After winning their second game of the season last week against the scuffling Lions, the Redskins will face another struggling team on Sunday. This time, it’s the Carolina Panthers, who have lost four of their last five and seem to miss former MVP Cam Newton, who has been out since the season’s second week with a foot injury.
Though the Panthers have been reeling since late October, their strong running game and excellent pass defense make them a bad matchup for Washington, which is trying to get rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins some positive momentum and earn consecutive wins for the first time since last October. Here are five keys for the Redskins in Sunday’s game in Charlotte.
Protect Dwayne Haskins
Washington’s offensive line has had trouble handling strong pass rushes but Haskins is getting better at detecting pressure and avoiding it. Last week, he was only sacked three times — he had been sacked 10 times in the previous two games — and had three scrambles for 28 yards. The Panthers’ pass rush is formidable; former Redskins practice squad player Mario Addison has eight sacks and five other players have at least four.
The Redskins are going to have to give Haskins time to find his receivers. If not, it could be a long afternoon, with the rookie making hurried throws while trying to elude pass rushers.
Run Adrian Peterson
The Redskins never established their top run threat against the Lions, and it showed. The running game was nonexistent, producing just 86 yards, with Peterson receiving just 10 carries. Washington must find ways to get Peterson going early, especially with Carolina so adept at stopping the pass. The Panthers have allowed more rushing touchdowns than any team in the league and are 27th overall against the run.
Even as Washington slowly works second-year man Derrius Guice back onto the field, it needs to keep giving the ball to Peterson, who might remain the team’s best weapon as Haskins continues to develop.
Play the young cornerbacks
The Redskins finally committed to a revamped secondary featuring Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau and Jimmy Moreland against Detroit. The trio worked well together, albeit against an often-overmatched Lions quarterback Jeff Driskel. But the move showed enticing potential for this young group; Dunbar and Moreau on the outside and Moreland, playing in the slot, were effective against an impressive fleet of Detroit receivers.
Carolina will run first and throw second behind erratic quarterback Kyle Allen. But continued strong play from the young secondary could make the Panthers more one-dimensional than they have been this season.
Stop Christian McCaffrey
Good luck with that. The Panthers’ versatile running back has six 100-yard rushing games this season and leads the NFL with 1,123 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. He also has 68 catches for 586 yards and four more touchdowns, and leads the NFL in total touchdowns, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. Despite having a strong defensive line, the Redskins have not done a good job of stopping the run. If McCaffrey gets going early, it could be a long and frustrating day for Washington’s defense.
Take advantage of scoring chances
Last week, the Redskins were able to put together two late-game drives that yielded game-tying and game-winning field goals. But they continue to miss opportunities to score the touchdowns that could break open games. Not having their top two tight ends has hampered their effectiveness in the red zone, while their inability to run close to the goal line and some poor throws from Haskins have cost Washington multiple scoring chances.
Still, the potential plays are there. Haskins has to make the right throws, the line has to block better and the Redskins need to get a better surge when they move into scoring position. Their points against the Lions came on four field goals and a kickoff return for a touchdown. They will not win on Sunday if the offense doesn’t get in the end zone.