Eagles-Panthers player matchups to get excited about in Week 5

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A tough test for unclear OL and more in Week 5 matchups to watch originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles (1-3) are traveling to face the Panthers (3-1) on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte.

Here are five matchups to watch:

Christian McCaffrey vs. Eagles linebackers

The Panthers’ All-Pro running back missed last week’s game against the Cowboys with a hamstring injury but has returned to practice in a limited fashion this week. If McCaffrey plays in this game, it’ll be a really tough matchup for an Eagles run defense that has been gashed in recent weeks, especially for their linebackers who would have to worry about stopping McCaffrey on the ground and through the air.

“I’m hopeful that he can play,” Panthers head coach Matt Rhule said on a conference call Thursday. “Obviously, when he plays we are a better team. But I’m also going to be really smart with him and not put him in a bad position. Hopefully he can go on Sunday.”

Last week against the Cowboys, Chuba Hubbard started and had 13 carries for 57 yards and Royce Freeman had 3 for 12. Those guys might turn into good players but they’re not McCaffrey. It’s a big deal whether or not he plays. And if he does, it’s fair to wonder if he’ll have a huge role.

DeVonta Smith vs. Panthers cornerbacks

The Panthers on Wednesday made a huge splash, trading for former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, but since he was traded and is still on the PUP list, he can’t play in this game. Phew.

Because the Eagles might be able to attack the Panthers cornerbacks. The Panthers used their top-10 pick this spring on Jaycee Horn but he’s out with a broken foot. They then traded for former first-round pick C.J. Henderson. So in the last few months the Panthers have drafted a corner in the first round, traded for a former first-rounder and traded for an All-Pro. They clearly want to upgrade this position.

Meanwhile, Smith is coming off a breakout game last week when he had 7 catches for 122 yards. He should have added 34-yard touchdown catch but stepped out of bounds. Still, Smith is coming into his own and might have some opportunity in this game.

Panthers edge rushers vs. Eagles’ tackles

The Eagles situation at both tackle positions heading into this week is pretty unclear. Lane Johnson missed Sunday’s game because of a personal matter and has missed more time this week. Jordan Mailata returned to practice in a limited fashion as he gets over an MCL sprain.

And the Panthers have a couple pretty good edge players in Brian Burns and Haason Reddick, who flip sides of the line pretty frequently. Reddick has 4 1/2 sacks through four games and Burns has 3. The Eagles will miss LB Shaq Thompson, who is out with an injury, but these edge players are good.

Because of the uncertainty of the Eagles’ offensive line, Rhule said they’ll spend the week not focusing on individual matchups there but more on scheme and what the Eagles like to do fundamentally. He said a lot of their offense obviously revolves around Jalen Hurts.

“So just trying to look offensive line-wise as the scheme, the things they do and then try to work backwards from there as opposed to if we knew who the lineup would be,” Rhule said. “‘Hey, let’s attack this, let’s attack that.’ But I think now we’re just trying to attack scheme as best as we can.”

If Johnson plays, he’ll obviously be at right tackle and either Mailata or Andre Dillard will play at left tackle.

If Mailata plays and Johnson doesn’t, there might be a chance the Eagles slide Mailata to the right side of the line and play Dillard at left tackle. That might be a better option than putting Dillard on the bench and playing Driscoll. It might also be a better option that putting Dillard at right tackle.

And if neither Johnson nor Mailata play, the Eagles would likely line up the way they did last week, with Dillard at left tackle and Jack Driscoll at right. If either player misses time, it seems likely Driscoll will end up at right guard.

So there are a lot of moving pieces, which is why the Panthers aren’t spending too much time preparing for specific scenarios.

D.J. Moore vs. Darius Slay

Slay really likes to travel with top receivers and on this offense, Moore is a pretty good candidate. He’s clearly their top target and has proven himself to be one of the better receivers in the NFL.

Moore has gone over 1,000 yards receiving in each of the last two years and is off to a tremendous pace in 2021 working with Sam Darnold. Moore has 30 catches for 398 yards and 3 touchdowns through four games. He’s on pace for 128/1,692/13.

Slay, of course, was not willing to tip their hand.

“He’s a very talented player, man,” Slay said. “What ever we have drawn up for him, we’ll be ready to work.”

Jalen Hurts vs. Jeremy Chinn

If the Eagles didn’t draft Hurts with the No. 53 pick last year, Chinn likely would have been the pick. Instead the safety went to Carolina with the No. 64 overall pick and had a tremendous rookie season. Now these two players will face off.

It’s fun to think about alternate realities and if the Eagles didn’t pull the trigger on Hurts and instead drafted Chinn. How different would the team and the franchise look right now? Would Carson Wentz still be here? What about Doug Pederson?

Maybe if the Eagles drafted Chinn, then Rhule and the Panthers would have selected Hurts and this matchup would be in reverse on Sunday.

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