ASHBURN, Va. -- Game day notes and analysis as the Washington Redskins prepare to take on the Carolina Panthers:
It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Keenan Robinson is healthy and able to return. As has been stated often, it’s not a lock that he returns to the starting lineup. If he did, it would bump Will Compton to the other inside linebacker position. They don’t have a problem with that, but they like how Compton handles the role of communicator on defense (Robinson’s old spot). If Perry Riley, Jr., has another good game, then it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see Robinson become the third inside linebacker, someone who possibly enters on passing downs and plays special teams. The coaches noticed that the inside linebackers were not hitting the same gap as happened too often in other games and they credit Compton’s communication skills in part for that change. They also like how he gets the defense organized. It's a good role for him.
The Redskins respect Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, but they are well aware of his penchant for throwing the ball up for grabs at times. They’ve seen it in other games. Newton has thrown nine interceptions this season, the same as Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins. But Newton’s interception rate of 3.3 per 100 attempts is fourth worst in the NFL (minimum 125 passes).
Carolina cornerback Josh Norman will be one to watch Sunday. He already has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season (both on out routes). Here’s offensive coordinator Sean McVay’s take on what makes Norman so good: “He’s got the ability to play zone coverage where he does an excellent job keying the quarterback. You can see he’s patient in his technique. He’s physical in the run game in terms of his man-to-man. He stays square at the line of scrimmage. He’s fluid -- being able to turn and run with guys -- and he’s got great ball skills. So I think he’s kind of a combination of all those traits that you’re looking for in a corner.”
Do not overlook rookie Jamison Crowder’s development as an overall receiver. He’s contributing by catching the ball and also by blocking. Second-year player Ryan Grant also will block, but he’s not a big threat as a receiver at this point (whether he will remains to be seen). But Crowder can do both, as was evident vs. New Orleans. On several runs, Crowder threw a nice block and at times hustled to make one. It’s a good look.
I did not predict the Redskins to win, but there’s no doubt in my mind that they certainly could. This isn’t like going to New England. That’s not to dismiss Carolina, which is a very good team, but it is to say the Redskins continue to gain confidence. They’re getting healthier and if they can win a game like this, they could get on a little roll. I like their locker room situation on Friday a lot more than the past two years, when it felt way too loose. The players they brought in have helped change the atmosphere. Also, the Redskins put several couches in the locker room. Not that this changes the dynamics, but it’s led to different activities. Last year, for example, they’d play Nerf basketball at times. Nothing wrong with that, but it sometimes led to players getting too charged up (not heated, but wound up). Now, with no room because of the couches, they’re playing cards or dominoes. They used to blast music on Fridays, even when the media was in the room. That’s not the case anymore. They're not morose; they still have fun but it's in a better manner. I don’t fully know what this means other than it’s an improvement.
The Panthers are as committed as anyone in the NFL to the run game. It helps having a quarterback such as Cam Newton who makes up for what the rest of the run game lacks. Jonathan Stewart is a fine back, but he only averages 3.92 yards per carry. The Panthers still will run a lot of zone read, but Newton can take the ball inside or outside. “It’s not the traditional NFL running game,” Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. “It’s a little unique in the sense that the system of runs are completely new and unique. That’s obviously the challenge -- different reads, different keys, different fits.[Stewart is] a heck of a back and then the added element of that guy playing quarterback. It’s hard to simulate that position just because that guy is so unique from a physical standpoint.”
Carolina tight end Greg Olsen has been targeted 75 times and caught 45 passes. He’s a dangerous target. Yes, you want to get your hands on him to prevent a clean release. Good luck doing that on every play because the Panthers will line him up all over. The Redskins want to jam him, but Barry said sometimes he’s in a spot where only a defensive end or pass-rushing linebacker can jam him. So the question for them is this: Do you want to perhaps slow part of your pass rush to prevent a clean release? “It’s always a fine line that you have to work through,” Barry said. “There’s no doubt he demands attention. He has to be hit. He has to be knocked. Because, again, when he’s able to run free release vertical routes, which is what he does, he’s tore everyone up that they’ve played against.”