Thursday Night Football is must-watch this week.
And no, it’s not the season opener — nor is it a Thanksgiving Day game. But somehow the schedule gods stumbled onto a juggernaut battle between the 4-1 Panthers and Eagles, in Carolina at 8:25 p.m. (aiting on CBS locally and NFL Network nationally).
After a short week, all eyes will be on the Eagles when things kick off this week. Here are three things to keep an eye on:
1. Offense rolling
The Eagles have gained the third most yards on offense of any NFL team, and have a very healthy approach in the run (fifth best) and pass (eighth best). They have the ball in their hands, on average, for more than 10 minutes longer than opponents and have a two-minute lead in time of possession over any other club. They have a healthy lead over every competitor in third down conversions per game and conversion rate and have run the second most plays of any NFL team.
In short, the stats are encouraging, the personnel is executing and things are looking good when Philly has the ball. If they can keep it up for 11 more games will determind if they can cash in on what ESPN is predicting as better than an 86 percent chance of making the playoffs (second best of any NFC team).
2. Combating Cam
Cam Newton has strung together back-to-back impressive performances each on par with his breakout 2015 campaign. If Newton is really back into a groove, it could be a tough evening for Philly’s defense. The coordinator of that defense is understandably concerned with the big, mobile quarterback.
“I think that the thing that you have to take into account is he can sit back there and rip it out of the pocket,” Jim Schwartz said. “This is not school yard football. He can sit back there and throw as pure as anybody in the NFL. But he also has the ability when it does breakdown to be able to create. So not only do you have to cover the timing of the route and the reception point of the route, but you do have to plaster and our rush needs to do a good job eliminating places so that he can step up. Our blitz needs to do a good job of putting him on the clock.”
3. How’s Fletch feeling?
That aformentioned blitz could be strenghened by the return of Fletcher Cox, who is traveling south with the team after missing parts of three games with a hamstring injury. The pass rush has been solid in his absence, led by Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, but having their stud, pro bowl defensive tackle back could help put even more pressure on Newton and the Panthers.
“I did challenge the D-line last week we got to generate some pass rush and they were able to do that last week and create some edges and it just boils down to each man just doing his job and doing his assignment,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said, citing that Cox’ availibity will be a gametime decision Thursday night. “Whether your top pass rusher is there or not, you got to figure out ways.”