The Sanchize has come to Philadelphia. The debate that has the Philly media abuzz is the status of NFC East-leading Eagles with Mark Sanchez at the helm for the next six to eight weeks. Anyone who’s watched football in the last five years is familiar with Sanchez’s infamous struggles with the Jets, and the incompetent efforts by the New York front office to replace him. Seriously-Mike Vick’s performance against the Steelers yesterday aside-who would have thought that a year and a half after benching Sanchez, fans would think wistfully back to the days of number six with thoughts of “that Sanchez kid was only pretty bad.”
Sanchez understandably jumped at the chance to leave the town that ruined his young career when the Eagles sent a one-year $2.25 million dollar deal his way to second fiddle to the upstart Nick Foles. Foles fractured his clavicle last week, giving Sanchez his first opportunity to play in a real game since 2012. The results were mixed, but on the back of a two-touchdown and two-interception performance, the Eagles were able to fend off the pesky Texans in a 31-21 win. Sanchez wasn’t terrible, and with LeSean McCoy collecting 43o rushing yards in the last four games, Jeremy Maclin posting over 150 yards and two scores in each of his last two games, Sanchez has more talent around him that any other point in his NFL career. Given the fact that he has a stable of the aforementioned McCoy and Darren Sproles to hand-off/check down to, he’s not going to be pressured like he was in New York.
The success or failure of this team will correlate with the Southern Cal grad’s performance and if he can limit his mistakes, it’s hard not to envision the Eagles continuing their winning ways. Keep in mind Nick Foles wasn’t exactly lighting the world on fire with his ten picks thrown in eight starts, so if Sanchez can his per-game interception rate under Foles’ 1.25 (that’s 20 when applied to a 16-game season), the Eagles should be OK. Not for nothing, in his career with the Jets, Sanchez’s INT rate was 1.11 (just under 18 when applied to a full season).
On the other side of the field, the Panthers have plenty of their own issues to worry about. The lauded defense from 2013 never made it to training camp back in August, and ranks 19th against the pass, 27th against the run, and 24th in points allowed. The pass rush ranks a paltry 17th in sacks, but if they want a chance at a winning this game tonight, they’ll need to bring the heat on Sanchez. One of the things Chip Kelly’s defense is good at is running a high volume of plays in short order, thus gassing the defense and minimizing their effectiveness the longer a drive endures. If the Panthers can’t get home or at least pressure Sanchez early in drives, he has the requisite experience and arm strength to pick on the lackluster Carolina secondary. If they can collapse the pocket consistently, Sanchez is more than likely to make a couple mistakes. This is key for a defense that is actually tied for ninth in the league in takeaways.
On offense the Panthers must revitalize a running game that has fallen to 27th in the league. That Eagles are only 20th in stopping the run, so their defense is far from invulnerable. If the Carolina backfield gets anything going it’ll allow Cam Newton to make more throws out of the play action, and would go a long way in freeing up receivers not named Kelvin Benjamin or Greg Olsen. Former Eagle Jason Avant and former Steeler Jerricho Cotchery have had issues separating from defensive backs when Newton simply runs three and five-step drops as made evident by their combined 38 catches on 85 targets. The Eagles may recognize this and place additional defenders in the box to limit the space for Carolina’s physical but plodding running backs. Cam will have to be quick with his throws to take advantage.
Newton himself must produce better results than his previous two weeks. In both games, Newton was held to under 2oo passing yards and without a touchdown while throwing an interception in each. Especially troubling was the fact that the more recent of these two games came against a reeling New Orleans defense who at that point was ranked towards the bottom of the league in all major categories.
Plain and simple, I don’t like Carolina’s chances in this one. They’re on the road, they’re play has gone to hell and defensive stars like Luke Kuechly can only do so much. The Panthers’ only chance is if they get to Sanchez. The 6th-year pro is still susceptible to erratic decision-making, especially under duress, and they Panthers will need to steal a few balls to steal a win on the road.
Eagles 28 Panthers 19
Tim Mullhaupt (@TimakaHines) is the editor of The Buckets Blog.