Cam Newton

Fletcher Cox back to his dominating ways as Eagles win showdown

Fletcher Cox back to his dominating ways as Eagles win showdown

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last June, the Eagles handed Fletcher Cox a six-year, $102.6 million extension. 

He was worth every penny on Thursday night.

After missing two games with a calf injury, Fletcher Cox wasn't just active for the Eagles' 28-23 road win over the Panthers (see 10 observations). He was dominant. 

"S---, it felt good," his fellow defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. "It felt like he's back to his normal self. Dominating, doing what he do."

Cox came into Thursday night as a game-time decision — he had missed two straight games and hadn't played since leaving the Giants game — but after testing out his calf during pregame warmups, the Eagles decided to play him. 

If Cox was healthy enough to play, he was going to play in Thursday's battle of 4-1 teams. 

"He was playing," head coach Doug Pederson said. "There was no way I could sit him tonight. This was too important of a game."

With Cox's help, the Eagles improved to 5-1 and have the best record in the entire NFC. Without Cox, that would have been much harder on Thursday night. 

The Pro Bowl defensive tackle finished with two tackles, half a sack, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed (see breakdown). More importantly, he was an absolute force inside. The same force the Eagles have come to expect from him over the last few years. 

"It felt good just to be back out there, to be back with my teammates," Cox said. "Felt pretty good and went out and finished the ballgame, which was the most important thing."

Cox's biggest play of the game came in the second quarter when the Panthers were clinging to a 10-3 lead. On 3rd-and-5, Cox looked like he had Carolina right guard Trai Turner on roller skates. Cox pushed the 315-pound guard like he was a bundle of feathers right into Cam Newton's lap. 

That forced a bad throw that was intercepted by Rasul Douglas (see rookie report). The Eagles scored a touchdown seven plays later to tie the game at 10-10. 

"I just bulled the guard into the quarterback's lap and went after the throwing arm," Cox said. "I actually thought it was a strip but I turned around and saw Rasul get the ball. Every play is a big play, especially plays like that."

Cox thought he got a strip sack, while Chris Long was on the field and thought he got a good enough jump to maybe get a sack of his own. 

But Cox beat him to the quarterback.

"Of course, Fletch is just bullying the guard," Long said, "And he's just that type of game-changing player. He can absolutely alter every play on the field."

Cox was a big reason why Newton threw three interceptions on Thursday and he was a big reason why the Panthers had just nine rushing yards that didn't come from their quarterback. 

The thing is, the Eagles' defensive line actually played pretty well in the last two weeks without Cox. Beau Allen filled in and did a fine job. Jernigan started to play at another level. And the rotation seemed to work. 

But they didn't have Cox. And he's almost impossible to replace. 

"He's so dominating in there, pushing the pocket, run and pass, and it was great to have him out there tonight," Pederson said. "He's another one of those leaders on the team that you lean on. He battled through his injury, put that aside for the team tonight and did an outstanding job."

Eagles 28, Panthers 23: Studs, duds, turning point and more

Eagles 28, Panthers 23: Studs, duds, turning point and more


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Birds are for real. 

And after Thursday night, they're the best team in the NFC. 

The Eagles went on the road on a short week and took down a very good Panthers team led by a former MVP in a hostile Bank of America Stadium. They won, 28-23, and sent a bunch of Panthers fans home upset. 

Through six games, this is clearly the best win of the season so far for the Eagles. 

With the win, the Eagles are 5-1 and have the best record in the NFC. The Panthers fell to 4-2. 

Carson Wentz started off Thursday night a little shaky but really dialed in during the second half to help the Eagles come away with a W (see 10 observations)

And the Eagles' defense gave up some points but still did its job. Jim Schwartz's unit stopped the Panthers twice late in the fourth quarter when the home team had a chance to drive down the field and win. The last stop came on a 4th-and-1 from near midfield. 

Turning point 
Patrick Robinson's interception came off a tipped ball. He was somehow able to pull the ball in and give the Eagles the ball on the Panthers' 17-yard line. Wentz hit Zach Ertz for a touchdown and then the Eagles converted a two-point conversion to go up by eight. They never trailed again. 

Key stat
The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards, while the Panthers were hit with one flag for one yard. The 126 penalty yards are the most the Eagles have had in a game since 2007. But they overcame it (see Gunn's bullet points).

This was the first time in NFL history one team had over 120 penalty yards while the other had less than nine. 

Offensive stud
Wentz started off slow but ended up heating up in the second half some and did enough for the Eagles to win (see report card).

