-- ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando spent Sunday with ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden and the "Monday Night Football" crew in Philadelphia, site of the Carolina Panthers- Philadelphia Eagles matchup in Week 10 (ESPN, 8:15 p.m. ET). Sando files a few takeaways from Gruden regarding key storylines for these teams, in Gruden's voice.
1. New Eagles QB Mark Sanchez has an opportunity to reinvent himself in Philadelphia.
I've seen quarterbacks reinvent themselves over the years. I have seen Carson Palmer do it in Arizona. (Editor's note: Palmer left the Cardinals' game versus St. Louis on Sunday with a knee injury after this article was published.) People thought he wasn't good enough for the Bengals. The Raiders later got rid of him for a seventh-round pick. He just got $50 million with the Cardinals, and they are the No. 1 team in football at 8-1.
Sanchez has a similar opportunity. The Eagles' coaching staff believes in him, and the brain trust has an offensive background with coach Chip Kelly and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. Sanchez understands these West Coast passing principles; nothing here is new to him. The tempo is exciting to him. He is familiar with it and likes it.
The supporting cast around Sanchez is outstanding. The Eagles might have the best tandem of backs on the planet in LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles. They might have the best left tackle in Jason Peters. Their center, Jason Kelce, is the best in the league I have seen this season. They have arguably one of the game's best receivers now that Jeremy Maclin is healthy. I do not think Sanchez has had offensive support like this in his career.
You still don't know what to expect. Sanchez could throw for 400 yards in this game. He could also throw some interceptions. We saw him throw a couple last week. This is just a great situation for him as long as the Eagles can keep him healthy, so the opportunity for him to have a Palmer-like reinvention of his career certainly exists.
2. The Panthers need to get some help for Cam Newton.
What's wrong with Newton this season? It is pretty simple, if you ask me. The offensive line isn't the same. The receivers are all new. The running backs have been hurt. That is a lot on any quarterback.
Newton is also beat up, and it really starts there. He missed the whole offseason with an ankle injury, then missed a lot of training camp and the season opener with rib problems. His throwing hand is all taped up. Physically, he is behind where he normally would be at this point of the season. Second, as we alluded to in the opposite way with Sanchez above, Newton's supporting cast is not what it was -- not even close. Third, you have seen the Panthers ask him to do a lot in this offense as a runner, a passer, a scrambler. His fundamentals have deteriorated a little bit, for good reason.
The Panthers must hope they can get Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams back rolling again, get the left side of their line figured out and get some help for him. If they can do that, he can return to being a force. The Panthers are still in this NFC South race, with the first-place Saints not exactly running away with the division at this point.
3. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans' injury calls into question whether the Eagles' defense can function consistently.
A lot of people might not have Ryans as the best middle linebacker in football, but I guarantee you this: He was the leader of this Eagles defense. He was the heart and soul behind the communication and some of the adjustments they made here. When you lose that, you ask a lot of that from other people, and I do not know who those people will be. We will have to see.
You are dealing with Newton, whom the Panthers might force to run on any play. They can run with an unbalanced line. They can be in an empty set the next play. Then they can have four running backs out there with Newton and three other guys. They can do all kinds of stuff, and it puts strain on a defense as far as communication.
4. It's been proved that teams can punish the Eagles' QBs, but to do it, the Panthers might have to get creative in the absence of their best pass-rusher, Greg Hardy.
The Eagles force specific defenders to play under great conflict. Defensive ends, they are not blocked. Will they take the dive? Will they take the quarterback? The Eagles will use their action against them. There are people in the secondary who want to make the tackle on these sweep plays and forget to carry the seams, so the seams become wide-open off play-action.
Philadelphia is running a spread offense that is designed to run the football. The Eagles would run it every play if they could, and, as soon as Kelly calls a running play, he sees how the defense tries to stop it. If you stop it by overpursuing or rotating to the side of the sweep, good luck stopping the screen or the seams. The Eagles have thrown 47 screens this season, which was the most in the league through Week 9, even though they have played only eight games.
So, what do the Panthers do? They know Philly has a new quarterback. Sanchez has a history of turnovers, and I would think the Panthers won't just stand there and play a three-deep zone all day or stand there and play their Tampa 2 coverage. They must figure out ways to pressure and hit Sanchez. These Philadelphia quarterbacks take a lot of shots. Nick Foles is out for a reason: He got buried in Arizona and hammered against Houston. That is on film. Philadelphia will be better now that its line is getting healthy, but in some cases the fast tempo makes it tougher to set your protections.
5. Eagles TE Brent Celek is on my short list of players to watch in this matchup.
I love the two linebackers for Carolina, Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. I think Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is vastly underrated. I also love to watch Philadelphia center Jason Kelce. The way he pulls and sets the edge on some of these screens, I've never seen anybody do what he does. He is an undersized center who is in tremendous shape. Kelce is nasty, he is tough and he is a finisher. He is the best center I have seen on tape this year. He is just an awesome player.
Finally, I like the way Celek has bought in to this blocking role. This guy has been good at the point of attack and works hard on the back side. He has sacrificed a lot of his numbers to be a big part of this team. I like guys like that and think they should get some recognition.