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Big Question: Who Has Been The Biggest Surprise In 2017?

Posted Oct 12, 2017

You've got questions. Our writers have the answers. Here's a preview of tonight's game along with a poll for an early-season award.

Dave Spadaro: Cam has really rounded into good form after the Panthers had some major questions about his arm strength and durability. I’m still more concerned with his ability to break the pocket than I am about his passing ability from the pocket. I think Newton will ultimately really miss tight end Greg Olsen, even though Ed Dickson has done a great job as a replacement. I would mix in some blitzes, be very aware of Cam’s running, and give him as many looks as possible. I think it’s a good matchup for the Eagles' defense. Cam has played well in the last two weeks, but I don’t think he’s at his 2015 level yet. Go after him. Be physical. Make sure to rally to the football, and this defense will be fine.

Fran Duffy: They absolutely can - and it’s more about just stopping Cam. This offense is one of the most diverse in the NFL because of all the misdirection, backfield action, option schemes, and moving parts associated with its run game. Newton is a threat to run the ball and is one of the best arm talents in the NFL, and he’s got some towering targets both outside and inside down the field. For the front seven, this will be assignment football. Do your job in the run game, trust your teammates next to you to do theirs, and if everyone is in the right gap they will be in position to stop this offense. It will need to be a team effort, and a tall task on a short week of preparation, but it can be done.

Chris McPherson: Yes, the key is to rattle him early. This front four, especially if Fletcher Cox returns, can get after him and force him into early mistakes. Newton hasn't run the ball as much this year and I wonder how much of that has to do with his right shoulder which was surgically repaired in the offseason. He only practices on a limited basis during the course of the week. My player to watch is linebacker Jordan Hicks who will need to help in coverage with the likes of Christian McCaffrey running routes, but also because he could come on a perfectly timed blitz to pressure Newton. He doesn't have any interceptions this year and hasn't recovered a fumble since the season opener in Washington. Tonight's a good time to change that.

Fran Duffy: I don’t think the game plan changes at all. It didn’t change in the second half of Sunday’s win over Arizona, and it didn’t change a year ago after Big V’s rough start against Washington once he settled in. Vaitai was one of the most improved Eagles this summer in camp based off my eyes. I have full confidence that the coaches will have Vaitai ready to go.

Dave Spadaro: The game plan doesn’t change. You need depth. The Eagles believe in Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He will work against a good veteran in Julius Peppers, who has 5.5 quarterback sacks. Peppers has a shoulder injury that he’s nursing, so maybe the short week and the shoulder will limit the 37-year-old Peppers, if only a little bit. If Vaitai needs help, the Eagles can use a tight end and a running back in pass protection. Let’s see what Vaitai can do. If he’s the “right tackle of the future,” then he should play fine. He played a bunch last year and he’s had 95 offensive snaps in five games, so Vaitai is plenty game-tested to go out and play good football.

Chris McPherson: "When did Big V go in for Lane?" I was asked that question after the Arizona game. That should explain it all. Johnson has played excellent football since the season opener, but I think Vaitai is ready for the challenge.

Dave Spadaro: Biggest surprise? A bunch of them, including Jake Elliott’s brilliance at placekicker, the team’s ability to seamlessly (so far) replace Darren Sproles, and the way the defense has (more than) survived without Fletcher Cox. But I’ll go with cornerback Patrick Robinson, who was as much of an afterthought signing in free agency as there can be. I wasn’t even sure he would make team after watching him in Training Camp and in the preseason, but Robinson has been excellent in the nickel and on the outside through five games. He’s obviously playing with a lot of confidence and his technique has been excellent. Robinson has been around the football a lot. For a cornerback group that has missed Ronald Darby for four-plus games and hasn’t seen second-round draft pick Sidney Jones on the field, the play of Robinson (and Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas) has really picked up the unit. Robinson is one of the team’s under-the-radar MVPs.

Fran Duffy: To me, the biggest surprise has to be Patrick Robinson. After what can only be described as a rough summer during Training Camp, Robinson gave up catch after catch after catch in practice but has turned into a more-than-serviceable option for the Eagles both inside and outside. The veteran and former first-round pick posted a handful of pass breakups against the Cardinals on Sunday in all areas of the field in both man and zone coverage, showing his instincts, ball skills, and versatility. To me, he is the most pleasant surprise of the still-young season.

Chris McPherson: I'm going to go with a two-time Pro Bowl center in Jason Kelce. The offensive line has been dominant since the Week 2 Chiefs game and Kelce has played arguably the best football of his career in that stretch while going against some talented defensive linemen. Kelce has another challenge tonight with Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei. The offense has scored at least 20 points in every game this season. The team is first in time of possession. Over 400 yards in each of the last two games. Just incredible production.

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