Eagles and Panthers prepare for TNF
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton is locked in and on target.
Carolina’s quarterback is on a mini-tear entering a Thursday night showdown against the Eagles, completing 77.4 percent of his passes over the last two games for 671 yards with six touchdowns. That’s well above Newton’s career completion percentage of 58.9 percent and last season’s career low of 52.9 percent.
Newton’s newfound accuracy has the Panthers (4-1) tied for the best record in the NFC with the Eagles and Packers. Suddenly, questions about Newton’s ability to recover from shoulder surgery have turned to questions about competing for league MVP honors again.
Newton shrugged his shoulders and offered no explanation for his career-high completion percentage this year.
But clearly one of the reasons is the addition of running back Christian McCaffrey, who has given the seventh-year QB a valuable check-down option on passes. The rookie from Stanford leads the Panthers with 27 receptions.
“He’s an exceptional football player who has found his role on this team and is trying to find ways to expand his role,” Newton said of McCaffrey. “A guy like that, he’s so easy to throw to.”
The Panthers are throwing more short and intermediate routes than in the past, designed in part to compensate for Newton coming off rotator cuff surgery. He missed most of training camp and the Panthers didn’t want to rush him back by asking him to throw a bunch of deep balls.
Newton’s arm strength is improving and he’s showing no signs of soreness, although coach Ron Rivera still limits his reps in practice.
“There’s certain throws that he’s making again. That’s a huge plus,” Rivera said. “I think last week was indicative of that. I think as he gets stronger and stronger, we can do some more things we want to do.”
McCaffrey is commanding so much attention from defenses that it’s freeing up others to make plays. Devin Funchess has three TD catches in the last two games and Greg Olsen fill-in Ed Dickson caught five passes for 175 yards last week against Detroit.
CONTROL THE CLOCK: The Eagles lead the NFL in time of possession with an average of 35:32 thanks to a strong running game and best third-down offense in the league. Led by LeGarrette Blount’s bruising running, Philadelphia is ranked fifth in rushing. The Eagles are first in third-down conversions at 53.4 percent, allowing them to keep drives going and keep the ball away from opponents. “I think it’s important to establish the run to start,” coach Doug Pederson said. “It just helps our offense, helps our offensive line settle into games. And when you see your defense, the three-and-outs that they have and stopping the run, it can frustrate an opponent.”
GOING DEEP: Carson Wentz and his new receivers couldn’t connect on long throws until Torrey Smith and Nelson Agholor made big plays against the Cardinals. Wentz hit Smith in stride for a 59-yard TD and lofted a perfect pass that Agholor caught over his shoulder for a 72-yard TD. “Carson is known to chuck it,” Agholor said. “He’s going to chuck it.”