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Five Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Eagles

1. PACING THEMSELVES: The Eagles under head coach Chip Kelly are known for their blistering pace of play on offense. The Panthers don't feel that Philadelphia's fast start on the scoreboard in last year's victory over Carolina had much to do with the Eagles' fast-paced style, but it's still an area of concern.

"Last year they jumped out on us pretty quick," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "But I thought we did a good job of communicating, and that's what that up-tempo offense is meant to test – that, and to see how well conditioned you are. We're in pretty good shape right now."

Kuechly acknowledged that the Eagles' quick transition from one play to the next can be a challenge, but it won't be a major factor if the defense maintain its current level of play and makes Philadelphia's offense get off the field quickly by forcing punts.

"We've got to start fast," Kuechly said. "We've got to do our job and play fundamentally sound football. We kind of got away from that last year."

2. TURNING AROUND THE TURNOVERS: The Eagles' defense arguably gave Carolina more trouble than its offense in last year's 45-21 victory on Monday Night Football, and their defense looks like the strength of this current team.

Last season, the Eagles intercepted Cam Newton three times – the first time that had happened in 21 games – and recovered two fumbles. This season, the Eagles rank second in the NFL with 16 takeaways.

"That was a lack of execution on all fronts," Newton said. "I can only speak for myself when I say that I threw the ball up for grabs too many times. That's not a recipe for winning football. We have to play better."

Newton has taken care of the football so far this season, with the Panthers standing as just one of four teams to turn the ball over five times or fewer.

3. PROTECTING THE QUARTERBACK: The other number that Carolina must turn around from last year's game is the shocking sack total. The Eagles brought Newton down behind the line of scrimmage nine times.

"We obviously want to cut that number down," left tackle Michael Oher said. "They're a good group. They do a lot of different things, and they move well. We just have to stay focused and get the job done blocking."

Oher wasn't a part of that game, but while he's the only new piece in an offensive line that finished strong last season, the line that struggled in Philadelphia last season was decidedly different. Current right guard Trai Turner and current right tackle Mike Remmers were inactive for the Eagles game in Week 10 – Turner with a knee injury and Remmers having just been signed off St. Louis' practice squad.

Oher said that the line is still improving. It's good to be looking for a 6-0 start under such circumstances.

"I don't think we're near where we can be. We can be a lot better," Oher said. "When it can get better and you're winning games, that's always a good thing."

4. MARKING DEMARCO: For all the chatter about the Eagles' free-wheeling offense, the heart of it is as old-school as it gets – the running game.

Philadelphia signed 2014 NFL rushing champion DeMarco Murray away from the Dallas Cowboys in the offseason. Murray didn't look like himself in his first three games with the Eagles, totaling 47 rushing yards, but he had 83 yards two weeks ago and then 112 last week.

"He switched over to something new, so maybe he wasn't quite as familiar with it to start. But watch what he did last year and what he's done the last few games, and he's 100 percent capable," Kuechly said. "He can make you miss. He can make you pay. We've just got to make sure we're doing a good job of staying in front of him and keeping guys around him."

5. SUBDUING SPROLES: After a tough start in last year's meeting, the Panthers pulled within 10-7 and got the ball back late in the first quarter – only to punt it away to Darren Sproles for a 65-yard touchdown return that was the beginning of the end.

"We didn't execute it properly," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We didn't stay in our lanes like we were supposed to. We didn't get off the line of scrimmage like we should have, let ourselves get grabbed and pulled and turned. You've got to fight your way through it, get into your lanes and stay disciplined. And then you've got to tackle. You can't just throw your shoulder in there; you've got to hit and wrap up.

"That's the only way you can stop a guy like Darren Sproles."

Sproles hasn't been easily stopped this season either, ranking third in the NFL with a 15.7-yard return average and accounting for one of the league's six punt return touchdowns to date. The Panthers have been up and down in coverage this season but mostly up of late, a trend that needs to continue in an important phase of the game.


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