The Eagles started off 1-1 last year before reeling off nine straight wins. This year has been a very different story. The Eagles won the opener and then lost. They beat the Colts and then lost. We're at mid-October and the Eagles have not been able to put together consecutive wins.
That has to change.
The Eagles beat the Giants last week to get back to 3-3. The goal is now to go win again and get back above .500. The Eagles must string together several wins if the team is going to have the kind of season everyone expected. That means staying focused and handling success well.
I don't think complacency has been an issue. The Eagles played sloppy football. There were too many penalties, turnovers, missed blocks, and blown coverages. Those mistakes went away against the Giants. Another clean game would go a long way to helping the Eagles beat the Panthers, and that is going to be a tough game.
There are a lot of tough challenges in the NFL. Going up against Cam Newton is certainly one of them. Since coming into the NFL in 2011, Newton has thrown for 167 touchdowns. He's also run for 57 touchdowns. That is incredible production and shows you what a special talent Newton is.
So how do the Eagles stop him?
The defensive line will have to play smart and tough. They need to be disciplined. You don't want to run past Newton. He can then step up and take off. You have to be careful about shooting gaps to the inside. That could leave the outside wide open for Newton. Ideally, you want to collapse the pocket with him in it.
This is a game where the linebackers will need to play really well. Newton is going to break loose a few times. He's too good to shut down for an entire game. When he does get free in space, the linebackers need to chase him down and tackle well. Newton is huge and powerful. He's nimble and athletic. One defender tackling him in space is easier said than done.
Newton threw for 239 yards and a touchdown in a loss to the Eagles last year. He ran 11 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. You can bet Jim Schwartz has shown tape of that game to his defense all week long. He'll want them to learn from the mistakes that let Newton get that free as a runner, over and over.
Newton is putting up some good numbers as a passer. He is completing 66 percent of his passes, a career high. He has the second-best quarterback rating of his career. Still, I think you prefer him throwing the ball rather than running it.
Newton has really struggled with throwing the ball downfield. Only one player has a reception of longer than 27 yards. For the sake of comparison, the Eagles have seven players with a reception of 30 or more yards.
The Eagles' secondary is banged up, but they still have enough talent to handle the Panthers. It will be interesting to see how the coaches use their players. Does Avonte Maddox play free safety or in the slot? Does Rasul Douglas play some safety? How will the coaches use backup safeties Deiondre' Hall and Tre Sullivan? There will be a lot to watch.
Carson Wentz and the Eagles' offense really came alive last time out. They scored a season-high 34 points. They made big plays and were great in the red zone.
That won't be easy to duplicate against Luke Kuechly and the Panthers. They are ranked 10th in the NFL in points allowed. Carolina has a strong front seven, especially now that linebacker Thomas Davis is back from suspension.
One of the real keys to last week's offensive resurgence was the play of the offensive line. The guys up front opened holes in the run game and also gave Wentz time to throw. We can talk a lot about Wentz and runners and receivers, but the bottom line is that this offense is at its best when the Eagles control the line of scrimmage.
The Panthers don't have any elite pass rushers, but they have a talented, versatile group. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is the key player. He only has two sacks this year, but Short can really push the pocket and be disruptive. Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, and Brandon Brooks are going to have their hands full with him.
Carolina's defense struggled with Washington's tight ends last week. I'm sure that wasn't lost on the Eagles' coaches. They know how good Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are. Ertz is posting huge numbers. If the Panthers focus on him, that could create some opportunities for Goedert.
Wentz really looked like his old self in the last game. If he can play at that level for an extended period, there will be a lot more 30-point games. Wentz put up some good numbers in his first few games back, but he was better at situational football against the Giants. Wentz made key plays and that made a huge difference.
It helps that Wentz and Alshon Jeffrey are really in sync. Those two have great chemistry. Jeffrey had a big game against Carolina last year. Jordan Matthews has quietly helped the passing attack. He's made some key catches on third downs.
This is another big game for the Eagles. That's what happens when you hover around the .500 mark all year long. Every week feels huge.
The Eagles are at home. They are coming off their best performance of the year. A lot of things are pointing in the right direction. This is a game the Eagles need to win.