ReFo: Panthers @ Eagles, Week 12
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton took advantage of an Eagles secondary that is in shambles, negating a strong performance from rookie Bryce Brown.
ReFo: Panthers @ Eagles, Week 12
To highlight the nature of this game as a dead rubber five weeks out from the end of the season ESPN was previewing its NFC East clash next week as soon as the start of the second quarter last night. While this game certainly had very little gravitas and meaning around it as two teams squared off with each head coach feeling the burn from the hot seat, it was at least an entertaining and interesting game to watch. There were points, exceptional running, hapless ball carrying and catastrophic defensive breakdowns to give you the full flavor of football.
With this result the Philadelphia Eagles now sit at the foot of the entire NFC and are in the running to pick in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft for the first time in more than a decade. For Carolina there are still questions as to what direction this team needs to head. While we learned something, there are still big questions to ask regarding the future of both franchises.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Taking what they’re given
This has been a difficult second season for Cam Newton, who is no longer the poster boy for the new brand of athletic quarterback. On this night, however, he was more than good enough to take advantage of the Eagles’ defense. This was not a faultless display and he did not take advantage of every breakdown that the Eagles’ defense offered him, but he made the most of enough opportunities to prevent the Eagles ever establishing a lead.
Newton’s accuracy has always been his greatest weakness but when the Eagles left his receivers open down the seam by a dozen yards or more, he simply couldn’t miss. Add in the work he did both on designed runs and saving plays when the pocket breaks and you have a recipe for success.
Johnson stands alone
While much of the Panthers’ run defense was floundering, trying desperately to find and tackle Bryce Brown, one man was solid and also came up with one of the telling plays of the game. More famed for his pass rushing this season, Charles Johnson recorded his highest grade in run defense this week. He registered a season high with three stops in run defense and one of those was a fumble forced from Brown late in the third quarter that set up the Panthers’ go-ahead field goal at the start of the fourth quarter. When your strength is taken away in a game you need to find other ways to contribute and Johnson did just that this week.
Failing to live up to the billing
When ESPN introduced the Panthers’ starting defense early in this game one of their bullet points was an “underrated front seven.” While there are some solid performers in this front seven, the unit as a whole did little to prove ESPN’s point with their display in this game. Against a patchwork offensive line and a rookie in his first start, the Panthers allowed 202 yards at 8.4 yards per carry to Eagles running backs this week. The Panthers also didn’t generate a great deal of pressure, though with 22 dropbacks their opportunities were somewhat limited, with Dwan Edwards and Greg Hardy being the most productive pass rushers.
Even Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly failed to cover themselves in glory, struggling to finish tackles and find Brown in traffic throughout the game. Facing the Chiefs’ offensive line and Jamaal Charles next week won’t make things any easier for the Panthers.
Philadelphia – Three Performances of Note
Tried to throw it away early
In spite of the best efforts of Nick Foles, this game was still alive until late. Though he survived the game without an interception, this was not for want of trying with a trio of bad throws that could have been intercepted. Foles was also involved in a bobbled snap that he almost threw away trying to pitch the ball before he had secured it. The Eagles survived these foibles and went “into their shell,” finally committing to the ground game, with the results making you wonder why it took so long. The Eagles have nothing to lose by keeping Foles in there to find out if he can develop at all, but is he really showing any signs of developing into an NFL quarterback? Does he have what it takes to succeed or is he simply not at a stage to benefit from being “blooded”?
Put the ball on the ground late
The Eagles climbed back into the game on the strength of their running game but also fell back out of the game on the strength of their running game. With an unusual commitment to the ground game the Eagles excelled. They were led by a patchwork offensive line that clicked and a rookie running back who found holes and exploited them to the maximum.
The offensive line handled the Panthers’ defensive front all game except two plays where Brown put the ball on the ground as the result of a big hit and then a strip. The football gods are not kind and though the Eagles finally got their offensive play calling right they still came up short.
The Eagles’ secondary is not short of talent, where outside of Kurt Coleman each starting player was picked in the first two rounds of the draft. In theory this secondary should be a strength, yet it isn’t. The only individual to stand remotely tall in this game was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who outside of a deep ball to Louis Murphy collected a pass defense and closed quickly for a tackle on Jonathan Stewart.
Between the other three members of the starting secondary, however, there were simply too many breakdowns against a passing game that is not renowned for its precision. Even simply sticking with the receivers would have given the Eagles a chance of victory. The never-ending string of coverage breakdowns has to end sometime. At this stage, you have to start questioning the defensive personnel who are still failing to execute and communicate in their zone assignments. How many more times can coverages fail before the coaching staff has to change them?
– The two missed tackles for Charles Godfrey were his first since Week 7. That was his longest spell without a missed tackle since his rookie season when he didn’t miss a tackle after his NFL debut until Carolina’s Week 11 victory over Detroit.
– With two more missed tackles, Kurt Coleman extended his career-high missed-tackle count to 14 this season. After only missing one tackle in his rookie season, in the Eagles’ playoff defeat to Green Bay, Coleman has missed 25 in the last two years.
– With his eight forced missed tackles, Bryce Brown tied the season high for an Eagles’ running back. LeSean McCoy matched that mark, with one less fumble, in the Eagles’ Week 2 win over the Ravens.
PFF Game Ball
A faultless performance this was not, but Cam Newton did more than enough with his arms and his legs to exploit the plentiful breakdowns in the Philadelphia defense.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.