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Panthers have better options for covering Eagles' Jordan Matthews

Cornerback Bene' Benwikere, 25, will spend time covering Philadelphia receiver Jordan Matthews on Sunday. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- How the Carolina Panthers will defend wide receiver Jordan Matthews has been a big topic of conversation as they prepare for Sunday night’s game against Philadelphia.

That’s because the Panthers (5-0) did a horrible job of covering Matthews in last season’s 45-21 loss to the Eagles in a Monday night game.

The second-round pick had his breakout performance as a rookie, catching seven passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Matthews was so impressive that he jokingly said he felt like veteran Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin, now with Kansas City.

The difference between now and last season for Carolina is that it has options. Starting nickel back Bene' Benwikere, who would have covered Matthews in the slot, was in Charlotte nursing an ankle injury last season.

Benwikere is healthy and coming off what he called his best overall game in Sunday’s 27-23 victory in Seattle.

The Panthers also have the option of putting cornerback Josh Norman on Matthews. Norman has been asked to shadow the opposing team’s top receiver much of the season. He’s moved inside a few times to do that.

Though Norman insists moving inside wouldn’t be a big deal, that might not be necessary. Matthews played outside for much of Monday night’s win against the New York Giants because of injuries, and likely will be there a lot against the Panthers.

Regardless, the Panthers are better equipped to handle the 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver, who leads Philadelphia with 36 catches for 384 yards.

They’re better equipped period with Benwikere, who last week played nickel and every-down corner.

"Bene, he’s big for us," Norman said. "Whenever we can get a guy like that in the nickel position and being that scatty guy, being that quick release, quick hips, moving around and being able to get on top of the ball ... when you have a guy like that playing against Jordan Matthews in the slot, that’s awesome."

Benwikere (6-0, 195) isn’t worried about Matthews’ height advantage. Playing in the NFC South, where he’s already faced several 6-5 receivers such as Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, makes this matchup seem routine.

“I’m confident," he said. "I’m always confident."

Benwikere and Colin Jones have gotten most of the reps at nickel cornerback in practice. Benwikere said the coaches are trying not to overthink things because of matchups.

But if asked to play inside on Matthews, Norman is ready. He should be. He leads the NFL in interceptions with four, two returned for touchdowns. He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for September and the NFC Defensive Player of the Week the first week of October.

Seattle only threw to his side twice last week, and both were screens that went for negative yards.

"I don’t think my confidence level is going to be any lower than what it is on the outside," Norman said. "It’s just different parts of the field. I pretty much can play at any part of it. I’m fortunate enough to be able do that, because most can’t."