Carolina vs. Philadelphia
Open: 45 O/U, CAR -3
Press time: 45 O/U, CAR -3
Other than maybe Deshaun Watson, there might not be a hotter player in the league over the last two weeks than Cam Newton, who followed up an inconclusive big game against the Patriots with a convincing showing Sunday against a Detroit defense that had arguably been the league’s best in the first month.
RotoWire injury expert Jeff Stotts predicted that Newton would likely start slowly but should pick up steam as his shoulder rebuilt its strength after an offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum. Newton’s velocity noticeably lagged in his first few games, but he seemed to generate more zip last week especially. If Newton is truly himself, he’s likely one of the top quarterbacks in the league for the foreseeable future.
The question of whether he is truly himself will get another substantial test today, against a Philadelphia pass rush that’s among the league’s most aggressive. With 15 sacks allowed in five games, the Carolina offensive line will get a stern test, even with Philly’s best player, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, still out with a calf injury.
If the line does hold up, Newton will get a shot at a secondary that is otherwise probably well below average. They’ve allowed more wide receiver yardage than any defense, surrendering 77 receptions for 1,033 yards and five touchdowns on 125 targets (8.3 YPT). That’s good news for Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin, who make up one of the more interesting situations to watch as Funchess challenges Benjamin for the distinction of being the team’s top receiver. While Benjamin was the consensus presumed WR1 for Carolina in the preseason, he has 10 catches for 170 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets over the last three weeks, while Funchess has 18 catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns on 27 targets in that span.
Ed Dickson is another popular name these days, but I’m mostly skeptical of him producing for a third straight week. He only has nine targets over the last two weeks, and that he averaged just 6.0 YPT in his previous three seasons in Carolina is a reminder that the 30-year-old tight end is likely to fall back to earth. Besides, the Eagles are allowing just 6.2 YPT to tight ends so far.
The strength of the Eagles defense is its front seven, so it’s not surprising that opposing runners have struggled to produce so far. The Eagles have allowed just 239 yards and three touchdowns on 69 carries (3.5 YPC), though Christian McCaffrey owners can find some hope in the fact that they’ve also allowed 27 catches for 228 yards to running backs on just 32 targets. Jonathan Stewart might need a goal-line carry to provide much return here, though.
While Newton has been great over the last two weeks, Carson Wentz has been impressive all year. He torched a well-regarded Arizona pass defense last week, making it look easy as he completed 21-of-30 passes for 304 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. Wentz will probably never have next-level anticipation skills or strong accuracy, but he’s so tough to stop because of his poise and playmaking ability. He’s a dangerous runner who provokes broken plays with his ability to tangle up the pass rush, and he keeps his eyes downfield to spot the open man if the coverage slips up.
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Unfortunately for Wentz, he’ll be without indispensable right tackle Lane Johnson in this game, which is bad news with Julius Peppers playing like it’s 2002. Carolina’s league-best defensive tackle rotation figures to be that much more of a problem, too. Wentz should have the chance for pass attempt volume as the Eagles likely struggle to run the ball against Carolina’s elite run defense, but he figures to struggle with the pass rush.
If Wentz has a chance, it’s because his own standout skill is complemented by a great group of pass catchers, led by top-three tight end Zach Ertz. He’ll need to be on the top of his game to get open against Carolina’s hyper-athletic linebackers, but you can’t bet too much against a tight end on a triple-digit catch pace.
Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor gave a reminder last week of what might happen if a defense crashes down too hard on Ertz, as the burners scored long touchdowns on a Cardinals pass defense that isn’t known for allowing such things. Alshon Jeffery is the kind of physically imposing target who can score even against the best pass defenses, but Wentz will need to be upright long enough to get them to the red zone.
With a beat up offensive line facing a uniquely strong front seven, the Eagles figure to struggle to create room for LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement. And if the Eagles fall behind, neither is likely to get so much as usage. Wendell Smallwood (knee) is out for a second week in a row.
(line data from covers.com)