain on the PUP list for the next few weeks or perhaps Carolina's best overall defender early in the season, Shaq Thompson. The biggest issue though could be left tackle Cam Erving. The Panthers' offensive line as a whole is a big weakness to begin with, and they don't have the kind of depth the Eagles up front.
There's a thought around the league that handling "success" is even more difficult at times than dealing with adversity. Call in a hunch but the Panthers seem to think they are a little better than they really are and are ripe for the upset.
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