ASHBURN, Va. -- As if the record didn't suggest it already, the statistics back it up: Carolina is pretty good. There's a reason the Panthers are 9-0 and it can be found in the numbers. They're not infallible; they are very good, especially on defense.
Here's a look at the Panthers through the statistics, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Information:
Opposing quarterbacks have a 69.1 passer rating, the lowest total by any defense. (Last week’s opponent, the Saints, remains the NFL’s worst team in this category.) Only two quarterbacks, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, have finished with a rating of 96 or better -- and neither was above 96.7. They’re also the only two who finished with more touchdown passes than interceptions. In fact, the Panthers have intercepted 14 passes and allowed only 11 touchdown throws.
The Panthers are tied for sixth with 26 sacks, and their pressure results in a lot of short passes -- they’re second in the NFL in net yards per pass attempt allowed at only 5.94. The Panthers have allowed only eight pass plays for 30 yards or more (sixth-fewest in the NFL).
Those eight didn’t just come on catch-and-runs, as six occurred on passes that traveled at least 25 yards. So there are gaps. But this also happens to be an area the Redskins have struggled in this season: Kirk Cousins has completed just three of 16 passes that have traveled 25 yards or more. But know this: Carolina has allowed 13.43 yards per catch to tight ends, second-most in the NFL.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton ranks 21st in passer rating at 84.8. But don’t be fooled: It’s low in part because of his completion percentage of 56.3. And that’s a result of this: Newton leads the NFL in air yards per pass attempt at 10.68. And his yards per completion of 13.31 ranks third.
Newton ranks third in red-zone passing with a 106.8 passer rating, thanks to 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Newton’s ability to run in the red zone helps quite a bit; he’s carried the ball 18 times inside the 20-yard line with six touchdowns. He has run the ball at least twice in the red zone in every game but two.
The Panthers are strongly committed to the run game. They can do that in part because of a stout defense and a passing game that gains big chunks of yards. It’s not as if Carolina has the NFL’s best run game: Jonathan Stewart ranks second in the NFL in carries, but his 3.92 yards per carry rank him 32nd. Stewart is most effective in the red zone, ranking seventh at 3.23 yards per carry as well as 1.55 yards after contact (Redskins running back Alfred Morris is 35th and 28th in those categories, respectively and Matt Jones is 27th and 15th).
Carolina’s defense ranks second in yards per play allowed at 4.68. But the Panthers are only tied for 17th in yards per carry at 4.07. So the Redskins must move the ball on the ground with consistency in order to have a chance at an upset. New England’s run defense has skewed numbers, with teams having far less success in the first half than the second, when teams might hit on draws, etc. The Panthers allow 4.08 yards per carry on first-half runs, so it hasn’t been a strength. However, a big key is that they only allow 3.68 yards on first-down runs (sixth-best).
Carolina ranks sixth in scoring defense at 19.4 and -- this one surprised me -- third in scoring offense at 28.3. The Redskins have played five of the top nine teams in scoring offense (also including the Patriots, Giants, Saints and Falcons). And this is their fifth game against a defense ranked in the top 10 in this category as well (also including Patriots, Rams, Jets and Eagles).
Carolina’s defense also ranks in the top 10 in third downs and red zone (eighth in both categories). The Panthers’ offense ranks 20th on third down and 11th in the red zone.
The Panthers have a plus-eight turnover margin (second in the NFL); the Redskins are even in this category. Carolina's plus-48 point differential off turnovers is tied for the top spot.