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Position Breakdowns: How the Eagles stack up against the Panthers

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Position Breakdowns: How the Eagles stack up against the Panthers

The Eagles and Panthers enter their Thursday night showdown with 4-1 records, though it won't quite be like looking in a mirror when they take the field. Though there are some similarities, these two teams are constructed a bit differently -- or at least, have their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

Actually, they are kind of the same when you think about it. Big, mobile quarterbacks surrounded by big playmakers at receiver and tight end, a power running game and quality offensive line. Stout defenses up front with questions in the back end. Coaching staffs that are doing some of their best work in the early portion of this season.

Yet, for all their comparisons, the breakdown gives one side or the other a fairly obvious edge at almost every position. Similar makeup, but different strengths and weaknesses. What will it mean when the Eagles and Panthers take the field?

QUARTERBACKS

Carson Wentz appears to be blossoming into the NFL's next elite quarterback, which is great news for the future of the Eagles franchise. Still, Wentz has a ways to go to reach Cam Newton's level. After a shaky start to the season coming off of shoulder surgery, Newton has been red hot the last two weeks, completing 77.4 percent of his passes for 10.8 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and one interception, and running for 44 yards and a score in back-to-back wins. He's only one season removed from earning the NFL's Most Valuable Player Award and leading the Panthers to a Super Bowl. Wentz is on the right track, but he's not quite there yet.

Edge: Panthers

RUNNING BACKS

At this stage of their respective careers, LeGarrette Blount and Jonathan Stewart are very similar backs. They're big, bruising runners, and if either one gets into the open field, look out. Both are their 30s and don't pose much of a threat as receivers, though that's an area the Panthers may own an advantage. Eighth-overall draft pick Christian McCaffrey has proven an immediate weapon in the passing attack, with a team-leading 27 receptions for 237 yards and 1 touchdown. McCaffrey is their Darren Sproles. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Sproles is out for the year.

Edge: Panthers

WIDE RECEIVERS AND TIGHT ENDS

There will be no shortage of massive targets on the field on Thursday night. Zach Ertz (6-foot-5, 250 pounds) is tied for third in the NFL with 32 receptions and seventh with 387 yards -- as a tight end -- and Alshon Jeffery (6-3, 218) is quietly having a nice year for the Eagles with 20 receptions for 246 yards. The Panthers feature Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 245) and Devin Funchess (6-4, 225), who have a combined 41 receptions, 541 yards and 4 touchdowns, although lack much depth behind their top two receivers. Prolific tight end Greg Olsen is on injured reserve, which is a huge blow. With Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor emerging as weapons for the Eagles, the decision is easy.

Edge: Eagles

OFFENSIVE LINES

Even if five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil wasn't out with a neck injury for the Panthers, it would be difficult to give them the nod. The Eagles offensive line has simply looked like one of if not the very best unit in the league the last few weeks. Sure, Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaces Lane Johnson (concussion) at right tackle. Vaitai is also experienced, and the line didn't miss a beat last week when he entered the game. Even acknowledging both sides will be without a key member, the Eagles have done a superior job. Look no further than the rushing stats, where the Birds rank fifth in the NFL, and the Panthers are 19th.

Edge: Eagles

DEFENSIVE FRONT SEVENS

This is going to be difficult to evaluate, as Fletcher Cox is a game-time decision for the Eagles with a calf injury. Cox is one of the most disruptive players in the league, but has missed the last two games. The defensive line has held up fine without him, but has also benefited from going against some bad O-lines. Meanwhile, Carolina's front four sports three players with at least 3.0 sacks -- Mario Addison, Kawann Short and Julius Peppers -- compared to only Brandon Graham for the Eagles. Even if the clubs are even in the trenches, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis split six Pro Bowl selections between them, not to mention a Defensive Player of the Year award.

