Carolina Panthers-Philadelphia Eagles Game Guide: Eagles Visit the Bank
Both of these teams met a similar fate last year, falling to the Arizona Cardinals amidst their Cinderella-esque run to the Super Bowl.
The Panthers and Eagles both head into 2009 with high expectations—Philadelphia more because of its reputation and Carolina because of their 12-4 record a year ago.
Success will not come without hard work for either club. Both have questions about their defense and will be looking to maintain a high powered offense.
The Eagles have already lost starting middle linebacker Stewart Bradley to a season ending knee injury, while the Panthers lost their monster-sized run stuffing defensive tackle in Ma'ake Kemoeatu to an Achilles injury on the first day of training camp.
Coping with and adjusting to these losses are the focal point of the coaching staffs as they look for a way to replace key cogs in their defensive units.
The Panthers have not been able to do much in the absence of Kemoeatu with Nick Hayden being the only serviceable option for much of the preseason. Hayden led a core of inexperienced reserve linemen with two career games played.
The Panthers have since traded an undisclosed draft pick for DT Louis Leonard from Cleveland. The 6'4", 325-pound Leonard recorded 25 tackles for the Browns a year ago in 16 games.
Carolina also signed Ra'Shon "Sunny" Harris, a rookie defensive tackle from Oregon after Pittsburgh cut him.
The Eagles hold a 4-2 series lead against the Panthers, and have displayed dominance since Carolina's win in the 2003 NFC Championship Game.
Philadelphia won the last meeting between the two teams, a 27-24 victory on Monday Night Football in the 2006 season.
The last time these two teams met at Bank of America Stadium was during the 2003 regular season, with the Eagles winning 25-16. The overall series at "The Bank" is tied at one game a piece.
What To Watch For
Panthers' D-Line vs. Eagles' Running Game - The Panthers will find out what kind of success their rotation of reserve defensive tackles will have against one of the elite running backs in the league, when healthy, in Brian Westbrook.
If the Eagles are able to establish the run early, they could wreak havoc on the Panthers' secondary throughout the game. Penetration from the front four will be key for Carolina in this game.
Philadelphia LB's vs. Panthers Running Backs - Omar Gaither will start in place of Bradley, and the Philadelphia linebacking corps could be in for a long afternoon against the outstanding double-headed rushing attack of the Panthers.
The Eagles linebackers will see a lot of "Double Trouble"—the nickname given to the combination of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart—because of their uncanny ability to make the first man miss.
Donovan McNabb sans-Vick - McNabb will have two games to play without the shadow of Michael Vick behind him. Although McNabb insists that he is comfortable with Vick as his back up, you can't help but wonder what a couple of lackluster games might bring him once Vick is reinstated.
McNabb may be comfortable, but will Philadelphia's fans be as patient?
Jonathan Stewart Returns - After not seeing the field during the preseason, Stewart practiced towards the end of last week and is ready to go for Sunday's game. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the first few hits of the season, seeing as how he hasn't taken a lick since January.
Williams will continue to get the bulk of the carries, but the burst that Stewart gives off the bench fuels this Panthers offense.
Can Brian Westbrook Stay Healthy? - Brian Westbrook is the most dangerous threat on the Eagles roster, but he has been unable to stay healthy in the last couple of years. Westbrook was limited in practice during the week, and if he isn't healthy then LeSean McCoy will have to shoulder the load which will cause a noticeable drop in effectiveness.
Offensive Rhythm for Carolina - The Panthers need to establish the rhythm of their offense early so as not to leave their defense in positions where they could be easily exposed. The running game is the anchor of the unit, so chewing up yards on the ground is a must out of the gates. Once the running game is established, Jake Delhomme will be able to go to work finding Steve Smith and his other receivers.
OUT- OT Shawn Andrews (back), G Todd Herremans (foot), LB Joe Mays (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE- S Chris Harris (knee), CB Sherrod Martin (knee)
There is nothing like opening day in the NFL, and the Panthers are lucky to be able to open the season at home. Carolina was undefeated at home last year in the regular season with an 8-0 record.
There is a lot of negativity and doubt surrounding the Panthers in Charlotte, and a victory against the Eagles would be the easiest way to erase some of those clouds and boost the morale of the fans.
Regardless of the outcome, the season is upon us.
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