Redskins-Panthers: Five storylines to follow

Robert Griffin III

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III aims to help his team improve to 4-5 Sunday. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The Washington Redskins on Sunday host the Carolina Panthers and try to snap a two-game losing streak as they head into the bye week.

Owners of a 1-2 record at home this season, the Redskins enter the game as three-point favorite over Carolina, which has lost five consecutive games.

Here are five storylines to follow for Washington’s Week 9 matchup.

 1.) Robert Griffin III-Cam Newton – As Griffin will tell you, he’s not really facing off with his fellow Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton, on Sunday. But all eyes will be on these two quarterbacks as they try to use their athleticism and play-making ability to lead their teams to victory. Two of the most dynamic players in the league, Griffin and Newton could engage in a shoot-out, and figure to use their legs to spark their teams as well. Newton is bigger, stronger and more experienced. But Griffin is faster and a better passer. Which of the two outplays the other, and will it be enough to deliver a victory?

2.) Sense of urgency – Both Washington and Carolina are in similar situations. The Panthers have the longer losing streak, but the Redskins badly need a victory to save their season. Motivation shouldn’t be an issue. As Mike Shanahan said Thursday, “This is where normally football teams are taken over by their veterans.” The team with the stronger mental fortitude will likely execute the best and find ways to overcome limitations.

3.) Defensive struggles – When Shanahan made the aforementioned statement, he also called out his defensive leaders and said it was “time for them to step up or shut up.” The Redskins desperately need their defense to pull off a turnaround in the second half of the season. There’s no way they can continue to give up as many points as they have and expect Griffin and the offense to put up fireworks every week. The secondary receives the bulk of the criticism, but up front, Washington hasn’t had much success, either. The Redskins have to find a way to contain Newton and force him into mistakes. They also can’t afford to let receiver Steve Smith have a field day.

4.) Pressure on playmakers – Washington’s pass-catchers let Griffin down last week, dropping 10 passes, three of which could have been touchdowns from Leonard Hankerson, Dezmon Briscoe and Aldrick Robinson. Of all of the misses, Robinson was least at fault. He appeared to be interfered with when Keenan Lewis grabbed his arm, but no flag was thrown. Regardless, the Redskins’ playmakers need to show up this week. If Washington falls behind, the team is forced to abandon the run, and the first eight weeks have shown that the offense is at its best when featuring a balanced attack featuring Griffin and Alfred Morris on the ground as well as the play-action passing attack.

5.) DeAngelo Hall – The much-maligned cornerback had a rough week following continued struggles against the Steelers and his late-game meltdown. He avoided suspension, but will receive a fine. How will he respond on the field Sunday? Smith has gotten the best of him on a regular basis, and the two figure to be matched up with frequency on Sunday. If Hall is as good a corner as he believes – and as the Redskins need him to be – then he comes out and has a strong game against Carolina.

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