Zach Ertz

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.

Eagles-Panthers: Roob's 10 observations

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Eagles-Panthers: Roob's 10 observations


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Eagles are the best team in the NFC.

They just went into Bank of America Stadium and beat a playoff-savvy 4-1 Panthers team on national TV. That's four wins in a row, that's a 5-1 record, that's an elite team that you watched Thursday night.

So no more talk about who they've played or haven't played. You wanted a signature win? You got one. 

The Eagles have arrived.

The Eagles got another magical performance from Carson Wentz, intercepted Cam Newton three times, shut down the Panthers' rushing attack and got out of town with a 28-23 win (see breakdown).

What a great night for 10 instant observations!

1. Wentz took such a beating Thursday night, especially in the first half, that for him to come out in the second half and make the throws he did is nothing short of astonishing. Wentz got hit snap after snap. He was sacked three times early. When he ran, he got clobbered. The Eagles missed Lane Johnson big time. A lot of quarterbacks can put up big numbers when they have great protection and they can just stand back there and find the open guy and fire away. What Wentz did Thursday night is just remarkable. To get leveled that many times early and just shake it off and pick apart the No. 9-ranked pass defense in the NFL in a deafening stadium on the road on national TV on a short week … just scary what this kid is doing now just 22 games into his NFL career. Wentz threw 16 touchdowns in 16 games last year. He already has 13 in six games, seven in his last two. His TD-to-INT ratio is now 13 to 3. The kid is flat-out money. There isn't a player in the NFL I'd rather have. Nobody.

2. How much fun is it watching the Eagles' run defense? Goodness gracious. Sound in its gaps, physical, swarm to the ball and sure tacklers. That's a very potent combination, and it's no surprise only one running back has rushed for over 35 yards against the Eagles this year — Rookie of the Year candidate Kareem Hunt of the Chiefs. Getting Fletcher Cox back was huge (see story), but even when Cox was out, the Eagles were stout against the run, which is impressive. What an advantage forcing teams to play left-handed all the time. Newton ran for 71 yards Thursday night, but just talking running backs, the Panthers got one yard on 13 carries Thursday. That's less than three inches per carry. As long as the Eagles keep running the ball and stopping the run, they're going to be almost impossible to beat.

3. Huge moment in this one for me was the goal-line stand early in the third quarter. The Panthers had a 1st-and-goal on the Eagles' 5-yard line, but tremendous pressure forced Newton into back-to-back incomplete passes and then Nigel Bradham made something like his 587th big play of the night, stopping Christian McCaffrey short of the goal line, and the Panthers had to settle for a field goal. It was a huge momentum swing, and although the Panthers stayed in the game, they never recovered.

4. Speaking of Bradham, he played out of his mind in this one (see story). He threw Jonathan Stewart for a six-yard loss, he knocked down three passes, he had 10 tackles, he was all over the field. Really tremendous play by the veteran linebacker, especially after the Eagles lost Jordan Hicks to another ankle injury. Bradham is your Defensive Player of the Game.

5. Let's put Jake Elliott's achievements into some perspective: David Akers is the greatest kicker in Eagles history and is even going into the Eagles Hall of Fame later this season. He never made three 50-yard field goals in a season with the Eagles. Elliott has played five games in his career and has already made three field goals of 50 yards or more. In fact, only six kickers in history have made more 50-yarders in an Eagles uniform than Elliott has in five games. Elliott added a 48-yarder later in the game and will take a streak of 10 consecutive made field goals into the Monday night game into Washington. To think that they flat-out stole this kid from the Bengals' practice squad is incredible. Oh, and Randy Bullock? The kicker the Bengals kept instead of Elliott? His last 50-yarder was in 2014.

6. Let's talk about LeGarrette Blount. Are you kidding me? What he's been able to do in these last four games since his mysterious zero-carry game against the Chiefs is virtually unprecedented in NFL history. Blount ran 14 times for 67 yards Sunday — I wish that 14 were closer to 20 — and he's now put together four straight games with 12 or more carries and an average of 4.8 or higher. He's only the second player in NFL history in his 30s with four straight games with at least a dozen carries and an average that high. The only other one was James Brooks of the Bengals in 1989. Blount has a really unique combination of power and moves and balance and vision. He's a different kind of runner, but, man, he's fun to watch. I had no idea how good he was. I don't think anybody did. He's been dazzling.

7. I should have mentioned higher up what an incredible job Doug Pederson is doing with this team. The Eagles have scored at least 20 points in every game this year and, in fact, in 10 straight games going back to last year, which is the fourth-longest streak in franchise history. The Eagles are rolling on both sides of the ball and special teams, and Pederson deserves a world of credit with the way he has this group playing. He's not only in the Coach of the Year conversation, I'd say he's the leader with 2½ months to go.

8. Rasul Douglas makes mistakes. All rookie cornerbacks make mistakes. But I really see something special there. He picked up his second interception Thursday night (see rookie report), and he's the first Eagles cornerback with two INTs in his first five career games since Eric Allen. I have no idea what the Eagles are going to do once Sidney Jones is back and Ronald Darby is back, but they have some really talented young corners. 

9. And let's not forget Jalen Mills, who picked up his second interception as well Thursday night. Douglas is 22, Mills is 23. They have four interceptions, and it's Week 6. The smartest thing the Eagles did this offseason was finally go young at cornerback. 

10. I never complain about officiating. Ever. But 10 penalties for 126 yards against the Eagles and one penalty for one yard against the Panthers is hard to believe (see Gunn's bullet points). According to Pro Football Reference, this was only the third game since penalty yards started being tracked in which one team had at least 100 penalty yards and another had one or fewer. That's outrageous. For the Eagles to overcome that, as well as everything else they were up against, shows just how far this team has come.

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.