Cam Newton

Best and worst fantasy football plays for Eagles-Panthers

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Best and worst fantasy football plays for Eagles-Panthers

Taking a look at the Eagles' Week 6 matchup with the Panthers from a fantasy perspective:

TE Zach Ertz
Don't be surprised if this is Ertz's first quiet statistical game of the season. The Panthers have allowed the fifth-fewest catches and fourth-fewest receiving yards to tight ends this season, allowing an average of 3.4 catches for 36.8 yards.

But the reasoning here goes beyond that. Carson Wentz has been heavily reliant on Ertz on third down, in the red zone ... pretty much whenever he's in a bind. Smart coaches notice those things. And taking away Wentz's top security blanket seems like a good way to rattle him and shake up an offense that has been thriving.

With Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, the Panthers have linebackers with enough speed and athleticism to stay with Ertz early in routes. And they'll surely commit a safety or corner to staying with him after that initial jam off the line of scrimmage. 

It would just make a lot of sense for the Panthers' game plan to be: Let Wentz beat us by throwing to anyone other than Ertz. And for that reason, this could be Ertz's first single-digit PPR fantasy game of the season.

Projected stat line: 4 catches, 52 yards

WR Alshon Jeffery
After drawing Josh Norman, Marcus Peters, Janoris Jenkins, Casey Hayward and Patrick Peterson in the season's first five weeks, Jeffery has his best matchup of the year. He'll line up opposite James Bradberry most of the night and also see some of Philly native Daryl Worley. Both have been average to below-average in coverage, according to Pro Football Focus.

These next three games could be among Jeffery's best of the season. After tonight, he'll see the Norman-less Redskins in Week 7, then the 49ers in Week 8 before a rough matchup against the Broncos in Week 9.

Despite the tough matchups all season, Jeffery has managed to be a low-end WR2 in fantasy, averaging 4 catches for 50 yards with two touchdowns. Wentz hasn't targeted him a ton the last two weeks, throwing Jeffery's way just 10 times total against the Chargers and Cardinals.

That should change tonight because of Jeffery's matchup and the expectation that more emphasis is placed by the Panthers on shutting down Ertz.

Projected stat line: 7 catches, 115 yards, TD

RB Christian McCaffrey
As I said in our Eagles' predictions post (see story), I think this is going to be the McCaffrey breakout game. He gained some much-needed confidence last week with his first touchdown on a shovel pass from Cam Newton, who continues to heavily involve his rookie in the red zone.

McCaffrey has not been effective as a running back yet, carrying the ball 34 times for just 96 yards (2.8 average) with a long of 11 yards. His damage has come in the passing game, where he's averaged 5 catches for 47 yards.

Plodding running backs like Jonathan Stewart rarely seem to gouge the Eagles, so it could be McCaffrey's change-of-pace quickness that keeps them off balance, specifically in the red zone.

The Eagles have said this week that they're committed to using corners, safeties and linebackers on McCaffrey. Because they've had Darren Sproles, they know how to defend a quick, shifty scat back. But the Panthers have so many options inside the red zone that McCaffrey should be able to sneak out for a score or two.

Projected stat line: 85 total yards, 2 TDs

WR Torrey Smith, WR Nelson Agholor
Even with byes, you'd have to be in a really deep league to even consider starting one of these guys. If you're playing either, you're taking a stab in the dark that one of them will haul in a long pass, which is just not easy to predict.

Through five games, the Panthers have allowed just six pass plays of 25-plus yards. Two of them were short throws that the skill player turned into long gains. The other four were all deep balls to the left side of the field.

Because Ertz and Jeffery will draw the most attention, there will be 1-on-1 opportunities for Wentz to connect with Smith and Agholor. But neither is a confident start.

Projected Smith stat line: 3 catches, 50 yards

Projected Agholor stat line: 2 catches, 24 yards

RB LeGarrette Blount
Blount has been money the last three weeks, rushing 42 times for 277 yards (6.6 average) with one TD. This is a different type of test, though, against a strong Carolina defensive line and elite linebacker group.

Yards between the tackles won't be easy for Blount to come by tonight, especially with the Eagles down their best O-lineman in Lane Johnson. 

