The season keeps getting worse for the Carolina Panthers, who seem to be unable to help Cam Newton as he gets hit and sacked more than any other quarterback in the NFL. For the Philadelphia Eagles, convincingly winning 45-21, it was a revelation to see a competent, almost mistake-free Mark Sanchez fill in for Nick Foles, getting plenty of help from Darren Sproles.
It’s hard to decide what’s the bigger story in this case – Sanchez, a quarterback who seemed to be on the safe route out of the NFL according to the trajectory of his last three years in the league, suddenly having one of the best games of his career, enjoying the quarterback friendly system devised by Chip Kelly, or Newton, turning the ball over four times including three interceptions, sacked nine times and making it hard to decide if he really hasn’t progressed in all these years or is simply put in a situation that makes it impossible for him to succeed in.
The Eagles jumped on Newton and the Panthers right from the start, forcing two turnovers that resulted in 10 points on the other side through the first three possessions. Jonathan Stewart scored a touchdown with six minutes left in the first quarter to make it seem like there’s going to be a back and forth game going on, but a Darren Sproles punt return for 65 yards and a touchdown seemed to change the dynamics complete, putting the Panthers in desperate mode while the Eagles soared from that moment on.
Sanchez threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions, throwing for 332 yards on 20-of-37. He got no help from the running game with only 37 yards on 22 carries but didn’t really need it. The Eagles are the kings this season when it comes to scoring defensive and special teams touchdowns, and got a second on the day from Bradley Fletcher in the second quarter, making it 31-7 after returning a failed Newton pass 34 yards.
Cam Newton did get his touchdown passes late in the game, but it was pretty much over by then. He found the tall Kelvin Benjamin for two consecutive touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but that was already after falling behind 45-7, as another prime time game in the NFL this season and the second one in 24 hours turns into something of an embarrassing blowout. It keeps the Eagles perfect at home (5-0) and leading the NFC East, one game above the Cowboys. The Panthers have now lost four in a row, but even at 3-6-1, it’s not over for them in the terrible NFC South.
It was interesting to see Sanchez deliver the goods after he looked like a ‘done’ quarterback when he left the Jets. He actually did better when throwing deep, completing 64% of his passes for over 10 yards, compared to just 48% on the short game. Cam Newton was only 7-of-17 on the deep throws. He was completing 58% of his passes to that distance through the first four games, but has fallen to below 40% in the last five. He keeps overthrowing receivers, leading the NFL in that category. After getting sacked nine times, he’s been taken down with the ball on 8.7% of his dropbacks this season, a rate that increases each year.
The Eagles’ offense gets a lot of credit all the time, but it might be their defense that’s allowing them to win so much with a 7-2 start. They’ve scored nine touchdowns on fumble/interception/punt/kickoff returns this season, and are ranked 4th in defensive efficiency, second in special teams efficiency – a drastic change compared to last year. Maybe that’s the whole difference regarding the Panthers: They’ve already given up more points through 10 games this season than in the entire 2013.
Ron Rivera promises to get better and talks about a need to improve in almost every aspect of the team. But those are empty words, especially when the problems have been clear for quite some time and no one has been able to do something about it. The Philadelphia Eagles are in bloom, more or less, under Chip Kelly. It hasn’t been pretty most of this season, but it’s working better than it has for the last four years, even if you plug Mark Sanchez at quarterback.