Ron Rivera and the Carolina Panthers should be well prepared for the Washington Redskins on Sunday. No, this isn't because they're using Armanti Edwards as a RGIII analog in training camp, or that the offense are finally relying on a power running game. It's because the Panthers will be looking into a mirror when they take to FedEx field, looking at a reflection of their former selves.
Through eight games the Washington Redskins have the 6th ranked offense in the NFL, the 29th ranked defense, and a rookie phenom QB who is turning heads-- all on the way to a 3-5 record. How close this team is to the 2011 iteration of the Panthers is scary, but it offers an excellent chance for the Panthers to steal a victory.
X-Factor: Jonathan Stewart
Last week's game proved that if the threat of the run is present, the Panthers offense starts to click.
Washington are a somewhat talented run stopping team, ranking 15th in yards-per-carry allowed, and 10th in yards allowed per game. The Panthers need to use this talent to their advantage by not abandoning the run, and continuing to hammer it between tackles as a means to open up the pass.
If Jonathan Stewart can find those seams, and get those 4-5 yard runs with regularity, then it will change everything. Against the Chicago Bears running backs have been averaging 3.8 yards per carry, Stewart managed just 2.5 yards. This is where the game will turn on a knife edge, and this is the week where he's able to put it together.
Carolina pass offense vs. Washington pass defense
Last year Cam Newton shredded the Washington Redskins for over 300 yards of total offense, and two touchdowns. It was his best performance of the year, and this was in part due to the Redskins' inability to stop Steve Smith, who finished with 143 receiving yards on seven catches.
This match-up hinges on Roger Goodell. The NFL's commissioner will make a decision shortly whether he should suspend cornerback DeAngelo Hall for Sunday's game, after getting into an altercation with an official last week. If Hall is suspended it would be a true shame. The occasional match-up between DeAngelo and Smitty has roots back when the CB played for Atlanta, and one gets the sense they truly dislike each other. If Goodell elects to suspend Hall it's a cake-walk, if he doesn't then this could be a lot closer.
A game against the league's worst pass defense shouldn't be close, but such is life with Cam Newton in 2012. He looked a lot better against the Bears, but that's relatively speaking. Newton is overthrowing, under-throwing, and mis-throwing an inordinate amount of passes this season-- and hopefully this is the game he finally gets his groove back.
Carolina run offense vs. Washington run defense
This is one of those 'that doesn't make sense' situations where I think Stewart will get the better of the 'Skins, but that Washington will win the match-up overall. This is largely due to the offensive line, who will likely be outmatched on Sunday. They're a rag-tag group held together with duct tape, and while at times they look serviceable, there are others where they look utterly lost; sadly I think the latter will be prevalent this week.
It's hard to imagine DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert can have a huge impact, especially in limited carries. Pair this with the offensive line struggles and I think we have a fairly predictable situation.