This showdown between two non-division rivals sets up one of the most anticipated quarterback matchups of the NFL season: Panthers quarterback Cam Newton squaring off against Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Both teams are pitted with must win scenarios headed into Sunday. Despite an exciting matchup between two dynamic passers, the Panthers and Redskins are living in the cellars of their respective divisions.
If history tells us anything about this game, it should indicate that it will be a close one. Four out of the previous five matchups between these two clubs have been decided by four points or less. It wasn’t until last season when the Panthers broke the close scoring trend, topping the Redskins 33-20.
The Panthers are clearly the more desperate cellar dweller in this matchup. They simply need a win in order to stop the bleeding, especially after the gut-wrenching loss they endured on the road against the Chicago Bears in week eight.
However, the Redskins are coming off back-to-back crushing defeats of their own, fueling the fire with interest as to how these two teams will respond when they face off this Sunday.
For the Panthers, the keys to victory in this one will be difficult to achieve. First, they must put week eight’s loss behind them. Easier said than done, but Carolina played one of their better games of the season against the Bears, even though they fell short.
Carolina’s offense finally looked different last Sunday, so going forward, they must build on their successes. Week eight wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a few steps in the right direction. The glaring difficulty, however, will be if Newton and the rest of the offense can put last weekend’s loss behind them. Newton has actually performed well at times in the past following a close loss, so expect him to come out firing this Sunday.
Defensively, the Panthers will have their hands full with Griffin. Simply getting pressure on the quarterback won’t get it done against Washington, mainly due to Griffin’s playmaking ability outside of the pocket energized by his athletic evasiveness that allows him to slip past hungry defensive linemen.
In fact, when looking at Griffin’s passing numbers, he actually performs well against defensive pressure, but this shouldn’t deter the Panthers from bringing a few pressure packages early and often. Eventually Griffin will be forced to make mistakes in the form of turnovers. At least Carolina better hope Griffin yields a few mistakes to the pressure this Sunday.
The primary goal for a Panthers victory in week nine will be on the other side of the football, though. No doubt the defense will be a major factor, but Carolina’s offense must be working proficiently against the Redskins. Washington currently ranks 30th in the NFL in total defense, giving up an average of 406 yards per game.
This stat should serve as a flashing green light for Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who must keep the running attack simple on Sunday, but also allow Newton to be extra aggressive in the passing game while setting up ways for his quarterback to attack with his legs.
Look for this game to be a high scoring affair with the more on-target quarterback coming out on top. A win for Newton and the Panthers this weekend will silence many of the critics who think Griffin is the overall better player.
Robert Kester, Carolina Panthers Columnist. Contact @robertkester1.