Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) before warmups against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
The Washington Redskins are just hours away from kicking off against the Carolina Panthers. Here are what the Redskins have to focus on doing in order to have a chance to win.
The Washington Redskins are in a great situation on Monday night. They are taking on the Carolina Panthers with a chance to put themselves back into the playoff picture. Thanks to the Dallas Cowboys victory last night, the Redskins can now control their own destiny in the fight for a Wild Card spot. Essentially, if they win out they are guaranteed a spot in the postseason.
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That said, they are going to have to put together a solid performance to take down the Panthers. The disappointing NFC South team is in the midst of a 5-8 season, but they will look to make a statement in prime time. They are better than their record says they are, or so they think.
With that in mind, the Redskins are going to have to focus on the weaknesses of the Panthers in order to take advantage of them in this game. Here is a look at some of the Redskins keys for winning.
Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon (88) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles free safety Rodney McLeod (23) after a reception during the second quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Offense: Attack The Cornerbacks With Veteran Receivers
This should be a no-brainer for the Washington coaching staff. The glaring weakness of the Carolina defense is their lack of proven talent at the cornerback position. They have been starting a couple of rookies out there in James Bradberry and Daryl Worley, and the duo will be tested by the strong receiver group that the Redskins possess.
Veteran receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are going to have favorable matchups as a result of this. Jackson could end up being a major factor if they can isolate him on one of the rookies. He should be able to burn them with his speed, as the Panthers have not really faced a team that has a speed receiver like him. Kirk Cousins needs to look Jackson’s way frequently, and that should not be a problem.
Elsewhere, Garcon could end up leading the team in targets. Garcon has been the most consistent receiver for the Skins this year, and that should continue against Carolina. It helps that Garcon can do virtually anything. He is a great short yardage man, is able to get open over the middle of the field, and can occasionally beat corners with his speed. If he got 100 yards receiving, it would hardly be a surprise.
The Redskins simply need to win these matchups in order to have any chance of winning this contest. This is their biggest advantage in the game, so they desperately need to exploit it.
Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Washington Redskins running back Chris Thompson (25) runs for a touchdown past Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham (55) during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Washington Redskins won 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Offense: Mix Chris Thompson In To Running Game
Across the Carolina defensive line, there is a good amount of talent. They have arguably the best starting tandem at the defensive tackle positions, as Kawann Short and Star Lotuleilei have played very well this season. Their depth at the position is solid as well, and that could cause some problems for Rob Kelley.
The rookie has been great in the starting role this year, but his physical style does not matchup well against the Panthers front. He could be severely slowed, and as a result the Redskins may be forced to work Chris Thompson into the rotation more.
Thompson, a 5-foot-8 receiving back, is likely to have more success than Kelley on Monday night. Because of his diminutive stature, Thompson will be able to get through smaller holes in the Carolina front. He may not be able to break many tackles, but his elusive ability will give him a better chance to run around defenders for five yard gains.
Overall, I think that Thompson and Kelley should end up having closer to a true split of carries on Monday night in order for the team to see success. If they cannot keep the Panthers honest with the run game, they could be rendered one dimensional, which would be a problem.
Dec 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Nelson Agholor (17) makes a reception past Washington Redskins outside linebacker Martrell Spaight (50) during the fourth quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. The Washington Redskins won 27-22. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Defense: Martrell Spaight Must Step Up
The first start of Martrell Spaight’s young NFL career will likely come on Monday night against the Panthers. Spaight is a linebacker that has looked good during the preseason in each of his first two years, but he has not played much during the regular season. Mostly, he has been a backup player and a special teams player. Prior to last week, he only had seven defensive snaps during the season.
That said, Spaight is going to be playing a huge role in Monday’s contest. Spaight is going to be taking over for veteran leader and solid coverage linebacker Will Compton. As a result, he will likely be tasked with calling plays and diagnosing the opposing offense. That could be a lot to ask of the young player who has not done much in the past.
Because of this, Spaight’s play could make a big impact on the end result. If he plays well in run support and in coverage, then the team will be able to seriously slow down the Carolina offense. However, if Spaight struggles, the Redskins do not have enough depth at linebacker to do much about it. They really need to get a good performance from Spaight. Otherwise, the middle of their defense could be a serious weakness for Greg Olsen and Jonathan Stewart to exploit.
Dec 4, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman (24) reacts in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Redskins 31-23. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Defense: Secondary Must Lock Down Receivers
Josh Norman is going to be a very strong player for the Redskins tonight. He is going up against his former team with who he had a messy split. That said, the team will need somebody else in the secondary to step up and help lock down the other guys.
With Greg Olsen likely to pose a big threat to the linebackers, the Redskins need to make sure that they can give safety help to them. Because of this, Bashaud Breeland, Kendall Fuller, and Quinton Dunbar are going to have to function as lockdown corners. The trio have been having some serious trouble in recent weeks, so it remains to be seen who will be the No. 2 option. It seems likely to be Breeland, but Dunbar and Fuller may end up splitting time at the nickel position.
Regardless, the No. 2 guy will have to face off against Ted Ginn Jr. and his blazing speed. If they cannot cover him, then he could put together a strong performance and give the Panthers a couple of big gains. The Redskins cannot afford to let this happen, especially given how weak their run defense is projected to be.
Essentially, defensive coordinator Joe Barry has to figure out the right way to matchup against the Panthers receiving corps. If he cannot, then this game could turn into a shootout.
Nov 24, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden before the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys defeat the Redskins 31-26. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Coaching Staff: Stay Motivated And Win
This is a blatantly obvious goal, but this applies heavily in this scenario. The Redskins have a strong coaching staff, and Jay Gruden has done a good job of motivating his team this season. That said, they should be highly motivated to come out and try to win the game. There is a lot riding on the game, and everyone in the building knows it.
There should be no chance for the Redskins to come out flat. We have seen that happen to contenders in trap games in the past, but this contest simply means too much at this point. Gruden and company have so many tools to utilize for motivation. The playoff race. Helping Josh Norman get revenge. Knocking off the recent NFC Champion. The list goes on.
The real test for the Redskins coaches will be what happens if they end up down at any point in the contest. They need to show resilience, or their season is as good as ever. Again, there are so many sources of motivation that the coaches have, that the team should never lack energy. If they do lack energy, then it would be obvious that something was wrong with the team.