The Carolina Panthers cloak their offense in various distracting shifts and position changes in order to protect quarterback Cam Newton and throw off opposing defenses. On Thursday night in a loss to the Eagles, a game in which Newton threw three interceptions, took two sacks and got hit 10 times, Philadelphia was able to see right through it.
“It’s hard to focus on him because they do so many things with the football,” Fletcher Cox told the team’s official site. “But I think we did a pretty good job on a short week preparing for a very creative running game. We were physical up front.”
The secret is not over-complicating things. Like the Broncos did in Super Bowl 50, the Eagles pinned their collective ears back and went after the Panthers‘ QB. According to Next Gen Stats, Newton was pressured on almost half of his snaps — and on those snaps he had a passer rating of 28.2 (12-of-21 for 91 yards and two INT).
Rookie Derek Barnett was on average 2.93 yards from Newton when Newton was dropping back in the tackle box. For perspective, the average “clean” NFL pocket allows a quarterback about 4.5 yards of separation from the nearest defender.
But Cox was the catalyst, logging 10 pressures or a pressure on almost 25 percent of his snaps.
Much of the praise will continue to be heaped on quarterback Carson Wentz, but what this Next Gen Stats package shows us is how valuable the Eagles defense has really become under coordinator Jim Schwartz. By clogging up the run (Christian McCaffrey led running backs with four carries for eight yards, while Jonathan Stewart carried the ball eight times for -4 yards), they forced Newton into a night-long trap. Even though Newton had 71 yards on 11 carries, those were taxing and almost certainly effected his timing and stamina in the pocket.
Some viewed this game as an early look at the NFC Championship game, and while the Panthers have to find fluidity on offense, the Eagles are looking like a defensive unit to be reckoned with deep into the postseason.