Philadelphia Eagles vs. Carolina Panthers: Matchups, prediction for this NFC showdown

    The Eagles vs. Panthers matchup pits two QBs on the edge of different spectrums, as Hurts needs answers, and Darnold continues to emerge.

    Both the Carolina Panthers and Philadelphia Eagles struggled on defense a week ago, giving up a combined 78 points to the Cowboys and Chiefs, respectively. With both teams coming off of losses, who has the edge in Week 5’s Eagles vs. Panthers matchup?

    While both teams were largely disappointing a week ago, it was more surprising for Carolina to struggle after starting off 3-0. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is searching for answers at nearly every position through four games. Losing three in a row, the Eagles have allowed 83 points over their last two and haven’t looked the part since a Week 1 win over a depleted Atlanta team.

    Philadelphia Eagles offense vs. Carolina Panthers defense

    Jalen Hurts leads the Eagles into Carolina to take on a defense, who, opposite a conundrum against the Cowboys, has been impressive this season. While they’re going to get better with the addition of Stephon Gilmore, he won’t be available until coming off the PUP list. Still, Hurts has been limited as a downfield passer, while the Panthers’ defense is a solid unit at all three levels.

    Jalen Hurts vs. Panthers Defense

    In addition to being the team’s passing leader, Hurts is leading the Eagles in rushing yards as well (226). He’s completing 66.2% of his throws, mainly because he rarely targets downfield. According to Next Gen Stats, Hurts is averaging just 4.7 air yards per completion, essentially meaning he’s throwing short and allowing his receivers to do the work for him.

    Making matters worse for Hurts is the fact that Carolina has done a great job at limiting yards after the catch in the secondary. Cornerback Donte Jackson has given up just 63 total yards after the catch, and while it was just his first start a week ago, A.J. Bouye gave up only 7 total yards in coverage. Despite the loss of first-round pick Jaycee Horn, Carolina’s defense is terrific at limiting passers this season.

    Advantage: Panthers

    Eagles weapons vs. Panthers secondary

    As mentioned, Jackson has anchored the Carolina defense on the backend. He’s allowed 58.3% of passes targeted his way to be completed and just 1 touchdown in the process. His play on the outside has been integral following Horn’s injury, and the safety duo of Jeremy Chinn and Juston Burris has largely disappointed. Chinn has been credited with allowing 4 touchdowns in coverage.

    There are holes to beat the Panthers’ secondary, but can Hurts actually exploit them?

    Hurts has struggled to throw the ball downfield. Even more concerningly, he’s struggled to spot receivers open over the middle of the field. According to Next Gen Stats, Hurts has just 3 completions on throws 15+ yards past the line of scrimmage and between the numbers.

    Quez Watkins, DeVonta Smith, and Jalen Reagor each present a challenge to stop in the passing attack but are limited to having to make catches along the sidelines or outside the numbers. Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert should spot a small advantage over the middle if they can be matched up against the safety duo, as Shaq Thompson has presented an even bigger challenge.

    Thompson is allowing just 5.1 yards per target and limiting receivers to 87 total yards in coverage this season. He’s recorded an interception and several other forced incompletions. Thompson would be the X-factor, but he’s out. Eagles have a mismatch to find. It’s their tight ends against the middle of the field defenders Carolina will trot out there.

    Advantage: Eagles

    Eagles offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

    Jordan Mailata had been a revelation for the Eagles this season, but he hasn’t played since Week 2. Andre Dillard has filled in admirably, and most of the offensive line has been rock solid as well. Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, and Lane Johnson are as advertised. Unfortunately, Johnson will be out the same week that Mailata returns as this unit can’t seem to stay on the field together.

    On the other side of the field, Carolina’s defensive line has received a terrific boost with the free-agent acquisition of Haason Reddick. Between Reddick and Brian Burns, the Panthers have accumulated 14 sacks, with Reddick and Burns combining for 7.5. Burns and Reddick’s presence on the outside has freed up one-on-one situations for interior defenders. Players like Derrick Brown have reaped the benefits.

    Carolina has recorded 51 total pressures as a unit and should pressure Hurts enough that they’ll need an all-day spy on him due to his scrambling ability.

    Advantage: Panthers

    Philadelphia Eagles defense vs. Carolina Panthers offense

    The Eagles haven’t been able to stop anyone on offense since a Week 1 surprise victory. They’ve allowed 41+ points over the last two games while the Panthers are averaging just over 24 points per game. Something’s going to give between these two units.

    Sam Darnold vs. Eagles defense

    Sam Darnold has looked more like a first-round pick since joining Carolina than he ever did in New York. He’s spread the ball around with ease and has recorded 300-yard passing games in each of his last three outings. He’s thrown just 5 touchdowns but limiting the turnover-worthy plays that plagued him with the Jets.

    Darnold’s been able to throw his receivers open and find big spaces in the defense. He’s had the benefit of 6.1 yards after the catch per reception, and DJ Moore has been terrific this season. The Eagles’ defense has been suspect against the pass, allowing 9 touchdowns to just 1 interception this year.

    Darius Slay and Steven Nelson have each allowed more than 100 yards in their primary coverage, while linebackers Alex Singleton and Eric Wilson have done the same. Combined, the starting secondary members of Slay, Nelson, and Anthony Harris have allowed 5 total passing touchdowns. It won’t be pretty, but Darnold has the edge here by quite a margin.

    Advantage: Panthers

    Panthers weapons vs. Eagles secondary

    As mentioned, the Eagles starting DB duo of Nelson and Slay has struggled. They’re allowing 68.2% and 69.6% of throws to be completed, respectively. Slay has allowed 145 yards on 16 catches, while Nelson has allowed 196 on 15. Both players have allowed a passer rating of well over 110.

    The Panthers are headlined by Moore on the receiving end of Darnold’s passes. Moore has hauled in 30 catches for 398 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s broken 3 tackles after the catch and averages 5.2 YAC per reception. When healthy and in the lineup, RB Christian McCaffrey presents one of the biggest mismatches in the league today. In three games, McCaffrey has averaged 50 yards after the catch per game.

    McCaffrey goes, advantage Carolina. Even if McCaffrey doesn’t play at full strength, advantage Carolina.

    Advantage: Panthers

    Panthers offensive line vs. Eagles defensive line

    The Eagles signed Josh Sweat to a big extension this year, but he’s made a minimal impact. Derek Barnett has been a non-factor off the edge as well. Through four games, the duo has combined for 11 total pressures.

    So far, interior defender Javon Hargrave has played the best on the Eagles’ defensive line by a country mile. Hargrave has recorded 5 sacks and is largely taking up a huge chunk of the opposing game plan. It’s only a matter of time that he changes an offensive game plan or makes waves for Barnett or Sweat off the edge.

    The Panthers are trotting out Cam Erving at left tackle and Dennis Daley at left guard. That’s a move that should be considered questionable, at best. Erving single-handedly proves how void the league is of plus-play at left tackle as his career has been one big liability.

    Taylor Moton is playing well at right tackle, and Matt Paradis is still doing his thing at center, but it’s largely an underwhelming group. Even in a down year for Barnett and Sweat, the Eagles’ defensive line has the players to match up with this Panthers line.

    Advantage: Eagles

    Betting line and game prediction

    The advantages may be limited for Philadelphia, but they’re still just a field-goal underdog against the Panthers. That has to do with the fact that Carolina turned it over repeatedly against Dallas last week. Then again, who hasn’t?

    Darnold has the chops to play mistake-free football, and the Eagles don’t have the players to force them. Carolina gets back in the win column.

    Prediction: Panthers 31, Eagles 17

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