The Redskins and the Panthers square off this Sunday, in Carolina, at 1:00pm. Both teams are coming off tough divisional losses, yet even though the Redskins are 3-3 and the Panthers are 1-5, Carolina is actually favored to win this game (two point favorites, as of this post).
Let’s take a look at both of these teams, as well as this match-up overall, by the numbers:
One: The jersey number of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Despite a ton of scrutiny and skepticism, Newton has been extremely impressive to date, even if though his Panthers team only has one win to show for it.
Just take a look at some of these stats. Newton currently ranks:
– 4th in the NFL in passing yards
– 4th in the NFL in passing attempts
– 8th in the NFL in yards per attempt
– 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards by QB
– 2nd in the NFL in rushing touchdowns overall, with six (in contrast, the Redskins running backs have three total rushing touchdowns).
I’d say that’s not too shabby, especially for a guy for a guy who only had one season of experience as a starting quarterback at the Division One level in college.
Two: Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, once considered one of the most dangerous receivers in the game, went two straight seasons failing to break the 1,000 yards receiving mark – after previously hitting this mark for five straight seasons with 1k receiving – as a result of Panthers futility at QB for the past couple of seasons.
But with Newton at the helm of the Panthers offense, their coaching staff has used Smith to stretch the field and attack opposing defenses vertically, and the numbers show for it. He’s currently 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards, and has the 2nd highest yards per catch of any player. In addition, he leads the NFL in receptions of 20 yards or more (14), is third among all wide receivers in yards after the catch (YAC), and is the 5th most targeted player in the NFL in passing attempts.
The Redskins’ secondary, which currently ranks second in fewest touchdown receptions allowed, will have their hands full with Smith. Newton has the arm to throw the ball to almost anywhere on the field that he desires, and the Redskins cornerbacks have a little bit of a propensity to jump routes while trying for interceptions, sometimes resulting in them getting beat on double moves by speedier receivers.
5th most target WR in the NFL, 2nd in receiving yards in NFL, and 2nd highest yards per catch. 14 completions going 20+ yards, most in the NFL
Three: The Panthers have lead their opponents in the 4th quarter in each of their last three games, only to end up blowing the lead and losing the game.
The Redskins cannot make this the week when the Panthers learn how to finish off the opposing team. The Redskins confidence is already a bit shaken, having lost two of their past three games, and having made the switch at quarterback to a guy whose jersey number was #3 at the start of training camp, and hasn’t taken a regular season snap in any of the past 3 seasons.
Four: As in four points and four games. These seem to be re-occurring themes when the Redskins and Panthers square off against each other. The Redskins are 7-2 against the Panthers overall, but of the nine times these two teams have played each other:
– Eight of the nine games were decided by four points or less
– The final score was 20-17 in four of the nine games
Credit to Charlotte Observer columnist Scott Fowler for this information.
Five: Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson is easily the team’s most dangerous pass rushing threat, and leads the team with five sacks in 2011. The fifth-year pro has recorded a sack in five of the six games the Panthers have played this season.
While Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan commented how the Panthers will move Johnson all over the defensive line, to take advantage of matchups and create confusion, Johnson usually lines up on the right side of the Panthers defensive line.
That means he’ll be lining up right over left tackle Sean Locklear, who’ll start at left tackle for the Redskins, since Trent Williams will be out for a handful of weeks, as a result of the high ankle sprain he suffered in last week’s loss against Philadelphia.
Six: Speaking of injuries and replacements on the Redskins offensive line: Center Erik Cook – who stands 6-foot-6, making him the tallest Center in the league – makes his first start at Center this week.
Cook was actually nursing an injury of his own last week, and almost didn’t even suit up for the Eagles game last week. Instead, after left guard Kory Lichtensteiger went down, Cook came in and played extensively, as Will Montgomery moved to left guard.
Cook’s height actually puts him at a slight disadvantage against opposing defensive lineman, as they often try to get “under” offensive linemen, to create leverage and push. So, this will be another battle worth keeping an eye on as well.
Seven: In case you were living under a rock for the past week, and completely missed the news: it only took the Redskins until week seven to end the Rex Grossman era, and begin the John Beck era.
As the RedskinsGab staff has discussed over the past couple of days: it was time. Rex got this team to a 3-2 record by the middle of October, but it was clear that he peaked early (namely, the first game of the season) and has been regressing ever since.
How John Beck will fare, we have no idea. There’s virtually no precedent for something like this – at least not in my lifetime – where a quarterback bounces across the league, is traded and released multiple times, spends a handful of seasons either holding the clipboard or running the practice squad, is acquired by another team in a completely nondescript training camp trade, and then is anointed the starting quarterback just one season later, days after his 30th birthday.
But we’ll get our first clues on Sunday afternoon.
