Washington Redskins vs. Carolina Panthers: Full Washington Game Preview

Marcel Davis@@Mar_CelDavis24Correspondent INovember 18, 2015

Washington Redskins vs. Carolina Panthers: Full Washington Game Preview

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    Can Washington take down the undefeated Panthers?
    Can Washington take down the undefeated Panthers?Larry French/Getty Images

    To the detriment of the New Orleans Saints, the Washington Redskins exorcised some demons in their 47-14 win in Week 10.

    Following a four-game stretch where Washington rushed for 172 yards, it tallied 225 yards on the ground. Lacking punch much of the season, the Redskins also produced nine plays of 20 yards or more.

    In the process, the team registered a fourth consecutive win at home.

    Now for the hard part. The Redskins are winless on the road and against teams over the .500 mark in 2015. These shortcomings make their trip to play the undefeated Carolina Panthers all the more daunting.

    Will this trend continue?

    Let's find out. Here is the Week 11 preview for Washington.

     

    Location: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

    Time: 1 p.m. ET on Sunday

    TV: Fox

Week 10 Results and Recap

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    Washington walked away with its most impressive win of the year in Week 10.
    Washington walked away with its most impressive win of the year in Week 10.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

    NFC East Standings

    New York Giants (5-5)

    Washington Redskins (4-5)

    Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)

    Dallas Cowboys (2-7)

     

    In a must-win situation, the Skins had their most dominant performance of the year in a 47-14 win over the Saints. 

    Kirk Cousins' four-touchdown outing highlighted the team's offensive explosion. Washington posted 525 total yards.

    After a shaky start, the team's defense also answered the bell. Behind two forced turnovers—in addition to forcing a turnover on downs—the Skins were able to shut out the Saints in the second half.

    And as luck would have it, Washington's victory was the only thing that kept the NFC East from getting shut out in the win column Week 10.

    As a result, the Skins are tied in the loss column with both the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. With four division contests remaining, Washington has control of its NFC East fate.

    But that's only if it first handles its business outside the division, starting in Carolina.

News and Notes

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    An injured toe has Hall making the transition from corner to safety.
    An injured toe has Hall making the transition from corner to safety.Al Pereira/Getty Images

    Old Dog, New Tricks

    Against the Saints, DeAngelo Hall returned to the lineup after a five-game absence. It wasn't in the starting lineup or at cornerback, though.

    Conceding his starting job over to Bashaud Breeland, Hall moved over to safety. And as head coach Jay Gruden hinted at, per ESPN's John Keim, the transition could become a permanent one:

    We wanted to find a spot for D-Hall, because he’s a big leader for this football team and a heck of a player, so we put him out there -- as he’s recovering -- at safety on scout team and he did some good things.

    It’s a transition that I think he can make. How much of it moving forward, we’ll determine that later.

    Hall's learning curve will factor into how much time he sees at the position going forward. But given the uneven play the team's received from Jeron Johnson and Trenton Robinson opposite Dashon Goldson, the possibility exists for him to emerge as an upgrade in the stretch run for the postseason.

     

    Search for Consistency Continues

    One week, they're giant-killers; the next, they're falling to league bottom feeders. Such has been the life of the Redskins under Gruden. 

    When Washington arrives in Carolina, it will be seeking to win consecutive games for just the second time in the Gruden era. If you recall, consecutive wins over the Tennessee Titans and Dallas Cowboys was the other occurrence in 2014.

    The team's lack of consistency precedes even his hire, though. The Skins failed to accomplish this feat at all in 2013, leading to the firing of Mike Shanahan.

    Following its win against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 4, Washington showed signs of improvement on this front, only to crumble late to the Atlanta Falcons. Hampered by sloppy play (drops), the team regressed back to the mean versus the New England Patriots following its next win. 

    It'll be tough for the Skins to get over this hump with Carolina on the docket in Week 10. Nonetheless, if its playoff aspirations are to be realized, the team will have to string consecutive wins together at some point.

Injury Report

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    Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

    LB Keenan Robinson

    Limited by a shoulder injury, Keenan Robinson was held out the lineup versus the Saints. In his absence, Will Compton starred.

    Compton had eight tackles and one pass defensed and, per CSN's Tarik El-Bashir, led all defenders in snaps with 55. In other words, Robinson or no Robinson, Compton's not going anywhere.

    This makes it an either-or situation at linebacker between Robinson and Perry Riley. Each has his respective strengths—Robinson in coverage and Riley defending the run. Knowing Carolina's offense centers around the run and Greg Olsen in the passing game, it'd be to Washington's benefit to have both at its disposal. That's assuming, of course, Robinson's shoulder injury won't hinder his ability to make tackles.

    Looking at the team's health outlook overall, the Skins are finally getting out of the red.

