This game was not a pretty game to watch. At all. If we would have faced a team like this last year, we would have blown them away without much of a second thought. This year though, it came down to one final play, which should go down as the longest bootleg run in franchise history by Jake Delhomme.
Alright. Deep breath.
There were many good things about this victory. To match them, they were also a good amount of bad things as well. A lot of the problems we had are things we could improve on in the next two weeks before we go to Arizona and find out where our team truly stands against a Super Bowl caliber team.
Let's start with the good things!
* Better Play Calling
The run was never really successful the entire game. The Redskins continued to overload the line of scrimmage the entire game, and never really let Deangelo Williams get hot and break off the long runs we know he's famous for. However, the mere act of calling more running plays is a improvement that has been long in coming, and it allowed us to rule in time of possession and therefore control the pace of the game.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers finally started to get more aggressive. We saw more blitzing during this game than we've probably seen all season, and held Clinton Portis to just 57 yards on 19 attempts. One of the most important blitzes during that game was in the middle of the second quarter, when the Panthers had just turned the ball over on downs and gave the ball to the Redskins at their own one yard line. We crashed all three linebackers through the O-Line and got a safety, giving the ball right back to our offense to try to make another good drive. In a game as close as this, that's huge.
* Jake Delhomme's improved passing game
At times it was not pretty. But when the Panthers fell behind, Jake Delhomme bounced back and got the throws he needed to make on 3rd down to keep drives alive late in the game. He did a good job of spreading the ball around on his 16 receptions. Steve Smith and Moose both got the ball 5 times, and he didn't throw those silly long balls deep to Moose when he's in coverage. Jake also got the balls up the middle to our TE's, both of whom are on pace for almost 30 receptions and 400 yards each for the year. Getting the ball to our TE's is going to be a key part of our game going into the future
Jake still has a problem throwing behind his receivers though, one of which led to another tipped interception and a score for the Redskins. He needs to start cleaning this stuff up and continue to work on his accuracy. These kinds of mistakes may be alright while we're coasting down the easy street part of the schedule, but if you do that kind of stuff against the Arizona Cardinals you can kiss the game goodbye.
* Special Team improved play
Since yesterday, Kenny Moore is clearly the best kick returner on our roster. Hopefully, this will be a 3rd wideout that sticks with us for years to come. With his 55 yard return on Sunday, hopefully it will cement him for a bigger role for us on special teams for years to come. Otherwise, the Panthers did well by just not allowing the return team to make those large returns to the 40 or 50 yard line each and every game. It may be an anomaly, but the Panthers special team unit looked like it could play with the rest of the league for the first time in a long time.
Let's hope it stays that way.
* Julius Peppers improved play
It seemed like the Pep talk from Beason did wonders to increase his play ability. Suddenly, Julius Peppers started playing like the player we want him to be. He started showing off his ability to pressure Campbell and though he didn't get penetration on every play, the threat was there on Campbell's blind side. He caused a safety in the 2nd quarter and he got to Campbell two times, once on a 3rd down situation that got our team off the field. If he continues to play like this, and our defensive coordinator continues to blitz to give Peppers some help, he may be back on track to the Pro-Bowl.
Now for the Negative things....
* Offensive Line Play
Our O-Line was dominated the whole day during running plays. Part of this can be contributed to the Redskins constant blitzing and the mammoth known as Albert Haynesworth, but we hardly ever saw our O-Line pushing back their guys rather than the other way around. DeAngelo Williams often had to gain two or three yards just to make it back to the line of scrimmage, and that's not fair to ask him to do. We also had three straight plays we took at the one yard line on one drive, and three straight plays we could not get the ball into the endzone.
Jordan Gross also deserves a separate callout, he played absolutely horribly in pass protection during the game. Andre Carter just dominated him, and he got credit for three sacks during this game. I don't know if Gross got on the wrong side of the bed or what happened, but this isn't something you expect from a Pro-Bowl left tackle. I hope he can return to form by next game.
* Too many fumbles
Deangelo Williams fumbled the ball for the second time this year, and the rest of the team seemed to follow suit. By the time the game was over, we had fumbled the ball a total of four times, recovering two. Once again, these are the kinds of things that just cannot happen. Captain Munnerlyn also made one on a punt return, and I think he needs to stick to his 3rd corner duties. As much as an aggressive player he is in nickel situations, he shouldn't be given the ball on special teams until he can learn to hold onto the ball better.
* Lack of Big Playmaking Ability
So far this year, the Panthers haven't really had that deep ball threat they had last year. Whether it was Deangelo Williams busting through the defense or Steve Smith catching a couple of deep balls to save the game, the Panthers have been forced this year to act more methodically in their playcalling. This may disappear once the Panthers face the Bucs, but I would like to see Jake take a chance down the field to Steve Smith if he managed to get into single coverage.
You would have to be smart about it, make sure you're doing it around midfield so that if he tosses the INT you're giving your defense a lot of room to work with, but a couple of big plays like this would do wonders for Jake's confidence and regain that a bit of a swagger as an offensive unit that we've been missing these past few weeks.
To wrap it all up
Overall, what I saw on Sunday was a massive improvement from weeks past. The greatest thing I was excited about was the playcalling. We didn't get away from the run and become one-dimensional regardless of their early lead, and we kept blitzing on defense to give Washington the pressure that the D-Line can't deliver alone. If we continue to follow this formula, we shall have no problems beating the Bucs and the Bills these next few weeks.
By the way, the Bills lost to Cleveland by the way. 6-3 against the worst rushing defense in the league. That's good news for us! :D