Week Six kicks-off tonight with an NFC showdown pitting two 4-1 teams against one another…
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers play host to sophomore sensation Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles in a matchup that could go a long way in shaping the blue conference as we approach the midway point of the season.
Here are 5 things to keep an eye on as we get set to take in the latest instalment of Thursday Night Football…
In the last two weeks, both teams have put up 60 points and gone 2-0. Carolina has had ups and downs through 5, unlike the Eagles who have looked unstoppable throughout, apart from their lone loss to the Chiefs in week 2.
Cam Newton seems to be turning a corner after struggling earlier in the year. In the last two weeks, the off-humoured Krptonian has thrown for 671 yards, scored seven total touchdowns, completing just over 77% of his passes — Kinda thought his press conference was a real “U Bum” moment.
Ground Game Battle
Carson Wentz has more rushing yards than Adrian Peterson up to this point — I know the Saints signing was far from an optimal fit but nonetheless, that reality is still shocking to say the least. The Eagles have used a 3-man committee to handle ground duties with LeGarrette Blount serving as the primary workhorse — 56 attempts through five weeks averaging 5.8 yards per carry. His two counterparts have also been effective when called upon, both of whom have 20+ carries to this point. Wentz continues to be the 4th head of the monster, amassing 108 yards on 26 attempts.
Carolina’s rushing attack has been underwhelming to this point, currently sitting at 19th in the league in yards per contest (98.6). Newton has dialled down his rushing attempts considerably with only 29 thus far (3.1 yds/att) — In his 2015 MVP season, through 5 games, Newton had rushed 50 times, averaging ~4.7 yds/att. If the Panthers hope to play deep into January, they will have to find solutions for their stalled running attack. Christian McCaffrey was supposed to help take some pressure off Cam but has thus far been more effective as a pass catching option than a traditional tailback. Offensive line struggles have certainly played a part in the Panthers ground ineptitude as well.
Offensive Line Play
Both quarterbacks possess elite level mobility, able to make plays with their feet and buy time for their pass-catching play makers to get open. Carolina’s line could be getting a “boost” — I for one wouldn’t consider it that — with the return of Matt Kalil. Often the most under-appreciated position on the field, it’s hard, almost impossible, to be successful without effective O-Line play. Coming into tonight’s contest, the Eagles have yielded 13 sacks, the Panthers having given up 15. Wentz has a 6.8% sack rate and Newton stands at an alarming 9.4%. In 2015, Newton’s sack rate was 6.3%. Look for Philly to dial up the pressure and get to Newton early and often.
In the running game, look for both offences to operate primarily behind the stronger left-side of their respective lines.
Time of Possession
The possession clock will be something to keep a close eye on as the game progresses.
The Eagles, on average, have held the ball for 10 more minutes than their opponent. The Panthers are close behind with an average of +6:33 in the time of possession battle.
On paper, the Eagles hold the advantage running the ball, a vital factor in controlling the clock. 3rd down play on both sides of the ball will also play a role in determining the outcome. Look for both teams to try and establish a run game early in an attempt to control the opposing pass rush and set up manageable third downs — all in an attempt to keep the opposing quarterback off the field.
3RD DOWN CONVERSION RATES
EAGLES: 39/73 = 53.4% (Opponents: 20/57 = 35.1% )
PANTHERS: 34/68 = 50.0% (Opponents: 24/63 = 38.1%)
Pedigree vs Potential
Carolina has, for the most part, blossomed under Riverboat Ron Rivera. Three straight playoff appearances in 2013, 2014, and 2015, the latter included a Super Bowl appearance following a dominant 15-1 regular season — 2014 saw them take NFC South “honours” with a record of 7-8-1. Not that division’s finest moment. The Panthers have every intention of erasing the memories of a 2016 season lost and get back to contending for the Lombardi Trophy.
The Eagles represent promise and potential. Leaders of a tough division, skewed by the struggles of the Cowboys and Giants, Philadelphia can begin to separate themselves from the pack with a victory tonight. Looking for their first playoff appearance since 2013, improving to 5-1, being 2-0 in division play and owning a road win against a formidable NFC contender in the Panthers would go a long way in putting the entire league on notice of their arrival.
Enjoy da foozball folks.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)