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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

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse?

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USA Today

Are 2018 Eagles better or worse?

The Eagles won the Super Bowl last season. Does it get any better than that?

It just might.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve dissected the 2018 Eagles’ roster one position at a time. The majority of the time, we determined this year’s team was more talented than the group that won a championship. But when it comes time to put all the pieces back together again and kick off on September 6 against the Atlanta Falcons, will the Eagles truly field a superior squad compared to last season?

BETTER

Wide receivers
Pass rushers

The Eagles are demonstrably improved in two key areas. Replacing Torrey Smith with Mike Wallace was a clear upgrade in a receiving corps that should also benefit from a healthy Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins having a year in the NFL under his belt. And while the defensive line as a whole has some question marks, adding three-time Pro Bowler Michael Bennett at end along with the continued development of Derek Barnett could provide the Eagles a vastly scarier pass rush off the edge.

Another spot we might see a significantly elevated performance is tight end, assuming second-round draft pick and freak athlete Dallas Goedert can come in and contribute immediately. Goedert joins Wallace and Bennett as the key newcomers for ’18.

WORSE

Nickel cornerback

While there is a ton of talent at cornerback, it’s extremely unlikely anybody will be able to match the job Patrick Robinson did in the slot. Robinson was a proven option for the nickel, posting a career year with the Eagles last season. The options to replace him full-time, on the other hand -- most notably Sidney Jones, Jalen Mills, Avonte Maddox or De’Vante Bausby – have next to zero NFL experience in that role. This is essentially a starting position, so Robinson’s departure in free agency is no small matter.

Another spot to keep an eye on is the vacancy at weakside linebacker following Mychal Kendricks’ release. Kendricks enjoyed a resurgent season in ’17, and the candidates to take over – Corey Nelson, Nathan Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill – lack name recognition. Fortunately, this is a limited role, so Kendricks isn’t as big a loss as Robinson.

THE SAME

Offensive line
Safeties
Jim Schwartz
Doug Pederson
Howie Roseman

The great news is there’s a ton of carryover for last season’s Super Bowl champions. If you consider Jay Ajayi the lead back for that squad, which he basically was, then 19 of 22 starters are returning, along with many key backups. That is incredible continuity few NFL teams are blessed with, let alone the reigning champs.

That continuity extends to the bulk of the coaching staff as well. Schwartz and his entire defensive staff return. There were some changes on the offensive side with Frank Reich and John DeFilippo snagging new jobs, but the Eagles were able to promote from within. Most importantly, Pederson remains as head coach, and Roseman stays on to run the front office. The foundation of the franchise is the same.

THE UNKNOWN

Injured players: QB, LT, MLB, PR/RB, DT

Perhaps the biggest question as to whether the Eagles are better or worse lies in the recovery of the many injured star players from a year ago, almost all of whom are expected to reprise their roles.

Can Carson Wentz recapture his MVP form? We’ve seen quarterbacks struggle in their first year back from an ACL injury. Can Jason Peters still dominate at age 36 after an ACL of his own? The franchise left tackle has battled back from worse. Will Jordan Hicks be the same after a ruptured Achilles? The young man is a student of the game, but that’s a big one. Will Darren Sproles be as electric out of the backfield and in the return game at 35 and, again, with an ACL? Throw Tim Jernigan on to the list, too. The defensive tackle is sidelined indefinitely with a back injury, hurting the Eagles’ depth up front.

Then again, the Eagles already won the Super Bowl with almost all of these guys sidelined. For everybody but Hicks, there is a clear replacement waiting in the wings should they falter. Still, it’s a concern.

BETTER OR WORSE?

As is always the case, the only way to find out for sure is on the football field. And the Eagles could very well put a better squad out there, but still not repeat as champions, as luck and timing are also factors here.

That being said, some questions and concerns aside, the Eagles look like more talented team overall. Again, 19 starters are back. Two replacements, Wallace and Bennett, look like upgrades aside. Kids like Barnett, Goedert, Jones and running back Corey Clement could be on the verge of becoming stars. Best of all, the Eagles remain strong along the offensive and defensive lines, and have two quarterbacks capable of leading a team to the promised land. They may not be a better team than the group that just won it all, but the 2018 Eagles sure look like a BETTER team.

Beer delivery at Citizens Bank Park via text message now available

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Aramark

Beer delivery at Citizens Bank Park via text message now available

Now you can order a beer to be delivered to your seat and you don't even need to download another phone app to make it happen.

The Phillies and Aramark announced a new pilot program at Citizens Bank Park in which fans in certain sections of the ballpark can order select beer and water by simply using messages on an Apple iPhone.

The best part? You don't need any cash. It will charge your order right to whatever credit card you have set up in your Apple Pay.

"Initially, as part of the pilot program beginning today, July 20, fans sitting in sections 142, 143, 144 and 145 at Citizens Bank Park will be able to purchase select beverages (beer and water) from the comfort of their seats using their iPhone. The pilot program will be conducted over the course of ten games (July 20-25, August 2-5)," the release says.

They even include super simple instructions:

  1. Open the iPhone Camera app
  2. Scan the QR code on the seat back
  3. Follow the prompts on the Messages text screen to place order
  4. Complete transaction with Apple Pay
  5. Enjoy the game while order is delivered to seat location

I'm curious about tipping. Any self-respecting baseball fan knows that when you order beers from one of the vendors walking the aisles you always toss him a dollar or so at the end of the transaction. Will there be an option to tip your delivery person via text message?

The Phillies are apparently the first team to give this new tech a shot.

“We look forward to joining Aramark in testing this mobile delivery service, an innovative use of Apple Business Chat that further enhances the food and beverage experience at Citizens Bank Park,” said David Buck, Phillies Executive Vice President. “With this new pilot program, food ordering and delivery is as easy as a text message, and we are excited to be the first sports facility in the country to try out this new technology.”

So buy lots of beers this summer so the Phillies make lots of money so they can afford Manny Machado this winter. All via text messaging!

You can watch a demo of how this will all work below.

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