Eagles need to run the ball

Sunday's matchup could be determined by how well the Eagles O-line does against Carolina's D-line.

Updated: January 16, 2004, 10:49 AM ET
ESPN.com

The Matchup:
Panthers D-line vs. Eagles O-line

The Game:
Panthers at Eagles, Sunday, 6:45 p.m. ET, FOX

The Question:
Who will win this matchup? Click here to vote!

Panthers D-line Eagles O-line
Julius Peppers Tra Thomas

By Mike Golic
ESPN.com

The Carolina Panthers defense prides itself on being able to rush with its four down linemen. When the Panthers matched up against the Eagles in Week 13, they were able to sack Donovan McNabb three times. So, they'll rush and get pressure with four again and drop seven back into coverage. If they cover well enough, McNabb will have to pull the ball down and run -- which, with seven deep coming up, the Panthers have a good chance of stopping him.

It's the alternative to blitzing with six, which would leave only five guys in coverage to stop McNabb when he breaks through. So, being able to rush four and drop seven back gives McNabb less running room, which plays to the Panthers' advantage.

There are some great matchups on these lines. Watch for the Eagles center Hank Fraley and left guard John Welbourn against defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, right tackle Jon Runyan against defensive end Julius Peppers, and left tackle Tra Thomas against Carolina's sack leader Mike Rucker.

In the secondary, keep an eye on Panthers corner Terry Cousin against the Eagles' No. 3 receiver Freddie Mitchell. Slot receivers have been key in these playoffs. Often, when you neutralize the outside key receivers, it comes down to the third corners and dime package guys to win their matchups.


By Mark Schlereth
ESPN.com

The key to containing Carolina will lie in the Eagles offensive line's ability to turn protection, pick up different blitzes, and control the Panthers' defensive front four. One thing that works to the Eagles' advantage is that since their last meeting, starting left guard John Welbourn has returned from the knee injury he suffered back in early November. Had it not been for injuries, Welbourn could have been a Pro Bowl selection this season and he'll certainly be a big factor in Sunday's matchup.

With Welbourn back, the Eagles will still double-team Panthers defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, but because Welbourn can occasionally handle Jenkins one-on-one, it frees them up to get help in other places as well. Certainly, you don't want to be one-on-one with Jenkins for 60 consecutive plays, but as long as they're mixing things up, Welbourn will be a big factor in their ability to control that defensive line and they should be able to give Donovan McNabb enough time to make plays.

Last week, Green Bay had eight sacks on McNabb, but a lot of that can be attributed to Packers corner Al Harris, who spent five years in Philadelphia. Harris, no doubt, educated the Packers on the best ways to lock them down on the receivers, and bring on a ton of blitzes. The Panthers don't have those same type of big, physical corners, which should help alleviate some of the pressure on McNabb.

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