Eight: The Panthers have started eight different linebackers this year due to injury, one of the key reasons reasons the Panthers allow the fourth most points per game to opposing offenses (27.2)
Two of their three opening day starting linebackers (Jon Beason and Thomas Davis) have already suffered season-ending injuries; outside linebacker James Anderson is the only guy who’s started every game for the Panthers at linebacker.
Beason was one of the better linebackers in the game, and both he and Davis brought a lot speed and play-making to the Panthers defense. While they’ve tried to replace both with a handful of guys, the inexperience and lack of overall play-making abilities has really hindered this defense.
Nine: The amount of sacks the Panthers defense has accumulated this season, putting them at 25th in the league. Next to Charles Johnson, they start a pair of rookies at defensive tackle: Sione Fua and Terrell McClain, who were both members of the Panthers’ 2011 draft class, along with Newton (both were taken in the 3rd round).
As mentioned: the banged-up Redskins offensive line – featuring two new starters and one guy who’s switched positions – versus a young and struggling (but talented) defensive line of Carolina will probably be one of the biggest subplots of this game.
While Beck’s mobility is one thing the coaching staff is really looking forward to utilizing in weeks to come, the offensive line simply has to give Beck time to throw the ball, so he can build some confidence and develop a rhythm within this offense.
Ten: I honestly couldn’t come up with any factually relevant that cleverly entailed the number 10, so i’m just going to talk about whatever I want for this one: namely, the Redskins rushing attack.
Week after week, you hear the same things from Redskins fans: they need to run the football more. And they very well have a point; the Redskins are in the bottom half of the NFL in both overall rushing attempts and rushing yards per game.
Still, at times, it was easier said than done. Last week, it was blatant that the Eagles designed their entire defensive game plan around stopping the Redskins from running the football, and forcing Rex Grossman to win the game for them; and, it worked like a charm.
The Redskins running game was dreadful last week; the running backs finished with 28 yards on 12 carries; John Beck was the team’s second leading rusher in the game, with 14 yards on two carries. Neither Ryan Torain or Roy Helu had a run that went longer than six yards. If Beck struggles, teams are going to do the same thing to the Redskins week-after-week, especially given the injuries that they’re now dealing with on the offensive line.
So let’s see what happens this week, with Beck making his first start of the season. The Redskins theoretically will be leaning on their run game, to make life easier for Beck. The Panthers rank 31st against the run, and have allowed the most rushing TD’s, 20 yard runs, and 40 yard runs in the NFL.
Eleven: Newton has thrown nine interceptions tand fumbled the ball twice this season, putting him at second in the NFL in most turnovers by a quarterback (only behind Michael Vick), and tied for the NFL lead in interceptions thrown with a certain guy you might have heard mentioned on the radio or TV this week (Grossman).
Newton threw three interceptions in the Panthers’ loss to the Falcons last week, and the numbers say that, after his torrid start to this season, he’s slowing down a bit.
Take a look at this breakdown from ESPN.com’s NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas:
In the first four games of the season, Newton completed 59.5 percent of his passes, averaged 346.5 passing yards with five touchdowns and five interceptions and compiled an 84.5 NFL passer rating.
In the past two games, Newton has completed 56.1 percent of his passes, averaged 230.5 passing yards per game with two touchdowns and four interceptions while compiling a 62.8 NFL passer rating.
The Redskins have lost the turnover battle in two of their past three games (they’re -3 in turnover ratio in that span), so the 1-2 record over that same time frame shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.
Let’s hope they do a better job of protecting the football, especially with Grossman gone, and hope that Newton gives them a gift or two to boot.
Twelve: More about Beck, he of jersey #12.
As you watched the Redskins offense to date, it became obvious that Grossman had nothing in the form of arm strength. He routinely underthrew passes where his receivers were running open down the field, and there’s at least a couple of instances where a Redskins receiver would have easily scored a touchdown had Rex put the ball in front of him, instead of forcing the receiver to break off his route and wait or go back for an underthrown ball.
In the preseason, and in limited snaps vs. Philadelphia, the coaches showed they’re more apt to uncork a few long passes with Beck. The real question, however, is whether they actually reach the target or not; he’s been known the throw a few “wounded ducks” himself.
However, it can’t be much worse than Grossman, as teams routinely bunched their defenses closer to the line of scrimmage, knowing he had no capability of beating them deep.
Between Beck’s arm strength and mobility, look for the Shanahan’s to use more of the play-action bootlegs this week, hopefiully to get Beck outside the pocket and attack the Panthers defense vertically.
The Panthers defense has been known to give up big plays in the passing game this season, as they’ve allowed 13.3 yards per completion, and are dead last in the NFL in yards per passing attempt by opposing teams.