FINAL SCORE: Carolina 21 -Washington 13
The big focus going into this game was the two young QBs, Cam Newton and RGIII; after an incredibly dynamic rookie season, Newton has come under fire in recent weeks for some poor decision-making and a few attitude problems, whilst Griffin III has had praise heaped on him for an excellent opening to the seasons procedings. However, the real key to this game was a combination of solid D and a balanced offense for the Panthers whilst the Redskins were hurt by innumerable penalties and inconsistent play from their wide receivers. Here’s my breakdown of the action at FedEx Field:
The key to the Panthers offensive success was a good pass/run balance (23/27), keeping the Redskins off balance and allowing the lineman to get up on the defensive line. This was particularly true when running out of the shotgun, something the Panthers did to great effect; during their first scoring drive Stewart, Williams and Newton picked up 60 yards on 4 runs, finishing with a 30-yard sprint to the outside and along the sideline into the endzone by Williams.
The second TD of the game for Panthers was a mammoth 98-yard drive that took just 4 minutes and was aided by a pair of questionable Redskins penalties (one roughing the passer, one pass interference) which totalled 22 yards. Newton rushed for 15 yards on three attempts and completed 5-of-9 passes, with a bleeding thumb, two passes to Greg Olsen on out-routes and a 19-yard TD strike to Steve Smith. Smith made his first TD catch of the year on that play after a prolific season last year and consistently beat ‘Skins CB Josh Wilson throughout the game.
The Panthers final scoring drive was similarly impressive, with a 91-yard drive in just 90 seconds, thanks largely to an explosive 82-yard play action pass to Armanti Edwards, only his second NFL reception. The play was helped in no small part by some awful coverage and a trademark downfield block by Steve Smith which gave Edwards an extra 15-20 yards. Once they were in the redzone the Panthers were helped out by another pass interference penalty on Josh Wilson and Cam pounded the ball in from the one-yard line.
Overall, it was a decent outing for the Panthers offensively, but against a faltering Redskins unit that has been plagued by injuries they could probably have done a little better. Washington are ranked last in the NFL in pass D and 28th overall, but Carolina got total of 0 points on drives where Washington didn’t commit a foul. That’s not good offense. This partly down to poor interior run blocking, with only 2 runs of over 5 yards coming up the middle, and partly down to a lack of big pass plays outside the Armanti play, as the average yards per completion came in at under 9 yards. Luckily for the Panthers their defense came through.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers had a pretty good game. There were standout performances from Luke Kuechly, Charles Johnson and Josh Norman. Whilst rookie running back Alfred Morris had a good game running the football and the ‘Skins read-option offense often caught the Panthers off-guard, Carolina was still able to make stops when it counted. Their redzone defense was excellent, coming up with a number of big stops, including a 4th-and-goal run by Griffin III from the 2-yard line and previously on that drive they forced Washington to go for it on fourth down. They also made Washington wait until 1:34 in the fourth quarter for a touchdown and limited them to just 20% third-down conversions.
The front four had alot of success rushing the passer in the second half, racking up four sacks and, had they not been up against one of the most athletic QBs in the game, they should have had alot more. This pressure allowed the Panthers to sit back in zone coverage and keep plays in front of them and limited RGII to 4.3 yards per completion.
There were a couple of mistakes, like the Hardy penalty that got the Redskins out a of a serious hole on their first drive, though Hardy did atone for this mistake by drawing a foul later on that drive.
Overall, whilst the Redskins did cause the Panthers some headaches with their option offense, Ron Rivera’s men proved themselves to be up to the challenge and, frankly, kept the Panthers in this game at times as the offense floundered.
The Washington Redskins really shot themselves in the foot consistently in this game. Robert Griffin III, Albert Morris and Logan Paulsen all played well, but there were inconsistencies throughout the receiving core, particularly from Josh Morgan who had a couple of big drops. The offensive line struggled in pass protection at several points, and it was only through some very fancy footwork from RGIII that kept the number of sacks at 4. They also gave up some drive-killing and touchdown-negating holding penalties on a second and short and a third and goal. More worringly for the Redskins, they lost Santana Moss early on and his presence was sorely missed throughout the game. The Redskins were held to field goals in the 1st and 2rd quarters before finally punching it in on a 2-yd Evan Royster run late in the 4th.
It asn’t all doom and gloom though. Alfred Morris and RGIII combined for 129 yards on 26 attempts including a couple of very good gains. Morris has been an absolute revelation in the backfield and is performing far above his sixth round draft selection, garnering early comparisons to Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch. Similarly, the run blocking as very good at times, allowing Morris to make his cuts, lower his head and power through tacklers. In terms of Xs and Os, Kyle Shanahan did a great job in places but the execution was lacking at times, particularly in the redzone. There was also the questionable call to go for a touchdown on fourth and goal at the 3 yard line, which failed and could have put the Redskins in a better position.
As previously mentioned, the option defense kept the Panthers on their heels for large stretches of the game. When playing in the pistol the ‘Skins had success running the ball, which really opened up their play action passing, though more conventional singleback, I-form and shotgun sets were closed down quickly by the Panthers D. Washington made a few big plays as five different receivers had receptions of 15+ yards and Morris broke off a number of big runs, often requiring three players to stop him. Griffin played well, showing great poise, throwing accurately and picking up yards with his feet when his receivers couldn’t get separation or his lineman failed to protect him. And that happened alot.
Whilst alot of credit should go to the Carolina defense, ultimately the reason Washington didn’t rack up more points in this game was down to needless fouls and inconsistent play.
Unlike the Redskins’ offense, there really wasn’t much good to take from this game on the defensive side of the ball in this game. Granted, the Panthers looked stagnant and frustrated at times, but that was down to bad play on their behalf rather than any great efforts by the defense.
Let’s start with the run game. Washington failed to set the edge consistently against the run, allowing Stewart and Williams to gain some serious yardage around the outside. Granted, the interior rush D did well to keep the Panthers to minimal gains up the middle, but it simply wasn’t enough. Tackling was an issue on several occasions, as runners were able to break tackles and pick up plenty of yards after contact.
Now onto the passing game. Josh Wilson had a torrid time against Steve Smith, giving up two pass interference calls and an easy touchdown. The rest of the secondary didn’t fare much better either; there was a competely blown coverage on the 82-yarder to Armanti, who found himself all alone upfield with no red jerseys around him as every single Redskin defender bit on the play fake. They also struggled to cover Greg Olsen, who finished the game with five catches. The pass rush was equally poor, not registering a single sack and only a handful of QB hurries; Barry Cofield was the only player to get a clean line at Newton more than once. Most disappointing was Ryan Kerrigan who only got in on one tackle and was out-muscled and out-played by second year tackle Byron Bell all game.
What was most apparent in this game was how badly the Redskins depend on the players currently out with injuries; had Brian Orakpo, Adam Carriker and Brandon Merriwether (to name but a few) been on the field, this could have been a very different game. Unfortunately for the Redskins they weren’t and the defense failed to impress.