It was a Monday Night massacre down at the Linc when the Eagles destroyed Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. The Eagles were coming in with plenty of question marks as both the offense and defense were without key leaders in DeMeco Ryans and Nick Foles. All week talk radio was all over the place with positivity for Mark Sanchez who would make his first start as an Eagle. Most were concerned with the defense and how they would fair against Cam Newton but Billy Davis and company had a plan in place and stuck with it.
The defense came in with a game plan to keep Cam Newton from beating them with his rush. They took the plan a step further and used their pass rush to beat Newton. In what was probably one of the most humiliating performances you could ever see from a QB of Newton’s caliber, on national television, the Eagles sacked Newton 9 times on Monday night. To go along with the sacks the Eagles also intercepted 3 passes, made Newton fumble, and also returned an interception for a TD. It was a Monday Night performance for the ages by the defense.
Connor Barwin led the way with 3.5 sacks, the second most of his career in a game. Brandon Graham, who’s had resurgence this season in Billy Davis’ defense came off the bench with 1.5 sacks. Also Trent Cole, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, and Fletcher Cox chipped in with a sack each. For Cox it was his first sack of the season. The Eagles are now second in the NFL in sacks with 32, only two short of Buffalo. Last season the pass rush was a major issue, this season it’s clearly one of the most improved areas of the team. Connor Barwin now has 10.5 sacks on the season, one short of his personal best and also became just the seventh player in Eagles history with at least 10 sacks through 9 games. The only other time the Eagles recorded more than 9 sacks in a game was against Dallas on Sept 15, 1991.
The secondary also came to play on Monday Night. For the first time all season an Eagles cornerback had an interception. They took it a step further by having both cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher intercept a pass with Fletcher running his in for a touchdown. Nate Allen also intercepted a pass which was nice to see considering Allen didn’t play last week against Houston and when we last saw him he was letting up the game winning touchdown in Arizona against the Cardinals.
The defense looked great without their leader DeMeco Ryans in the lineup. The special teams also came to the party on Monday. Darren Sproles scored on a 65 yard punt return. Sproles now joined DeSean Jackson and Brian Westbrook as only the third Eagle in franchise history to have two punt returns for touchdowns in a season. Jackson holds the record with 4 career punt returns for TDs as an Eagle. Sproles already has two in just 8 games as an Eagle which goes to show the impact he’s had on the special teams.
The offense, led by Mark Sanchez, did enough to get the job done on Monday Night. Sanchez won his first start since December 9, 2012. Sanchez in my opinion looked very comfortable in Chip Kelly’s no huddle offense. He finished with 332 yards, 4th most of his career, on 20 of 37 passing attempts with two touchdowns and a passer rating of 102.5. Not a bad debut for the former NY Jet. Sanchez even went to Pats and Geno’s after the game for a cheesesteak and celebrated with the fans.
Sanchez clearly showed chemistry with rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Sanchez and Matthews practiced quite a bit together with the backups during training camp and throughout the season so they’ve had the opportunity to strengthen their relationship. Matthews, the second-round pick from Vanderbilt has shown potential in certain spots throughout the season but Monday Night was a big coming out party for him. He put the rest of the NFL on notice that he should be in the discussion with some of the other rookie wide receivers around the league such as Brandon Cooks, Sammy Watkins, and Mike Evans. Matthews had a 2 touchdown game back in week 3 against the Redskins and now became the first rookie in Eagles history with a pair of two-touchdown games. Matthews finished with a career-best 138 yards on 7 catches and became just the third rookie in team history with at least 39 receptions, 451 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns.
The win was great and Sanchez looked good but when you break down the score the Eagles offense really struggled at times. The Eagles did score 45 points but 14 came on punt/interception returns while 17 points came from short scoring drives after Carolina turned the ball over. After that the Eagles offense was left with just two touchdown drives of 50 yards or more. The offense finished with only 365 yards of net offense against Carolina which is actually about 44 yards shy of their season average of 409. The most concerning was the fact the running game stalled. Coming into the game Carolina had one of the worst rush defenses in the league. Most, including myself, thought Monday Night would be a big game for LeSean McCoy. Instead the Eagles finished with just 37 yards rushing, which is the second-fewest rushing yards on 23 or more carries in the last 58 years. McCoy was able to find the endzone along with Darren Sproles who added to his punt return with an 8 yard run for a Touchdown. But it’s clear Chip Kelly doesn’t have patience with the running game much like former Eagles coach Andy Reid. I believe Kelly needs to stick with the running game more because with the now healthy offensive line and a healthy set of running backs the run game has the potential to be a key contributor to the offense and take the pressure off Mark Sanchez and his arm.
I’m not sure why the Eagles aren’t using Darren Sproles more in the offense. Sproles only had 1 carry on Monday Night for his 8 yard TD. Since his return from his MCL injury he only has 4 carries in two games. On opening day he had 11 carries and now has 25 in 7 games which averages out to fewer than 4 carries per game. Bottom line is the offense has room to improve and in order for them to be rolling on all cylinders they’ll need to utilize the running game more and find ways to get LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles going.
Bottom line is the Eagles are 7-2, and at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you got there. In two years under Chip Kelly the Eagles are 17-8 to this point. During their last 17 games the Eagles are 14-3 and have now won 9 straight regular season home games with 3 different QB’s (Vick/Foles/Sanchez). Up next the Eagles travel to Lambeau Field to take on Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. This will probably be the biggest test of the season for the birds as the Packers are also coming off a blowout victory when they put up 55 points against their division rival Chicago Bears on Sunday night. Last season the Eagles had a matchup with the Packers in Green Bay and won, but that was also during a stretch of games when Aaron Rodgers was sidelined with an injury. I don’t expect the Eagles to come away with a victory in Green Bay this time around because Rodgers and the Packers offense are playing lights out football right now. But that’s why you play the game, any given Sunday anything can happen. For Chip Kelly and the Eagles Sunday in Green Bay will be the test of the season, hopefully they can bring their A game.