Game Day Preview: Panthers
On Sunday, for the first time in four years, John Beck will start an NFL game at quarterback. In the midst of the Washington Redskins critical heart-breaking 20-13 loss to NFC East rivals the Philadelphia Eagles, Coach Mike Shanahan called on Beck to supplant a floundering Rex Grossman after his fourth interception of the afternoon. Beck couldn't lead the Redskins to victory, but he did drive the length of the field for the offense's only touchdown of the day, and obviously he did enough to earn this week's start in the eyes of the coach.
The Panthers come into the game with a much different quarterback situation. Cam Newton has been spectacular at times in his young career, and the rookie currently sits fourth overall in the NFL in passing yards, and is the only quarterback in NFL history to have at least 6 rushing and 6 throwing touchdowns in his first 6 career games. Carolina has average a 6th best 428.7 total yards of offense; but still, Newton has also turned the ball over nine times, and his team sits at 1-5 in the NFC South. See the match-ups for more head-to-head information on Newton.
One look at the fact that the Panthers' defense ranks 31st against the run at 140.3 yards per game, would seem to indicate a probable point of attack for the Redskins offense. When you add the fact that Washington have a new quarterback coming in, with ostensibly no NFL experience, and that their offensive line will be patched together, the Redskins have to run all day don't they? That will obviously depend on Kyle Shanahan, who hasn't shown much propensity to stick with the run from a play-calling stand-point (see match-ups below).
Beck will be looking to make his bold preseason predictions of greatness come to life. Though he hasn't really played much meaningful NFL football, not in the recent past anyway, he certainly didn't look intimidated last week in his limited action. This week he will be aided by the extra work at practice, and hopefully a running game to help him out in the passing game, and he could surprise a lot of people. He has amazing composure for a man of his limited NFL pedigree, and if he can bring that swagger together with some quarterback skills, he could be just what the doctor ordered for the Washington Redskins. The Panthers will likely try to pressure him early to force a mistake, and they will likely sneak an eighth man into the box to try and limit the Redskins ability to run.
Whatever the Panthers do defensively to try and stop the run, Washington has to find a way to make it work. The three-headed monster of Ryan Torain, Tim Hightower and Roy Helu couldn't even come up with 50 yards against the Eagles, albeit, largely due to completely abandoning the run in the second half. Against Philadelphia, Torain 'led' the way with 22 yards on 10 carries, but he will need a lot more carries, and a lot more yardage if Washington is going to be successful offensively this week. the Redskins have to STICK with the run no matter what happens, and wear down the Panthers defense. Carolina have squandered leads in the fourth quarter, in three of their five losses this season.
Regardless of whether the Redskins' offensive plan lies on the shoulders of Beck, or one of the running backs, they're going to have to do it behind a re-worked, suddenly much less experienced, offensive line. Washington can't replace left tackle Trent Williams, but they're going to have to try to with Sean Locklear for a couple of weeks, as Williams' high ankle sprain will keep him sidelined for at least that. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger's replacement will be a little more permanent, as Lichtensteiger is out for the season with torn knee ligaments, and was put on IR this week. Replacing the guard isn't as simple either, as center Will Montgomery moves over to guard, and Erik Cook comes in at center. That's a downgrade at three positions, including Beck's blind-side protector, and Washington will need to get the offensive live plenty of blocking help against a Panthers' defense that will undoubtedly be looking for ways to exploit a glaring hole.
On defense, Washington will obviously be keying on quarterback Newton (see match-ups). Washington will have to be effective against the Panthers' running attack, and pigeon hole them into passing - that's when Newton has been prone to mistakes. Two of his three picks last week came in the fourth quarter when the Panthers were playing from behind. The Panthers' Jonathan Stewart (48), DeAngelo Williams (44), and Newton (50) combined for 142 yards rushing against the Falcons, and they will be very aware of the fact that the Redskin defense allowed 192 rushing yards against an Eagles running game last week. So Washington has to stuff the run and force Newton to beat them with his arm. To stifle the Panthers passing game, the Redskins will also be counting on DeAngelo Hall to shut down receiver Steve Smith (see match-ups below).
With the Redskins' offensive line issues, and change at quarterback, this game is likely to be a war of attrition. Washington isn't likely to put up 35 points this week, so they will be counting on slugging it out and being patient with their game plan. Special teams will play an integral role in this week's outcome (see match-ups below), as field position could become very important.
Despite the sizable doom and gloom around D.C. this week, the Redskins are still only a half-game back of the New York Giants in the division race. A win against the Panthers would put them at a very respectable 4-2, and equal the win total that many 'experts' predicted for them this year, just six games into the schedule. A win against the Panthers won't come easy, but it's a game that the Redskins have to win to keep the talk of this Redskins season, on this season, and not the season to come.
Here are this week's key player match-ups:
Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall vs Panthers WR Steve Smith
By Grant Paulsen
Hall and Smith are both ultra-competitive, immensely successful, and proficient at talking trash. It shouldn't surprise you, then, that when pitted against one-another for four quarters, fireworks often ensue. I expect the two star play-makers to do a lot of talking after the play on Sunday. The battle between the two players reached it's apex in a 2007 game, when Hall was on the Falcons and playing Smith twice a season. Hall was penalized three times for 67 yards on one drive, with Smith clearly in his head. But Hall had played the Carolina receiver immensely well throughout that game. The point, however, is that they have a history.