Ertz didn't have a volume game but got two more touchdowns and has tied his career high of four. And he's done it in the first six weeks of the season. 

Offensive dud
The Eagles need to get Lane Johnson back. While Halapoulivaati Vaitai settled down, he gave up an early sack to Julius Peppers and just simply isn't as good. 

Kenjon Barner also didn't have a very good game when he did get chances. 

Defensive stud
Fletcher Cox was back after missing two games and was a beast (see story). He's just clearly the Eagles' best defensive player and is an absolute game-wrecker. 

Nigel Bradham also had a nice game. He had a huge pass breakup and tackle for loss in the first half and continued his assault on the Panthers in the second (see story)

Robinson also had a few big plays, including his second-half INT. 

Defensive dud
Rasul Douglas was beaten on Newton's rushing touchdown and dropped what should have been an interception late in the fourth quarter (see rookie report).

Key plays
• The Eagles stopped the Panthers on a 4th-and-1 near midfield inside two minutes left to play to seal the win. 

• Newton and the Panthers were driving when the Eagles brought pressure and Newton sailed a ball. Jalen Mills came down with it. 

• The Eagles were called for a huge unnecessary roughness against Derek Barnett in the fourth quarter. There was a delay of game against the Panthers but Barnett came in and decked Newton. Apparently there either wasn't a whistle or he didn't hear it. 

The Panthers kept their drive alive and Newton hit Christian McCaffrey for a touchdown to cut into the Eagles' lead, 28-23. 

• Wentz found Nelson Agholor for a 24-yard touchdown across the middle to put the Eagles up, 28-16. Wentz made a couple beautiful plays on the drive to keep it going. 

• The Eagles and Panthers swapped a pair of field goals to make the score 21-16 in the third. 

• After Mills was flagged for a big defensive pass interference, the Eagles’ defense let the Panthers get down to its 5-yard line but held up and the Panthers settled for a 20-yard field goal to cut into the lead, 18-13. 

• Robinson made a spectacular interception on a third down to give the Eagles the ball on the Carolina 17-yard line. A few plays later, Wentz hit Ertz for a 17-yard touchdown to take a lead. 

After an illegal formation on the Panthers on an extra point, Doug Pederson decided to go for a two-point conversion and LeGarrette Blount punched it in to give the Eagles an 18-10 lead. 

• Cox and Brandon Graham met at the quarterback to bring down Newton for a seven-yard loss. That pretty much thwarted the Panthers' final drive of the first half and sent the game into the second half tied, 10-10. 

• After the Eagles got the ball on the Panthers' 12-yard line, they took seven plays and nearly four minutes, but finally got a touchdown to tie the game, 10-10, when Wentz hit Ertz in the back of the end zone. 

• Cox absolutely imposed his will on a third down in the second quarter. He put his man on roller skates, got a QB hit on Newton and forced the ball to flutter in the air. Douglas was there to pull it down for his second-career INT. It gave the Eagles the ball on the Panthers' 12-yard line. 

• Newton had a brilliant 16-yard rushing touchdown early in the second quarter to put the Panthers up, 10-3. The play fake worked and then Newton got Douglas all turned around. 

• Jordan Hicks had a big run stuff on 3rd-and-2 that forced the Panthers to kick a 39-yard field goal to tie the game, 3-3, instead of picking up the first down and possibly the lead. 

• Wentz hit Trey Burton for a third-down conversion on the Eagles' second drive of the game and Jake Elliott hit a 50-yard field goal to put the Eagles up, 3-0. It was Elliott's ninth straight make. 

• Peppers went around Vaitai to pick up a strip sack on the first drive of the game. Not a good start for "Big V" as Wentz fumbled the ball away. The Eagles' defense forced a quick three-and-out to pick up the offense. 

Hicks left the game with an ankle injury and didn't return for the second half. He had an ankle injury earlier this season; he left the Giants game at halftime. Joe Walker took over at the middle linebacker spot. 

Bradham left the game in the third quarter after making a tackle but returned later in the third. Graham (shoulder) left briefly, too, but also returned. 

Chris Maragos (knee) left the game late.

Johnson (concussion) and Wendell Smallwood (knee) both missed Thursday's game. They'll have some extra days to heal thanks to playing on Thursday night. 

Up next
The Eagles have a long layoff before hosting Washington on Monday Night Football on Oct. 23 at the Linc.

Best and worst fantasy football plays for Eagles-Panthers

AP Images

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.