Eagles-Panthers scouting report

Cam Newton: Sophomore slump. AP
Cam Newton: Sophomore slump. AP
Posted: November 25, 2012

Panthers wide receiver  Steve Smith labeled Monday night's lowdown between 2-8 Carolina and the 3-7 Eagles the "Battle of the Bads."

What once looked like a meeting between new-school and old-school multifaceted quarterbacks has fizzled into a game of survival for the coaches of both teams.

Andy Reid and  Ron Rivera both appear to be on their way out, but a victory might at least hold off the charge for one week (or not). Rivera was once a defensive assistant under Reid, as was Panthers defensive coordinator  Sean McDermott, whom Reid fired two seasons ago.

Michael Vick is out for a second straight week for the Eagles with a concussion, so there won't be a Vick- Cam Newton matchup. The Panthers quarterback is mired in a sophomore slump. He could get out of it against an Eagles team that has rookie  Nick Foles under center for the second straight week.

If the Eagles deliver another dud it could get ugly at Lincoln Financial Field, and we're not just talking about the football.

When the Eagles run

Bryce Brown will make his first career NFL start with  LeSean McCoy sidelined with a concussion. The rookie has made strides of late, but he hasn't logged more than five rushes in a game. Brown is big (6-foot, 220 pounds) and runs upright. He hasn't shown much as a pass catcher. He will likely receive assistance from  Dion Lewis, who has yet to get a carry this season. McCoy had little room to run last week behind an offensive line that regressed in its theirrun-blocking. McDermott's defense is allowing an average of 118.4 yards a game on the ground. Middle linebacker  Luke Kuechly, who took over for the injured  Jon Beason early in the season, leads the team with 97 tackles. The rookie plays on all three downs. Linebacker  Thomas Davis has made a remarkable comeback from three ACL injuries to the same knee. He has already played in more game this season (10) than he did from 2009 to '11 (nine).

Edge: EVEN

When the Eagles pass

McDermott hasn't blitzed as much in Carolina as he did with the Eagles. Still, you've got to think he'll try to pressure Foles and the offensive line by disguising his pass rush at the line. The Eagles have struggled all season with picking up A-gap blitzes or what appeared to be extra pass rushers coming up the middle. The Panthers have 26 sacks and are led by  Charles Johnson (81/2 sacks). Left tackle  King Dunlap will draw the powerful defensive end.  Dennis Kelly will get his second straight start at right tackle, and he will have his hands full facing  Greg Hardy (seven sacks). If Foles doesn't have much time, like last week,  DeSean Jackson and  Jeremy Maclin may not get much action again. The receivers combined for just two catches for 5 yards against the Redskins. Carolina's cornerbacks -  Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Norman - are just average. Norman has been targeted 68 times and given up 45 catches for 530 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

Edge: PANTHERS

When the Panthers run

The Panthers averaged an NFL-best 5.4 yards a carry in 2011 but they have plummeted to only 4.0 yards this season.  Jonathan Stewart and  DeAngelo Williams, who combined for 1,597 rushing yards last year, have been unspectacular this season. Stewart is averaging just 3.6 yards; Williams is at 3.4. The loss of Pro Bowl center  Ryan Kalil, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 5, has hurt. His replacement,  Geoff Hangartner, has not done well opening holes. The Panthers are averaging just 3.1 yards a carry up the middle. The Eagles have had their issues against the run but not because of middle linebacker  DeMeco Ryans, who has been one of the few bright spots on defense. The Eagles are allowing an average of 118.3 yards a game on the ground, but remarkably are the only team in the NFL to have not allowed a 100-yard rusher.

Edge: EVEN

When the Panthers pass

Newton's second-year decline hasn't been drastic, but he hasn't been anywhere near as dazzling as he was as a rookie. The mistakes have been more careless than clueless. His turnover numbers aren't terrible - 10 interceptions and five fumbles - but Newton hasn't made up for them with superior playmaking. Last season, he threw for 21 touchdowns and ran for 14. This year, he has tossed nine and has rushed for four. The Panthers have gained an NFL-best 6.63 yards on first down, but Newton has struggled on third down, completing only 50 percent of his passes. Hailed as a genius last season, Panthers offensive coordinator  Rob Chudzinksi has been hamstrung by Newton's regression and his line's struggles. Carolina is 28th in the league in sacks allowed per pass play. A week after being silenced by the Redskins'  Trent Williams, Eagles end  Trent Cole faces another challenge in left tackle  Jordan Gross, one of the NFL's best. Cole hasn't had a sack in the last seven games. Newbie  Jeff Byers is susceptible at right guard. The Eagles should do their best to get defensive tackle  Fletcher Cox against Byers in pass-rushing situations. A week after facing  Robert Griffin III, the Eagles should be ready to face another elusive quarterback. The Eagles secondary was embarrassed last week. Safeties  Kurt Coleman and  Nate Allen were both key figures in two long Redskins passing touchdowns. The 5-foot-9 Smith (44 catches for 710 yards) is still a feisty 5-foot-9. He could see a lot of cornerback  Nnamdi Asomugha. Carolina receiver  Brandon LaFell (6-2, 210) lines up in the slot 65 percent of the time and will have a size advantage against Eagles slot corner  Brandon Boykin (5-9, 182).

Edge: EVEN

Special teams

The Panthers have the best kickoff-cover team in the NFL. They have held returners to just 15.8 yards a return. Their punt-cover team is 15th in the league. Carolina is just as unproductive as the Eagles in the return game. The Panthers are 26th in punt returns and 21st in kick returns. The Eagles tried to ignite their kick return game by replacing Boykin with Brown. It did not work. Boykin could be back in there if Brown starts at running back. Eagles kicker  Alex Henery continues to be on the money. He hasn't missed a field goal since the opener and has made 17 in a row.

Edge: EVEN

Intangibles

The Eagles offense has been wretched in the red zone. The Birds have converted just 12 of 31 possessions (38.7 percent) inside the 20. The Panthers defense has been stout inside the red zone, holding opponents to just 14 touchdowns on 33 possessions (42.4). In McDermott's two seasons as defensive coordinator in Philadelphia, the Eagles finished 26th and last in red zone efficiency. . . . The Panthers have lost five of six games after leading in the fourth quarter. . . . Munnerlyn has returned two interceptions for touchdowns, including a 74-yarder last week. . . . The Eagles have a minus-14 turnover ratio, second worst in the league. The Panthers' differential is minus-3.

Edge: EAGLES

 

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