Blount last faced the Panthers in 2014 so there isn't a ton of film to go on here. 

But based on Carolina's track record this season, running the ball doesn't seem as logical as it did against the Chargers or Cardinals.

In Week 1, Carlos Hyde had nine carries for 45 yards against the Panthers.

In Week 2, LeSean McCoy rushed 12 times for nine yards.

In Week 4, the Patriots got nothing going on the ground against the Panthers. 

Nor did the Lions in Week 5.

Where running backs have found success against Carolina is in the passing game. Hyde, McCoy, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, James White and Theo Riddick combined for 31 catches for 193 yards.

That could mean a bigger statistical night for Corey Clement or Kenjon Barner, though Blount is always a solid option for a TD.

Projected Blount stat line: 15 carries, 55 yards, TD

Other notes
• I'd start Wentz this week over Philip Rivers, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger. I would not start Wentz over Marcus Mariota, Matthew Stafford or Kirk Cousins.

• Newton is an obvious must-start.

• I've never been a huge fan of Kelvin Benjamin in fantasy. He's just so incredibly inconsistent and disappears for full halves. He has as much 15-point potential as he has 4-point potential. Benjamin is not great at gaining separation, but he is great at hauling in a tough third-down throw in traffic. I'm pegging him for 4 catches and 54 yards tonight.

Devin Funchess has been on a roll of late. Newton has targeted him 27 times the last three games and Funchess has caught 18 passes for 181 yards and three TDs over that span. If you have him, you're likely starting him tonight. Based on volume alone, he seems like a safe 12-to-14 points in PPR.

• Stay away from Panthers TE Ed Dickson. Don't be roped in by that random 175-yard performance last Sunday against the Lions. The Eagles are always stingy against opposing tight ends and Dickson has never been much of a pass-catcher, struggling throughout his career with drops.

'Not a one-trick pony,' Cam Newton a serious challenge for Eagles

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'Not a one-trick pony,' Cam Newton a serious challenge for Eagles

Cam Newton is no longer the two-way threat he used to be. It doesn't mean he's less dangerous. In reality, he's more dangerous than ever.

"He's not a one-trick pony," Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said.

Newton, now in his seventh year with the Panthers, is completing 68.3 percent of his passes — far above the 58.4 percent figure he averaged coming into this season.

From 2011 through 2016, Newton ranked 34th in accuracy of 39 quarterbacks who threw at least 1,000 passes.

This year? Newton is fourth out of 32 qualifying QBs, behind only Alex Smith, Josh McCown and Drew Brees.

Conversely, after averaging 38 rushing yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry in his first six years, Newton's running for only 18 yards and 3.1 yards per carry so far this year.

Newton, a three-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro during the 2015 Super Bowl season, is more dangerous than ever because he can still run when he has to and he's very tough to bring down, but he's quietly developed into a big-time pocket passer.

"I think that the thing that you have to take into account is he can sit back there and rip it out of the pocket," Schwartz said. "This is not schoolyard football. 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 [the receivers], and our [pass] 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've 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."

The Eagles have faced Newton three times over the years. He threw for 306 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-22 Panthers win in 2012 at the Linc, then he threw for 306 yards again but with three interceptions in a 45-21 Panthers loss to Mark Sanchez at the Linc in 2014. And in 2015, he threw three INTs again in a game the Eagles won 27-16 in Charlotte.

Newton makes his fourth career start against the Eagles at 8:30 p.m. Thursday when the Eagles and Panthers meet in a national TV game at Bank of America Stadium.

Both teams are 4-1. The Eagles are seeking their 10th start of 5-1 or better but only their third in the last 35 years (2004, 2014). They started 6-0 in 1981 and 2004. The Panthers have opened 5-1 or better twice and lost in the Super Bowl both times — in 2003 they started out 5-1 and went on to beat the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. In 2015 they were 6-0 on their way to a 15-1 record.

Newton in each of the last two weeks has completed over 75 percent of his passes and thrown for 300 yards with three touchdowns, something he hadn't done once in 102 previous career starts.