Edge: Panthers

DEFENSIVE BACKS

The Eagles have been pleasantly surprised by what they're getting out of Patrick Robinson. Robinson can play the nickel or move outside, and currently grades as one of the best cornerbacks in the league, while Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas are doing fine. The Panthers are getting nice work from second-year corner James Bradberry, but the rest of the secondary is suspect, especially with Kur Coleman out (knee). The safeties are the difference. Even with Coleman, Carolina is susceptible to the deep ball. The Eagles have Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod patrolling that area of the field, which is a comforting feeling.

Edge: Eagles

SPECIAL TEAMS

There's no other way to say this: the Eagles special teams units have been incredible the past couple weeks. Field goals, punts, returns, coverage, you name it -- they have completed dominated the competition in every phase. On paper, they should do the same to Carolina as well.

Distinct edge: Eagles

COACHING

You have to hand it to Ron Rivera. The Panthers have been tough every year since they've been there, never winning fewer than six games in his first six season. They have four victories already, and are on pace for for their fourth playoff appearance in five years. There was some changeover on Rivera's staff with Doug McDermott leaving for Buffalo, but Mike Shula remains the offensive coordinator. Doug Pederson has been getting in a groove the last few weeks with the Eagles, but simply doesn't have the experience of Carolina's staff, while most probably wouldn't take defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz over Rivera in that role.

Slight edge: Panthers

OVERALL

Two evenly matched teams, both with some fairly distinct advantages in different areas. That makes it really tough to predict a winner. However, the Panthers may hold the upper hand in the two most important categories: quarterback and coaching. Wentz and Pederson may one day be on the level of Newton and Rivera -- that day may even come Thursday night. Right now, it's clear which is the more experienced, more decorated combination. If the Eagles are going to come out of Carolina with a win this week, Wentz will have to play to Newton's level, and Pederson must match Rivera and his staff call for call. That's going to be easier said than done.

Slight edge: Panthers

Grading the Eagles' 34-24 Week 7 win over the Redskins

Grading the Eagles' 34-24 Week 7 win over the Redskins

Grading the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football.

QUARTERBACK

Carson Wentz: 17/25, 268 YDS, 4 TD, 1 INT

Four drives into this game, Wentz had completed 2 of 7 attempts for 24 yards with two sacks and an interception. On the Eagles' fifth possession, he connected with Mack Hollins on a 64-yard touchdown, and it was almost as if a weight had been lifted. Wentz hardly missed a throw the rest of the way. He also made plays with his legs, rushing for 63 yards. Even his interception on the first series of the game effectively amounted to a long punt on 2nd-and-forever. This kid simply cannot be stopped right now (see 10 observations).

Grade: A-

RUNNING BACKS

Wendell Smallwood: 8 ATT, 25 YDS

You have to appreciate the way Smallwood runs — when he's healthy enough to play. He can explode through a hole and make a man miss, but will doesn't shy away from contact and always fights for extra yards. There simply wasn't much room to run against Washington. LeGarrette Blount didn't fare any better, either, carrying 14 times for 29 yards.

Grade: C+

WIDE RECEIVERS

Mack Hollins: 1 REC, 64 YDS, 1 TD

Hollins' touchdown changed the complexion of the entire game. Up until that moment, the Eagles were trailing 10-3, and the offense was struggling to move the football. Then they scored touchdowns on three straight possessions, going up 24-10 in a matter of roughly eight minutes. Nelson Agholor added four receptions for 45 yards and a score. But what's the deal with Alshon Jeffery? Even against Washington's depleted secondary, he could not get open, catching just two passes for 37 yards on six targets.

Grade: B+

TIGHT ENDS

Zach Ertz: 5 REC, 89 YDS, 1 TD

Another week, another big game for Ertz. I honestly couldn't tell you what kind of night he had blocking, but does it matter when he continues to produce at this level?

