Sports

Eagles, Panthers both seeking fifth victory

4-1 teams square off Thursday night in Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It feels so good after five games for the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers that they're both in the right frame of mind for a short week of preparation before their next game.

It's about to be better for one of them as the winner of Thursday night's matchup at Bank of America Stadium will be the NFL's second five-win team of the season.

"We're finding ways to keep getting better," Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. "Good for our morale as a whole."

Both teams are 4-1. The Eagles come flying in with growing confidence after a dominating performance in whipping the Arizona Cardinals 34-7.

"You don't really have time to dwell on your past success," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "I look at it as the maturity of the football team, the experience of the football team. They know what it takes to stay focused. They know what it takes to stay grounded. It's my job to keep them grounded, keep them focused."

With only three full days between games, the teams are looking at the quick turnaround as one of the challenges. Both teams have found a groove, with the Panthers posting back-to-back road victories at New England and Detroit.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera said it could get better for the Panthers.

Quarterback Cam Newton is coming off a pair of sterling outings as his practice time has increased following offseason shoulder surgery.

"We went on a rough patch early on this year because he was still working himself back into football shape," Rivera said. "Now he's starting to feel better and better and stronger and stronger. He's getting his arm strength back. Now we see it and we know he can throw. I think it will open up more and more things."

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz leads the NFL with 37 completed third-down passes and 11 yards per attempt on third down along with six third-down touchdown throws. He said he has the right mix of players around him.

"Offensively, we can be dynamic, we can be explosive," Wentz said. "We've got to keep making plays."

While the Panthers have been stymied trying to run the ball the past couple of weeks, the Eagles have appeared more balanced.

"I think that's the big reason we've been able to be so successful," Wentz said. "We're able to move the ball in the air. We've been able to move the ball on the ground. I think that's what makes us tough to defend at times."

Yet the Eagles have concerns along the offensive line. Right tackle Lane Johnson was placed in concussion protocol during Sunday's game, so that might mean Halapoulivaati Vaitai will be called upon for full duty. Vaitai received good reviews for his backup role against the 49ers, though Carolina ends Charles Johnson and Julius Peppers might create additional challenges.

"Big V stepped up," Wentz said of Vaitai. "Big V had tons of valuable experience last year. We feel solid. If Lane is not ready to go, we feel Big V will be ready."

Yet maintaining the level of offensive efficiency could be difficult against the Panthers.

"We've got multiple run schemes in every week," Pederson said. "It's just a matter of which ones are working that day. Each week it seems like we face a pretty good front and it's no different this week."

In 10 previous meetings between the teams, the top receiving number for a Carolina player came from tight end Greg Olsen with 119 yards in 2014. He won't play this time because of a foot injury that has him out for a couple of months, but his fill-in, Ed Dickson, is coming off a career-high 175-yard receiving performance.

Rivera said Dickson's production could open up other areas in the passing attack because he might have benefited from attention given to wideouts.

"It looked like they were more concerned with the outside than they were with Ed in the middle," Rivera said of the Lions. "Our backs have been a big concern for a lot of teams as well. ... If you're throwing the ball to eight different people, now they have to account for them."

Wentz threw for four touchdowns for the first time in his career Sunday. He seems anxious to see how he stacks up against Carolina.

"It's coming quick," he said. "All the preparation, everything speeds up. ... We're built differently. We know what to expect We're hungry. We're never going to get too high after a win. We just have to keep plugging along."

Carolina hadn't been bothered by penalties early in the season until it was flagged for seven penalties within the first 16 minutes in Detroit. Rivera said it will take better discipline to maintain the winning ways.


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