He's only the 16th quarterback in NFL history to post those numbers in consecutive games.

How much has Newton grown as a passer? He has 14 times more passing yards this year (1,237) than rushing yards (90).

Coming into this season, he had six times more passing yards than rushing yards.

"He can be a pocket passer, he can run the read-option, he can run designed runs, he can run off-schedule runs, but he's as good a pocket passer as there is," Schwartz said.

"So I think that's what makes it's difficult — to defend every one of those. He's got mobility, he's got designed runs. They do a lot of different things and we'll have to play our best team defense."

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Panthers

5 key matchups Eagles need to win to beat Panthers

There are just three 4-1 teams left in the NFC and two of them will face off at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night. 

Most of the Thursday night games don't usually generate a great product, but things could be different this week. 

The last time these two teams faced off was in 2015, also in Charlotte. The Panthers won that one 27-16. 

After the Panthers went 6-10 last year and the Eagles went 7-9, when the schedule came out, this Thursday night game didn't have a ton of buzz. But five weeks into the season, it's shaping up to be a matchup of two tops teams in the conference. 

Here are five matchups to watch: 

Christian McCaffrey vs. Nigel Bradham 
How do the Panthers use McCaffrey? 

"A lot of different ways," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. He then said it's kind of like how the Eagles used Darren Sproles. McCaffrey is a running back by title but his real value to the Panthers is his ability to morph into a receiver out of the backfield. 

So far this season, McCaffrey has 27 catches for 237 yards and a touchdown. Bradham will end up on McCaffrey a ton Thursday but he won't be alone. At times, Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks might get turns. Same too for Patrick Robinson if the Panthers move McCaffrey into the slot. The Panthers are still figuring out how to use their eighth overall pick, but they're getting there. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai vs. Julius Peppers
"Big V" is in this week for Lane Johnson, who suffered a concussion Sunday. Vaitai has looked much better — Frank Reich said he looks more "aggressive" — this season, but he hasn't gotten to play the regular tackle position yet. He'll get an entire game Thursday. Remember, since the start of last season, the Eagles are 9-2 with Lane Johnson and 2-8 without him. 

While Vaitai will start the game facing off against Mario Addison, I'd expect to see the Panthers push to get Peppers against him at times. Peppers leads the Panthers with 5½ sacks. The 37-year-old is defying time since rejoining the Panthers this season. With 149 sacks, Peppers is the active career leader and is fifth all time. 

Zach Ertz vs. Panthers linebackers
Ertz has been the most productive tight end in the league over the first five games of the season. Sure, you can argue if he's been the best, but you can't argue whether or not he's been the most productive. Ertz has 32 catches for 387 yards and two touchdowns, on pace to shatter his career highs. 

This week, however, will be tough. The Panthers have the best linebacker duo in the league with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. There's a reason the Panthers have given up just 17 catches for 188 yards against opposing tight ends so far this season. 

Kelvin Benjamin vs. Jalen Mills
The Panthers have two receivers who are at least 6-foot-4 in Benjamin and Devin Funchess. Benjamin is 6-5, so when Mills is on him, he'll have a five-inch advantage. Rasul Douglas on the other side of the ball is at least a little longer. 

The good news for the Eagles' corners is neither of these guys is as fast as the guys they faced last week, but they are big. The Eagles' corners are aggressive and against bigger targets, they'll have to make sure they don't get called for interference. 

Cam Newton vs. Eagles' defense
It takes an entire defense to stop Newton. His ability to extend plays can be a killer, so both the front four and the secondary need to work together to thwart him. First, the D-line needs to sack him when they get their hands on him. Second, the corners have to have tight coverage to make him hold the ball. 

Fletcher Cox stopped short of calling Newton the hardest quarterback in the NFL to bring down; he gave that honor to Ben Roethlisberger. But Newton is close. 

The thing that makes Newton special is that ability to buy time in the pocket. In that sense, he's like a much more accomplished Carson Wentz. Newton hasn't taken off running a ton this season but he's still dangerous there. The Eagles' linebackers will need to keep an eye on him. 

After a rough start to his season, Newton is again starting to look like the guy who won an MVP award a couple years ago.