The idea is that each week represents a season within the season. A "one-game-means-everything" mentality is what the Eagles carry with them into tonight's Monday night game against Carolina and it is the right approach to take in this wacky NFL.
With the NFC in line for a fantastic playoff push in the final seven weeks of the regular season, the Eagles know that if they don't take care of their immediate business, the picture in December won't be favorable. With that in mind, how do the Eagles beat a Carolina team that has struggled in the last month, but one that still has a division goal in mind?
The obvious answer is that the Eagles must minimize the mistakes that have plagued the offense all season -- turnovers and poor play in the red zone. Mark Sanchez is the quarterback moving forward with Nick Foles sidelined with a broken collarbone. Sanchez is prepared for the moment. He's handled everything during the week of preparation as a professional does, and now the curtain is drawn back as he re-emerges on the national stage.
Head coach Chip Kelly insists that the offensive game plan won't change and it would certainly seem opposite of anything he's done to think it would. Sanchez has the mental part of the system down. He's just got to go out and do it.
Carolina provides the first challenge. The Panthers' defense does not resemble the one that helped the Panthers win the NFC South last year, but the Sean McDermott scheme, one that we know from his time serving under the late, great Jim Johnson here, is one that will challenge Sanchez.
- Carolina will blitz Sanchez and look to rush him into poor decisions. McDermott doesn't have the weapons he had last year -- sack leader Greg Hardy remains sidelined with his legal matters -- but McDermott knows he has to be aggressive. He'll bring pressure from everyone on the defense and he will also present the *illusion *of pressure, something Johnson did so masterfully.
- Sanchez is going to see a lot of different looks. McDermott wants to be creative and he wants to dictate. The Panthers haven't played in 11 days, so they've had a chance to introduce a few wrinkles that the Eagles haven't seen on film. How does Sanchez react? The expectation from the Eagles is that Sanchez plays composed, great football. Those who watched him in New York say Sanchez was frenetic when the offense went off the rails, and that when things broke down around him, he suffered and turned the football over. That is McDermott's goal tonight.
- Would it surprise anyone if the Panthers brought the blitz constantly against the run tonight? How many defenders will the Panthers put in the box specifically to slow an Eagles running game that cranked out 190 rushing yards in Houston last Sunday? It seems that defenses choose to try to take away the running game first and then challenge the Eagles to win in the passing game. Keep an eye on that tonight.
Otherwise, the offense just has to play its game. The Eagles can spread the field and create some favorable matchups and then Sanchez and the coaching staff must exploit them. Carolina has struggled against the running game, and the pass rush has lacked. But this is a desperate team at 3-5-1, and one that also knows that a victory puts the Panthers in first place in the NFC South.
Offensively, Carolina starts with quarterback Cam Newton, who has the multi-dimensional skills that can drive defenses crazy. Do the Eagles dare spy Newton with someone like Mychal Kendricks, who can run with Newton and who is powerful enough to bring the big man down? How will Carolina try to exploit the loss of DeMeco Ryans in the middle of the defense? How much of a factor will rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin play down the field on go-up-and-get-them balls?
Lincoln Financial Field is going to be electric tonight, a great football atmosphere. The Eagles have been on a roll at home and they need it to continue. It's a "one-game season," as the players and coaches have said many times since Kelly arrived. Sunday's results were not favorable in any way to the Eagles' playoff picture, which doesn't matter to the coaching staff, anyway.
Take care of the football and take care of business. The lesson learned on Sunday was that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who waltzed into MetLife Stadium to play the downtrodden Jets and lost the turnover battle by four and dropped the game. It's a defeat that could come back to haunt the Steelers.
The Eagles have a chance to get to 7-2 and start the second half of the season the right way. They have challenges on offense and on defense after the loss of three key players (Foles, guard Todd Herremans and Ryans). The entire roster must step up.