All eyes on QBs as Ea­gles face Panthers

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - SPORTS - By Bob Grotz bgrotz@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @BobGrotz on Twit­ter

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.

NEW­TON

MATT ROURKE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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