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Week 6 Keys to Win: Washington Redskins vs Carolina Panthers

The Washington Redskins are 2-2 as they return to FedEx field to challenge the 3-1 Carolina Panthers this week following the 43-19 dismantling by the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. I could go on for hours about all the things that went wrong on Monday night and what it all stems from, but the Redskins need to put it behind them, and focus on the obstacle in front of them. At .500, they still control their own destiny in the wide open NFC East. The Redskins need to approach this game like it is game one of a brand new season. Most teams break the 16 game season up into four quarters (4 games a piece), which would make this quarter number two. This season is a long way from over, and we have seen teams in the past come together after poor starts, but finish strongly. The Redskins’ 2-2 record seems to feel more like 0-4 or 1-3 because of the way the two losses have occurred. This week, Cam Newton and the Panthers come to town fresh off a 33-31 win over the Giants, as they look to keep pace in a tight race in the NFC South. The Redskins with a win will be right back in the driver’s seat in the NFC East with a 3-2 record while the current first place Eagles sit at 3-3.

The Washington Redskins this week face a Carolina Panther defense led by all-pro linebacker Luke Kuechly that has shown some vulnerability all over the field. The Redskins do not have a bunch of big play threats on offense, so play calling and not turning the football over will be crucial in how successful they are moving the football. The Panthers do not have a dominant defense by any stretch of the imagination, but they have some playmakers, and can force you into 3rd and long situations. Third and long has not been kind to the Redskins, so they will need to get tight end Jordan Reed involved in some of the first and second down play calling to put them in more manageable circumstances. Last week against the Saints, Reed finished with just 1 reception for 21 yards, which is completely unacceptable in an offense where he should be featured weekly. Reed should be targeted 10 to 12 times a game MINIMUM with his ability to line up all over the field and cause mismatches everywhere. The Redskins need to find more creative ways to get Reed and running back Chris Thompson the ball in the open-field. Thompson is currently listed as questionable on the injury report, but is expected to play. Quarterback Alex Smith played undoubtedly his worst game as a Redskin on Monday night, and will need to rebound in a big way Sunday against this Carolina team. He needs to somehow figure out a balance of efficiency, accuracy, and aggressiveness. This could be helped out by head coach Jay Gruden and his play calling, which has been everything but dynamic. Gruden looks at times to be calling plays with the “hope” that they will work versus calling them with the “knowledge” that they will work.

The Redskins are beat up at wide receiver, but will need to take some shots downfield if nothing else, to keep the Panther defense honest and guarded. This will help in the run game and play action pass attack. One thing we have not seen much of is Alex Smith running some of those read-option plays he ran so successfully in Kansas City, or him effectively getting outside the pocket and using his legs to make some plays. Gruden has got to call plays that cater to how his personnel can maximize their production versus making them conform to everything he believes “should” work. They need to score out the gate, and find a rhythm on their first drive and continue to build off of that. A 10 or 11 play 75 yard touchdown drive to open the game up would be just what this offense needs to establish a heartbeat early. Per usual, it all starts with Adrian Peterson, and this Redskin offensive line that has been anemic this season. The line at times has looked like it may be one of the better lines in football, but then turn around and have a game like Monday night and appear as if they are regressing. The offense has to find some sort of cohesion, and establish an identity. This has been an ongoing theme; they have not been able to figure out what they want to be or how they are most effective attacking other teams weekly. Good offenses make the defense stop them...bad offenses are constantly trying to figure out how to solve a defense. The Redskins have to figure out a way to dictate to defenses versus problem solving, which may be easier said than done based off this team’s recent history.

The Washington Redskins defense is coming of a, well, piss poor performance to put it lightly versus now all-time leading passer Drew Brees, and a Saints offense that put up 40 points in 3 quarters. Needless to say, this week, this defense needs to ante up and play with some toughness, discipline, and pride. It almost looked as if they didn’t care as a defensive unit last week, and a repeat of that effort this week against the Cam Newton led Panther offense will produce the same result. The mental mistakes and missed tackles are exactly what the Redskin defense could not afford last week, and the narrative is the same for this week. The Panthers offensively aren’t very explosive with Devin Funchess and Torrey Smith at wide receiver, but they are effective. Running back Christian McCafferey provides a threat for Carolina on downs 1-4 to beat you with his receiving out of the backfield, or his running outside or even between the tackles. The Redskin defense will need to account for him on every down and in every situation. They will need to also keep quarterback Cam Newton inside the pocket, not allow him room to run, or the opportunity to use his legs to make plays. They will need to spy him on certain downs especially down and distances where he will have the opportunity to run underneath the coverage for first down yardage. Also returning will be Cam Newton’s favorite target, tight end Greg Olsen, who has been recovering from a foot injury he suffered in week 1 of this season. Greg Olsen should most definitely be game-planned for even though he has not played since week one.

If the defense is able to tackle well, not commit unnecessary penalties, stay disciplined in coverage, and above all, play with some fire and aggression, they will be right there in the fourth quarter with a chance to win this football game. This week would be a great time for the Redskin pass rush to make an appearance, and become a factor in a football game. Outside linebackers Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan continue to be on the field, but are not making impact plays while they are out there. This week, that will all need to change in order for the Redskin defense to maximize their productivity.

Punter Tres Way was everything short of good last week, and didn’t help the team in regards to the field position game as his longest punt only went for 37 yards. The Redskins will need to win the field position game and he could be a vital part in making that happen by penning the Carolina offense back deep in their own territory, making them drive the length of the football field. Place kicker Dustin Hopkins must do what a kicker is supposed to do...make kicks in the field goal game and keep the ball in bounds unless he kicks it out of the endzone in the kickoff game. Coverage teams need to simply keep everything in front of them, stay in their lanes, and gang tackle. The Redskins have done an overall decent job of that all season up to this point, and need to continue to build on it. The return teams continue to be nonexistent, have posed no return threat on the kickoff return team, or the punt return team. The Redskins need to figure out a way to block a kick since they clearly cannot figure out how make the return game relevant.

The Redskins contrary to popular belief are not in a dangerous position right now. Whether they win, or lose this game, they are still in perfectly good position to compete for the NFC East division crown with no divisional games being played as of yet. However, this game is the type of game that can change your fortunes as a team for the remainder of the season. They can either ante up, and say “enough is enough...let’s be who we are capable of becoming and run through this league” or they can chalk the proverbial “L” up and say “you know what, I’m going to play and earn this paycheck, but I don’t really care if we win or lose”. One thing we know is that this city is tired and frustrated...this city is waiting for the Redskins to return to something even just resemblant of the glory years. The front office, coaching staff, and personnel need to get on board, and do everything that needs to be done to ensure that the Redskin franchise begins to move in that direction because currently, it feels like they are submerged in cement and can’t escape mediocrity. The Redskins start that movement this week as they defeat the Carolina Panthers 27-23.

Injury Updates: Troy Apke (out), Sean Lauvao (doubtful), and Jamison Crowder (questionable) all did not practice on Friday; Limited participants included Adrian Peterson, Josh Doctson, Chris Thompson, and Paul Richardson who are all questionable this week. Linebacker Zach Vigil was a full participant in Friday’s practice however is listed as questionable this week.

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