The Eagles and Panthers face off in a Thursday night showdown and the Patriots could fall behind the Jets in the AFC East race in Week 6.
PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was antsy as he took the podium Tuesday for his weekly session with the media.
“OK,” he said, trying to set the tone, “short week, short press conference.”
The feeling across the NovaCare practice facility, particularly in the defensive wing, was that time was of the essence. That is not uncommon when a team is slated to play a Thursday night game, especially one that is on the road. But this matchup with the 4-1 Carolina Panthers kicked the Eagles’ studies into overdrive, similar to a student pulling an all-nighter in front of a final exam.
“Last year we played the Giants on Thursday night. That’s a divisional opponent. You’ve got years of notes on them,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins. “But this is an opponent that is doing so much offensively that you’re not necessarily familiar with what you’ve got to prepare for and cram for. It makes it tough. We definitely have our hands full over the next couple days just trying to get as much film study as we can in and as much preparation, but we’ll be ready on Thursday.”
Quarterback Cam Newton is the primary focus. An early MVP candidate, he’s completed 68 percent of his throws to this point with 10 total touchdowns (8 passing, 2 rushing) to five interceptions. His past two outings in particular have been very strong. Newton surpassed 300 yards passing in consecutive games, the first time he has done that since the first two games of his rookie season in 2011, throwing six TDs to one INT against the Patriots and Lions in that span.
“This is not school yard football,” said Schwartz. “He can sit back there and throw as pure as anybody in the NFL. But he also has the ability when it does break down to be able to create. So not only do you have to cover the timing of the route and the reception point of the route, but you do have to plaster and our rush needs to do a good job eliminating places so that he can step up. Our blitz needs to do a good job of putting him on the clock. And when we have opportunities, we got to get him on the ground. That’s easier said than done. There’s a lot of people that have free runners, free people in the open field, and he has the ability to make guys miss, that’s always been a skill set of his.”
Eagles defensive end Chris Long said the front four has to strike a balance between being disciplined in their rush to prevent Newton from breaking free while also not allowing that discipline to slow them down. No easy feat.
And Newton is far from the only player they have to worry about. The Panthers have a pair of big, physical receivers on the outside in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, as well as versatile rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who scored the first touchdown of his career last week in Detroit.
“[They use McCaffrey in ] a lot of different ways,” said Schwartz. “Get him the ball in the run game, use him as a true wide receiver, and then get him option routes out of the back field. A lot like a Darren Sproles.”
There are some similarities to what the Panthers and Chiefs do on offense. The Eagles are drawing on their experience in Week 2 at Kansas City to help cut down the learning curve. But with so many different players and wrinkles to account for, the Eagles know they’re working against the clock.
“With a tough team like Carolina and the multitude of looks they give you in the run game and the different ways they can beat you,” said Long, “it’s a challenge.”