NFL Wire News

Eagles rush to improve for Panthers

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PHILADELPHIA — After an abysmal start, the Philadelphia Eagles finally are getting some production out of their running game. And just in the nick of time.

Quarterback Sam Bradford is struggling mightily. He threw five interceptions in the last two games and the should-he-be-benched discussion is all the rage on the radio talk shows.

The Eagles (3-3) will be going up against one of the best pass defenses in the league on Sunday night when they face the unbeaten Carolina Panthers on the road.

So the Eagles must be able to run the ball against the Panthers to take the pressure off of Bradford.

After rushing for only 63 yards in a Week 1 loss to Atlanta and seven yards on 17 carries in a Week 2 loss to Dallas, the Eagles averaged 137.7 rushing yards per game in the last four games, and at 4.8 yards per carry in the last three.

Running back DeMarco Murray, who won the league rushing title last season with the Dallas Cowboys before signing a five-year, $40 million deal with the Eagles, notched his first 100-yard game as an Eagle in the 27-7 win over the New York Giants on Monday night.

Murray rushed for 109 yards on 22 carries. He had a season-high seven first downs rushing and four runs for more than 10 yards. He was much less tentative hitting the hole than he was in the first few weeks.

The Eagles have 21 rushing first downs in the last two games. They had 17 in the first four.

But the Panthers hardly are a pushover on the ground. They are 12th in run defense (96.6 yards allowed per game) and 15th in rushing average (3.9).

However, they were without their All-Pro middle linebacker, Luke Kuechly (concussion), for three of the first four games. He returned last week and the Panthers held Marshawn Lynch to 3.2 yards per carry.

“Our offensive line is executing,” coach Chip Kelly said when asked what kick-started his ground game the last few weeks. “We have not changed any schemes. We are doing the same things we have always done.

“But I think our offensive line is starting to come together and jell, and they are executing and really getting good push at the point of attack.”

In the first two games, the Falcons and Cowboys were angling and stunting through the gaps and getting repeated backfield penetration, thwarting Murray and the Eagles’ two other running backs, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, as soon as they got the ball.

At one point, Murray was averaging a mere 1.6 yards per carry. He raised his average to 3.4 with last week’s 109-yard effort.

“I don’t think I worried about it,” Murray said. “I don’t think the offense worried about it. I think we continue to play. The offensive line is blocking a lot better. We’re running the ball more physically and running through tackles.”

SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. The Eagles lead the series 6-2. They have won four of the last five meetings since the Panthers beat them in the 2003 NFC Championship Game.

GAMEPLAN: The Panthers own one of the best pass defenses in the league. They are second in opponent passer rating and third in opponent yards per pass. With quarterback Sam Bradford struggling, the Eagles must be able to establish the run and keep the Panthers’ defense guessing. Defensively, they need to shut down the run early and put the clamps on Cam Newton’s go-to receiver, tight end Greg Olsen.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–Eagles DL Fletcher Cox vs. Panthers LG Andrew Norwell.

Cox has been one of the most dominant defensive linemen in the league this season. Norwell has 14 career starts.

–Eagles RBs DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews vs. Panthers MLB Luke Kuechly.

Murray and Mathews combined for 149 rushing yards last week, but Kuechly helped hold Marshawn Lynch to 3.2 yards per carry.

–Eagles SS Walter Thurmond and Malcolm Jenkins vs. Panthers TE Greg Olsen.

Olsen had seven catches for 131 yards against Seattle’s Legion of Boom last week. Eagles have held opposing tight ends to 7.6 yards per catch this season.


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