Eagles — Stopping Carolina’s Running Game is Key to a Win

Perhaps no team has a more diverse rushing attack than Carolina, as their catalog of run plays looks more like a college playsheet than anything else. But this is how they want to beat you—by stretching you sideline-to-sideline and attacking running lanes with their many talented ball carriers

Any conversation about what makes the Panther offense ‘go’ starts and ends with Cam Newton. Unlike most mobile quarterbacks, Cam’s threat doesn’t end with keepers on a read option, but extends to designed off-tackle runs, speed options, naked bootlegs, and simple QB draws. At 6’5’’ 240 he’s one of the toughest players in the league to bring down, and if this team isn’t buttoned up tackling on Sunday then you can bet Cam will expose that.

But that threat isn’t new. The Eagles have faced Cam many times in the past. What is new—and what should surely be on the top of Jim Schwartz’s mind on Sunday—is the threat of Christian McCaffrey. The second-year pro is a unique hybrid of running back and receiver and the Panthers take major advantage of that versatility. But painting him as a gadget player does a serious disservice to his ability to run between the tackles. McCaffrey has the looks of a complete running back and so far this year he’s running like one (4.9 YPC on 14+ attempts per game).

What might concern the Eagles more—especially considering our dominant run defense—is McCaffrey’s potential to beat them in the passing game. The Birds have had trouble containing the Cole Beasley’s and Julian Edelman’s of the world, and McCaffrey fits in that same mold. And even if the Panthers chose not to line up McCaffrey in the slot as much (which all depends on gameplan) he could do equally as much damage catching the ball out of the backfield—similar to the way James White operates for the Patriots. Just like the quicker slot receivers, this Eagles defense has had trouble with those kind of running backs in the past.

In the wake of Saquon Barkley’s performance against us, I mentioned that the Eagles should be wary of other star players single-handedly running all over us, and while I was more so hinting at guys like Gurley and Alvin Kamara, I think McCaffrey has the same potential to put up 200+ all-purpose yards. Like I mentioned, when we face more complete rosters than New York, that type of performance would be nearly impossible to survive.

Beyond the dynamic threat posed by a Newton/McCaffrey backfield, the Panthers aren’t afraid to put the ball in the hands of their receivers in the form of jet sweeps. While the jet sweep has become a staple of most NFL offenses (it’s mainly run it as a dummy-motion) Carolina isn’t afraid to take it to another level. Their three receivers after Funchess all have the talent to take a handoff on a sweep and turn the corner on an NFL defense. Similar to McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel was a hybrid weapon on offense at Ohio State, and has been utilized in the same way as a pro. The team’s first round pick, DJ Moore, is a dynamic vertical threat with plenty of quickness to match. And while Torrey Smith isn’t quite as effective as those two on sweeps, I shouldn’t have to explain to Eagle fans that he poses a threat in that area.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to breaking down the Panther’s running attack, and I’d bet that no other running game in the league calls for more game planning. With the Eagles biggest strength being their defensive line, they’re well equipped to win up front and stifle the Panthers running game. But with so much talent in the backfield, and with so many ways to attack the defense, consistently winning up front won’t necessarily shut them down. The team was constantly beating the New York offensive line, but a lack of gap discipline and so-so tackling allowed Barkley to still make his mark. Again, with so much talent in the backfield, who’s to say that Carolina can’t do the same.

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