3TFO: Panthers @ Eagles, Week 12
Sunday games are now in the books, so it’s time to turn our attention toward Monday Night Football and the meeting of two teams who have underwhelmed this season.
So bad have the struggles of the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles been that we might be watching both head coaches working on borrowed time before they are shown the door in the offseason.
The Panthers failed to move on from a fantastic rookie display from Cam Newton and have floundered trying to operate with the zone read as their primary weapon, while Philadelphia has come apart at the seams in multiple areas this season.
What are the three areas to focus on for the game?
Jordan Gross vs. Trent Cole
For whatever reason, Trent Cole isn’t the dominant force he has been in past seasons. Maybe the Wide-9 alignment is putting too much emphasis on winning one-on-one without any help for the defensive ends to truly excel now that teams know what is coming, but Cole is still a handful for any tackle, and Jordan Gross will need to play well to keep him quiet. For his part, Gross has played well this season, surrendering an ugly-looking seven sacks, but only 13 additional pressures from his 374 pass blocking snaps. In previous seasons this might have been a candidate for Marquee Matchups, but with both players performing just below the level we have come to expect from them, it doesn’t quite have that headline potential. Nevertheless, this is a matchup that figures to be worth watching, and the player that comes out on top should have a lot to say about the end result.
Keeping Foles Upright
Whether you blame Michael Vick or the offensive line for the struggles this season, it’s clear that no unit would look good reduced to four-fifths of a second-string unit. At this point in the season the Eagles have just LG Evan Mathis remaining from their originally intended starting five, and though Mathis somehow continues to perform at an All-Pro level, it simply won’t matter if the other four players continue to leak pressure all around him.
Foles will likely have a positive impact in terms of getting rid of the ball faster than Vick, and in his limited snaps so far is ‘only’ being pressured on 33 percent of snaps, compared to the 43 percent that Vick was experiencing. The Panthers can pressure the passer with DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy — both ranking inside the Top 5 of our Pass Rushing Productivity metric for 4-3 defensive ends with scores of 13.9 and 11.3, respectively. Johnson’s score actually leads the league at his position, so Foles is going to have to be aware of pressure coming around the edge and be prepared to deal with it all game long.
Cam Newton vs the Eagles Play Action Coverage
I’m not sure there’s a player that bites on the play action as hard as Kurt Coleman for the Eagles, but he is not alone in being susceptible in that defensive backfield. Coleman, Nate Allen and Nnamdi Asomugha have all had plays this season where they have found themselves horribly out of position chasing a deep shot over their heads after a play-action fake. Newton and the Panthers run play action more than most teams, and that number may even go up if they can get back to their old ground-pounding ways.
To this point in the season, Newton has used play action on 28.6 percent of his passing attempts, which is fourth in the NFL and actually ahead of Houston’s Matt Schaub. He has a rating of 102.8 on those passes and a yards per attempt figure of 10.8. The Eagles are going to be looking to shut down the run first and foremost in this game, but they are going to have to be aware that Newton is going to try and hit them over the top with play action passes, and in Steve Smith they have a player who can turn a blown assignment into a touchdown in a heartbeat.
Can the Eagles go the entire game without featuring on a highlight where one of their defensive backs can only chase forlornly a receiver running free behind the secondary?
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