The Eagles are 6-6 against the Panthers, but lost two of the previous three matchups, including Oct. 12, 2015, when they fell at Carolina 27-16.
When the Eagles run the ball
The Eagles had a 30.6 run percentage in their first two games, against the Redskins and Chiefs, but recommitted themselves to the ground game the last three weeks, averaging 38 carries per game. They have rushed for 529 yards the last three games, 277 of them by 250-pound, tackle-breaking LeGarrette Blount. The Eagles lead the league in runs of 10-plus yards, with 22. Blount has eight of them. The Eagles averaged 4.6 yards per carry on first down in their last three games. Thirty-six of Blount’s 56 carries this season have been on first down, where he’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Blount has a team-high 13 rushing first downs. QB Carson Wentz is second, with nine. The Eagles likely will be without concussed RT Lane Johnson, which is a big blow. The Panthers, who have an outstanding front seven, gave up 149 yards on 27 carries to the Saints in Week 3, but allowed just 3.5 yards per carry in their other four games.
When the Eagles throw the ball
Carson Wentz had a career-high 128.3 passer rating against Arizona. It was his first 100-plus rating since Week 4 of his rookie season. He already has thrown 10 TD passes, just six fewer than he threw as a rookie. He leads the league in third-down passing with a 137.8 rating after finishing 28th last year. He has completed 71.1 percent of his third-down attempts and is averaging 11 yards per attempt. Six of his 10 TD passes have been on third down. Last year, Eagles wide receivers had just eight TD catches. Already this year, they have six, including three by Nelson Agholor, who had three in his first two seasons. TE Zach Ertz has been Wentz’s go-to guy. He has been targeted 48 times — the sixth most in the league – and has a team-high 32 receptions, 20 for first downs, 10 on third down (third most in the league). The Panthers are among the league leaders in sacks, with 17, and have allowed just 6.4 yards per attempt, but have just one interception. Opponents have an 87.8 passer rating.
When the Panthers run the ball
The Panthers will run the ball whether it’s working or not. They’re averaging 29 rushing attempts per game. Had 28 yards on 28 attempts Sunday against the Lions. They are 19th in rushing (98.6 yards per game) and 27th in yards per carry (3.4), but have 36 rushing first downs, just one fewer than the Eagles. Jonathan Stewart, like the Eagles’ Blount, is a tough-to-tackle power back, who is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, but has 19 rushing first downs, eighth most in the league. Coming off major shoulder surgery, Cam Newton is trying to be more selective with his running. But he still is on pace for close to 100 rushing attempts (29 for 90 yards so far) and has 10 rushing first downs. Rookie Christian McCaffrey (just 2.8 yards per carry) has had a greater impact as a receiver thus far than as a runner. The Panthers are 24th in first-down rushing average (3.34). The Eagles have allowed just 1.3 yards per carry on first down in the last three games.
When the Panthers throw the ball
Cam Newton appears to have made a complete recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. He had a 130.8 passer rating against the Patriots two weeks ago and a 141.8 rating vs. the Lions. He has completed 77.4 percent of his passes and has averaged 10.8 yards per attempt in the last two games. He has a pair of 6-foot-5 targets on the outside in Devin Funchess and Kelvin Benjamin, along with versatile line-him-up-anywhere RB Christian McCaffrey (18 catches last three games). Funchess has been targeted 27 times in the last three games and has 18 catches, 12 for first downs, and three TDs. Funchess is Newton’s go-to guy on third down. He has seven third-down catches, six for first downs, in the last three games. The Panthers suffered a big setback in Week 2 when TE Greg Olsen broke his foot. But Ed Dickson had five catches for a career-high 175 yards against the Lions. The Eagles still are without DT Fletcher Cox and CB Ronald Darby. Their main focus against the pass is keeping receivers in front of them and limiting yards after catch. They have blitzed only 22.5 percent of the time, but have been effective with it (58.0 passer rating).
Even at 34, Darren Sproles still was one of the league’s very best punt returners, and losing him to a season-ending injury two weeks ago was a big blow. But his replacement, Kenjon Barner, stepped in and had 76-, 19- and 15-yard returns against the Cardinals. He is good at eluding the first tackler. He might not get a lot of opportunities Thursday night, though. Panthers P Michael Palardy has had just five of 18 punts returned. Eagles PK Jake Elliott has made 10 of 12 FG attempts, including eight in a row. He hasn’t had a kickoff advanced beyond the 25-yard line in his last 18 kicks. The Eagles are second in the league in punt coverage. They’ve allowed just 21 return yards in five games. The Panthers are using their two rookies – Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel – on returns, but neither has broken a long one yet. PK Graham Gano has made 12 of 13 FG attempts. His only miss was a 55-yarder last week vs. the Lions.
Panthers 27, Eagles 20
Eagles RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Panthers DEs Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson
Youth vs. 27 combined years of NFL experience. Vaitai, who will be subbing for concussed Lane Johnson, has his work cut out for him.
Eagles CBs Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, Patrick Robinson vs. Panthers WRs Devin Funchess, Kelvin Benjamin
Funchess and Benjamin both are big, strong, 6-5 targets who will be be tough matchups for the Eagles’ CBs.
Eagles RB LeGarrette Blount vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly
Blount has a team-high 13 rushing first downs and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry on first down. If the Eagles can’t get Kuechly blocked, though, it will be be a long night.
Hot and Not
Eagles: QB Carson Wentz. Leads the NFL in third-down passing with a 137.8 rating and six TDs.
Panthers: QB Cam Newton. Has a 77.4 completion percent and has averaged 10.8 yards per attempt in the Panthers’ last two games.
Eagles: DE Derek Barnett. The rookie still is looking for his first NFL sack.
Panthers: WR Curtis Samuel. The converted RB has just 4 catches for 12 yards and is averaging only 18.5 yards per return on kickoffs.