Grade: A+

OFFENSIVE LINE

Jason Peters: Exited game in 3rd quarter (knee)

For the second week in a row, the O-line experienced issues early. Lane Johnson in particular looked rusty after missing last week with a concussion — granted, he had his hands full with Ryan Kerrigan. The unit began settling down in pass protection toward the end of the first half, though it never quite got into a groove running the football. Wentz was hit just six times total, but Eagles backs averaged only 2.56 yards per carry. Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced Peters at left tackle and had a quiet game, which is a good thing of course.

Grade: B-

DEFENSIVE LINE

Derek Barnett: 3 TFL, 2.0 SK

The front four controlled the point of attack all night. That won't necessarily show up in the box score, but Kirk Cousins was under pressure from start to finish. Barnett and Fletcher Cox each registered a sack, while Brandon Graham hit the quarterback's arm mid-throw to force an interception. Meanwhile, the NFL's No. 1 rush defense was at it again, limiting Washington's backs to 54 yards on 14 carries.

Grade: A

LINEBACKERS

Jordan Hicks: Exited game in 1st quarter (ankle)

Hicks went down on the second play of the game, which was especially tough, because the Eagles were already without Mychal Kendricks. The absences showed, as Najee Goode was more like Najee Bad (ahem). Goode failed to pick up an assignment that resulted in a seven-yard touchdown pass to Chris Thompson in the second quarter, and generally was a liability in coverage over the middle. Nigel Bradham did what he could recording three tackles, two quarterback hits and a tackle for a loss, but the linebackers were shorthanded, and it showed (see breakdown).

Grade: B-

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Malcolm Jenkins: 10 TKL, 1.0 SK

On paper, Cousins' line looks borderline spectacular, completing 30 of 40 passes for 303 yards with three touchdowns. Then again, most of that production — 203 yards and all three scores — went to tight ends and running backs. The Eagles really didn't allow Washington to do anything significant on the perimeters or deep down the field. Jenkins was all over the field making key stops, and Corey Graham came up with a gift-wrapped interception.

Grade: A

SPECIAL TEAMS

Jake Elliott: 2/3 FG, 4/4 XP

Nothing spectacular. Just another all-around solid special teams performance for the Eagles. Elliott was mostly automatic once again, connecting on field goals of 50 and 42 yards, and only missed from 45 after the outcome was all but decided. Donnie Jones averaged 51.0 yards per punt, with one kick downed inside the opponents' 20. And Kamu Grugier-Hill forced a fumble that Corey Clement very nearly recovered deep in Washington territory. The units were a strength, as usual.

Grade: A-

COACHING

Eagles' record: 6-1

Credit Doug Pederson — he never got away from the run against Washington, even though it clearly wasn't working. His team also never lost its composure despite a rough start against what some would consider an inferior opponent. The Eagles also survived injuries to some of their best players, yet never missed a beat on either side of the ball. This team is for real, in part because so is its head coach. Great job taking care of business at home, even when for awhile there is seemed things might be askew.

Grade: A+

Carson Wentz is a magician and Eagles fans are freaking out

Carson Wentz is a magician and Eagles fans are freaking out

Carson Wentz is the truth.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback didn't exactly shoot out of the gate on Monday Night Football but once he and the Birds offense got going, oh my! His second half was a thing of beauty.

Two plays in particular had football fans at a loss for words.

First, the scramble and touchdown toss to Corey Clement has a "how'd he do that" vibe:

But it was this Houdini-like, Barry Sanders-esque escapability that had the Internet abuzz. Just watch. Over and over.

Former Eagle and elusive dude in his own right Shady McCoy was impressed.

Oh and we haven't even mentioned his TDs to Zach Ertz, Mack Hollins, and Nelson Agholor yet. All pretty, pretty, pret-ty good.

It's safe to say Carson has the city of Philadelphia believing.

Wentz finished the night 17-25 for 268 and 4 TDs. Not to mention his 63 yards rushing. The quarterback of your favorite football team is a stud. Oh and one interception that was basically an incredibly good punt.

The Eagles won by a final of 34-24 and remain the class of the NFC at 6-1.