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Panthers vs Washington defensive preview: Shutting down an old friend

The Panthers defense are faced with the tall task of slowing down a Turner’s offense.

NFL: Carolina Panthers at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers defense continues to dominate. Last week, they were the beneficiary of some injury luck as the Arizona Cardinals were without their starting quarterback and one of the best wide receivers in the league, but they did what they would’ve been expected to do in those circumstances. The Cardinals mustered just 169 yards and were held to a combined 4-of-16 on 3rd and 4th Downs. They ran just one play on the Panthers’ side of the field in the first half, and that play ended with Donte Jackson running an interception back the other way.

It was the third straight game in which the Panthers defense held the opposing offense under 20 points. They’ve been playing well, and the Panthers will be hoping the addition of Cam Newton and/or the subtraction of Sam Darnold will be enough to give the offense enough life to take advantage of how good this defense is.

This week’s opponent is not really a step up in difficulty from last week’s visit to the injury ravaged Cardinals. After a decent start, the Washington offense has struggled to produce consistently. They put up respectable 29 points against in a shocking win over the Bucs, but that has not been the norm for them otherwise. Prior to that win, they had lost four straight while averaging 13.8 points per game in those games.

Washington is notably headed by former Panthers. Scott Turner, son of Norv and former Panthers quarterbacks coach, is calling the plays for Taylor Heinicke, former Panthers quarterback, who is backed up by Kyle Allen, also former Panthers quarterback. That goes about as well as you might expect. Here’s what the Panthers will be trying to do to make sure the current Panthers come out ahead:

  • Capitalize on Taylor Heinicke mistakes. Heinicke didn’t turn the ball over in the win over the Bucs, but that was the exception to the rule. In the four games prior, he threw six interceptions and put the ball on the ground four times (losing one). Washington has been going to the air a lot, and Heinicke can be irrationally confident despite having a below average arm by NFL standards. The Panthers need to be positioned for some ill advised attempts, especially if the front seven is getting pressure.
  • Pay special attention to Terry McLaurin. McLaurin is the only explosive threat the Football Team have on the outside. He’s been targeted 84 times this season, which is just 11 targets short of the rest of Washington’s receiving corps combined. His targets make up 42.9% of Washington’s attempted air yards, second in the NFL behind Brandin Cooks. He’s a circus catch virtuoso and is a big play threat when his quarterback can get the ball to him. Stephon Gilmore should stay glued to him in key situations.
  • On that note, stay on top of the backs and tight ends. After McLaurin, running back JD McKissic and tight end Ricky Seals-Jones are second and third on the team in targets. After that is slot wide receiver Adam Humphries, then it’s Antonio Gibson. All that to say that Heinicke will spend a lot of time dinking and dunking with some deep shots to McLaurin mixed in. The Panthers have done a great job of limiting yards after catch this season, and they’ll need to keep that up on Sunday.

It’s going to be a lot of fun to see this defense against the kind of offense we cheered on in seasons prior. The Panthers defense has a huge edge, and it’ll be a disappointment if they let Washington crack the 20 point threshold.