All eyes on QBs as Eagles face Panthers
PHILADELPHIA » If your thing is quarterbacks, it doesn’t get any better than Carson Wentz and the Eagles taking on Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers Thursday night at Bank of America Stadium.
Then there’s Tony Romo, the color analyst for the event (8:25, WIP-94.1-FM, NFL Network, Amazon Prime). Look for him to detail the stylistic differences and nuances of Wentz and Newton in a way even Cowboys haters can appreciate. Also in that vein, Andy Reid-tree head coaches Doug Pederson and Ron Rivera will be scrutinized.
The running backs are a big part of this show as well. To do what they need to do, the Eagles and the Panthers, both 4-1, must run the ball.
Just like Wentz and Newton, who stand 6-5 and 6-6, LeGarrette Blount and Jonathan Stewart weigh in at 250 and 235 pounds, respectively, for the Eagles and the Panthers. They grow them big at the University of Oregon.
“It definitely starts with those guys,” said Eagles running back and kick returner Kenjon Barner, another Ducks’ alum. “I love Stew. He’s like my big brother. But I think we’ve got the better guy. I know we’ve got the better guy, especially going into this week. But I love Stew. He’s an aggressive runner, a hard runner. If he goes for six yards it’s an extremely hard six yards. He’s going to make you feel it. It’s the same thing with LeGarrette. We’ve seen that the
past few weeks. One guy is not going to make a tackle. It’s going to be great to see those guys battle it out on the field.”
The Panthers have skyscraper targets for Newton in Devin Funchess (6-4, 232), who leads them with three touchdown receptions, Kelvin Benjamin (6-5, 245) and Ed Dickson (6-4, 255), the latter coming off a career game in replace of injured tight end Greg Olsen. Dickson caught five passes for 175 yards in a three-point road win over the Lions. He’s the first Panther ever with two 50-plus yard passes in the same game.
While Newton has been impressive in back-to-back wins, Eagles counterpart Wentz has made the game slow down in his last three starts. Wentz got everyone’s attention throwing a career-high four TD passes in a 34-7 demolition of the Cardinals Sunday.
And Wentz felt he could have played better, so be ready for the encore on the only football show in town Thursday.
“Prime time games are great,” Wentz said. “We love it around here. It’s an opportunity to show who we are and show what we can do. And to know the country is watching us, I think a lot of guys will be excited for that.”
The Eagles will play without right offensive tackle Lane Johnson, sidelined with a concussion. Hal Vaitai will start in his place. Isaac Seumalo is an option there, as well.
The Eagles list All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) as questionable.
The Panthers, in addition to that towering receiving corps, drafted running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver Curtis Samuel. McCaffrey leads the team with 27 receptions.
Newton is 2-1 against the Eagles having completed 57 of 92 attempts (61.9 percent) and five TDs with six interceptions and 12 sacks.
The 250-pound Newton has 20 rushes for 78 yards (3.9 average) and three TDs versus the Eagles. Safety Malcolm Jenkins says tackling the gangly quarterback, who also brings the celebration element, isn’t rocket science.
“He’s been tackled in every game he’s been in,” Jenkins said. “Just get him down. You tackle him the same way you tackle LeGarrette Blount. If you stop him, he won’t celebrate. As a defender if you don’t want him to celebrate, stop him.”
The same can be said of the big backs. Blount, 30, is a few months older than Stewart, one of the most highly recruited backs ever at Oregon.
In 105 games from 2010-17, Blount has 1,224 rushes for 5,445 (4.4) yards and 50 TDs, and average of 51.9 yards per game.
Blount has 323 yards on 56 rushes (5.8) this year, Blount ranks 11th in the league and sixth in the conference in rushing.
Stewart, in 121 games from 2008-17, has 1,578 rushes for 6,889 yards (4.4 average) and 45 TDs, and average of 56.9 yards per game.
This season Stewart leads the Panthers with 77 rushes for 251 yards (3.3).
Career-wise, Stewart has 160 receptions worth 1,287 yards and seven TDs compared to Blount, who has 49 catches for 358 yards and two TDs.
The defenses are solid despite injuries, Jenkins anchoring the Eagles, linebacker Luke Kuechly the Panthers.
Though the short work week isn’t ideal, quarterbacks, running backs, defenders and coaches would rather play games than practice anyway.
“The energy level has been there,” Eagles head coach Dough Pederson said. “And, listen, it’s been a successful couple of games for us and you can ride that emotion as well. So all of that’s a positive going into a short week.”
*** On the Eagles injury front, defensive tackles Fletcher Cox (calf) and Destiny Vaeao (wrist), and running back Wendell Smallwood (knee) are game-time decisions according to Pederson.
Cox sure came off like he wouldn’t play at the end of some streaming thoughts that began when he said Cam Newton wasn’t the toughest quarterback to tackle.
“I won’t say that he’s the hardest quarterback to bring down, no,” Cox said. “He is a hard quarterback to bring down. I would say a hard quarterback to bring down is Ben Roethlisberger, to me. He’s a big guy. You’ve got to get him on the ground. That’s with anybody. (Jonathan) Stewart, he’s actually a hard guy to bring down. So we’ve got to just rally to the football. I know those guys will do a great job at it.”
Cox “knows those guys” will do a great job?
Longtime Eagles wide receiver Ben Hawkins died Monday, at age 73.
A third-round draft pick of the Eagles in 1966, Hawkins spent eight of his nine NFL seasons in Philadelphia, where he etched himself into the record books from 1966-73. With 32 TD catches, he’s tied for ninth in club history.
A memorial service will be held Thursday, Oct. 12 in Belmar, N.J.
Hawkins is survived by his longtime partner, Mary Duggan, and two children, Benjamin Michael and Nichole Tamara.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz cheers on his team before a game against the Arizona Cardinals in Philadelphia. The Eagles face the Carolina Panthers in a Thursday night showdown.