    The season-ending injuries along the offensive line can't be undone. But given the bounty of high draft picks it's spent on this position group over the years, Washington isn't lacking in the talent department when it comes to its reserves.

    The defense was another story, where a converted receiver, Quinton Dunbar, was forced into action in the secondary. Close to full strength on this side of the ball, the Skins now have the depth and subsequent versatility to improve the NFL's No. 21 defense.

Key Matchups

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    To pull off the upset, the Redskins have to limit the number of times Newton and Olsen connect.
    To pull off the upset, the Redskins have to limit the number of times Newton and Olsen connect.Associated Press

    Washington Front Seven vs. Carolina Rushing Attack

    On paper, this matchup screams mismatch. The Redskins sport the NFC's worst run defense, at 135.3 yards per game. Carolina, on the other hand, is No. 3 in the league in yards per game (139.7) and No. 1 in attempts.

    Although the defense rose up against the Saints, Washington still surrendered 158 yards on the ground, with Mark Ingram's 70-yard run highlighting the team's deficiencies in tackling, gap control and pursuit. 

    The defense did rally and hold New Orleans to 3.7 yards per carry after its failures on the opening drive. But to keep the Panthers offense at bay, the team can't afford to have any lapses defending the run.

     

    Redskins Secondary vs. TE Greg Olsen

    Olsen alone can carry Carolina's passing game—just ask the Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom. Seeing what other weapons Cam Newton has at his disposal, he almost has to.

    Ted Ginn Jr. is the only other Panther with more than 17 receptions. And as he's demonstrated countless times, catching the football isn't exactly his strong suit.

    Knowing this, Olsen has to be the focal point of defensive coordinator Joe Barry's game plan. Having recently held Rob Gronkowski down in Week 9, Barry has a good template to formulate such a plan.

    Gronkowski posted four receptions for a season-low 47 yards against Washington, with Barry's use of bracket coverage—not to mention, the team's porous run defense—a primary reason why. The Skins paid for this strategy with Tom Brady exploiting the one-on-one matchups Gronk's mere presence created. 

    Given Newton's accuracy woes (56.3 percent) and meager cast at receiver, Washington can implement a similar strategy and not suffer the same consequences.

Matchup X-Factor

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    Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

    Washington X-Factor: Redskins Running Backs

    Give Cousins his due. He had a career day against the Saints.

    It really was a performance he should cherish. The reason is, save Rob Ryan getting another defensive coordinator job and another NFL team constructing a defense to rival New Orleans', he'll be hard-pressed to fall into a better matchup.

    Big plays have been absent from the passing game all season in D.C. Having averaged a career-low 3.3 air yards per attempt, according to ESPN's John Keim, Cousins did little to change this outlook against the Saints outside of his 42-yard connection with DeSean Jackson.

    And yet, at game's end, the offense had five gains through the air of 20-plus yards. Receiving significant aid from the Saints' poor tackling defense, Washington accumulated 260 of Cousins' 324 yards after the catch, per Neil Dalal of District Sports Page

    That's not happening in Carolina. The Panthers surrender an NFL-low 6.0 yards per attempt. A sure-tackling team, they're also No. 7 in the league in yards after catch allowed per game (109.7), according to Sporting Charts.

    With that said, the Redskins' success hinges on their running game. Despite its talent up front with the likes of Luke Kuechly and Star Lotulelei, Carolina is only 14th in the league in rushing defense.

    Washington doesn't have to duplicate its showing against the Saints on the ground. But if it's to pull off the upset, Cousins alone can't shoulder the offensive load.

Prediction: Panthers 23, Redskins 22

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    Ultimately, Washington will come up short of a valiant upset.
    Ultimately, Washington will come up short of a valiant upset.Larry French/Getty Images

    The day is off, but the Cincinnati Bengals' Monday night loss to the Houston Texans is a prime example of the NFL's "any given Sunday" mantra.

    How is this relevant?

    Well, with a national showcase on Thanksgiving awaiting the Panthers, this contest has all the makings of a trap game.

    Washington's porous run defense doesn't make it a team you'd peg to beat the undefeated Panthers. But should they overlook the Redskins or lack focus, the door will be open for an upset.

    On countless occasions—think the Green Bay Packers or Indianapolis Colts game—Carolina has been brought to the brink of defeat because of such a mindset. 

    In Week 11, this will again be the case. The Skins will regress to the mean on the offensive side of the ball (22.8 points per game). But because of their defense and sloppy play from their opponent, they will hold a late lead in this contest. 

    Washington will extend its streak to seven games with a turnover. Ultimately, though, it'll also extend its losing streak on the road to nine games.

    Behind MVP candidate Newton, the Panthers' record will remain unblemished, with a late field goal from Graham Gano providing the winning margin.

     

    Injury statuses courtesy of CBSSports.com.