Smith's been revitalized this season, benefiting greatly from the development of Cam Newton. He's already made 32 catches (compared to the 46 receptions he posted in the entire 2010 season). His 675 receiving yards is the second highest total in the league. He's a couple more 100 yard games away from having his best yardage output in since 2008. But Hall makes plenty of plays as well. He was the most valuable Redskin in two of the team's six wins last season, helping to beat the Chicago Bears with four interceptions and providing the winning points against the Dallas Cowboys in a game when Washington's offense didn't score a touchdown. He intercepted his first pass of the season last week and could have another chance at a couple of game-changing plays with Cam Newton slinging the rock this weekend. No NFL quarterback has thrown more picks than Newton, who Hall might be able to bait Newton into throwing Smith a pass that he shouldn't.
Kyle Shanahan vs Panthers Defense
By Andre Mitchell
This matchup will be scrutinized by Redskins fans with the recent switch at the QB position. Kyle Shanahan has been the subject of criticism from Redskins fans the past few weeks with his play-calling. The Redskins have been held under 20 points in each of the last 3 games but this figures to be a game that the offense can get back on track as the Panthers are allowing over 27 points a game.
But it may not be as easy as it sounds; the Panthers defensive coordinator is Sean McDermott, former Philadelphia Eagles D-Coordinator who has some familiarity against this Redskins offense. Common sense would tell you that the Redskins should run the ball and run A LOT. The Panthers have the worst ranked run defense in the league, couple that with the QB switch to Beck, running the ball will take pressure off Beck to come in and be a savior with a beat up o-line. Expect McDermott to give the Redskins different looks on defense as he had the team line up in a 3-4 set for a few plays against the Falcons last week.
The Redskins should run the ball to counter those looks because the Panthers don’t have many guys suited for a 3-4. The Falcons had a big run against the Panthers on one of those plays because a player wasn’t in the right gap. Look for Kyle to try and successfully get a run game going against the league’s worst run D, while John Beck gets settled in for his first start since 2007.
Panthers QB Cam Newton vs. Washington Redskins linebackers
By Emmanual Benton
The Carolina Panthers have tailored an offense for their 2011 1st overall draft pick, Cameron Newton, that's given him an opportunity to exceed expectations. In the first four games this season, Newton averaged 346.5 passing yards, completing 59.5 percent of his passes, with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Which are all remarkable stats for a rookie quarterback. However, as of late, Cam has completed 56.1 percent of his passes with an average of 230.5 passing yards per game, two touchdowns and four interceptions. The drop off in those stats are not totally because of Cam, per se, but due to defenses beginning to respect his game by giving deceptive coverage "looks."
The key to containing Cam Newton is, pre snap linebacking looks . Before the snap, show blitz, then sporadically drop linebackers into coverage. Force Cam to make pre snap reads, and beat you mentally, not physically. Newton has completed 46.9 percent of his passes when under duress or hit while throwing, which ranks fifth in the league. That stat tells me, Cam uses every bit of his 6ft 5, 248 lb frame and athleticism to create opportunities through the air.
The Washington Redskins are ranked 6th in total defense, according to NFL.com. The linebacker corp has played a major part in that, and will continue to, matched up against Cam. This group arguably contains the league's best OLB duo with, Brain Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. Both players must keep Newton in the pocket and force him to dissect coverages. Newton tends to dump the ball to "hot routes" quickly when he's confused, which often can become opportunities for turnovers; especially, when he's not expecting linebackers to drop in coverage. MLB's, London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh will have to do this often. Their awareness and timing will be the key to containing Cam Newton.
Redskins DL vs Carolina OL
By Justin Partlow
In this weeks matchup between the Panthers and Redskins, the Redskins need a big time showing from the defensive line to limit the Carolina running attack and specifically Cam Newton.
Lets get straight to the matchup, Washington boasts a much-improved DL that is allowing the LB’s to make plays this year instead of having to fight off multiple blocks. That changed D is led by Barry Cofield in the middle and Stephen Bowen at the DE position. Adam Carriker has been solid this year again at the other DE position and overall the unit has been able to make plays and even provide a consistent pass rush threat.
Carolina on the other hand was a solid unit again until they lost Jeff Otah to IR for the 3rd time in 4 years. Otah was a very good RT and when healthy, him and Jordan Gross provided a nice bookend group for Cam Newton. Carolina now has to rely on a new unproven RT in Byron Bell who will have a tough test not only against the DL but also the LB group, with how Jim Haslett likes to develop blitzes.
The key to this matchup is simple, can Washington’s DL provide a consistent pass rush to prevent Newton from sitting back in the pocket, and can the Redskins contain Newton so he doesn’t have the ability to just take off and run at his will. For Carolina, its simple - can they not allow the absence of Otah affect their game plan too much to the point they become predictable. If they can get a steady run game going, then things will open up for Newton in the passing game.
This certainly is one of those games that will tell a lot about the Washington Redskins moving forward in 2011 and into 2012.
Redskins Special Teams vs Panthers Special Teams
By Kevin Ewoldt
Let's be real here. No matter who the Redskins QB is this week, the Shanahans are not going to be blowing any teams out. That's why it is imperative the Redskins take advantage of their special teams this week. The Panthers rank 5th worst in average return yards at 21.5 while the Redskins are up there at 24.3. The Panthers have already given up 1 TD on kickoffs.
The key advantage is that the Redskins rank 3rd best in the NFL with special teams coverage. Longer fields for our opponents = more room for error with our defense (and they'll certainly need it with the Redskins Oline reshuffling).
Punting - Carolina has the 2nd worst punting unit in the NFL averaging 40.1 yards per kick. Their punt coverage is an NFL worst allowing a colossal 24.3 yards PER PUNT RETURN. To put that into perspective, the Redskins are only allowing 6.8 yards per punt return. It's simple, Brandon Banks needs to put us in FG range at least three times to help out our offense. The saying "Special teams wins games" has never been truer this week.
Kevin Ewoldt - Hogs Haven
This article was released on 2011-10-21.
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