The Washington Redskins for a second straight week face a one-victory team with talent that’s better than its record suggests.
The Carolina Panthers may be 1-5 , but they have managed to hang with the Packers, Saints, Bears and Cardinals, with their only blowout defeat coming last week against he Falcons.
Washington, meantime, owns a 3-2 record, but this week has gone with a different starting quarterback and also hopes to make do despite losing three offensive starters.
The Redskins need a win to remain in the thick of things in the NFC East after relinquishing first place last week.
Here are some of the key matchups for this game.
Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall vs. Panthers WR Steve Smith
Hall and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett call Smith one of the best in the game, and one of the toughest competitors in the league. Smith may be 32, but he hasn’t lost a step. He ranks second in the league in receiving yardage (675) and yards per catch (21.1). Hall knows that he must be at his best to shut down Smith. With Carolina unstable at the quarterback position, Smith’s production had dropped off the last two years, but he is well on his way to posting his sixth career thousand-yard season now that Can Newton is at the helm.
Redskins TE Fred Davis vs. Panthers LB James Anderson
Look for John Beck to go to Davis often Sunday. With the line banged up and reshuffled, protection may not be the greatest, so Davis will serve as a safety net underneath while the receivers try to stretch the field. Anderson leads the Panthers with 47 tackles and likely will have to match up with Davis in pass coverage.
Redskins OLB Brian Orakpo vs. Panthers LT Jordan Gross
Haslett and Mike Shanahan described the Panthers’ line as one of the best in the league this season, so Orakpo & Co. will have his work cut out for them. Orakpo will be blitzing on Newton’s blind side while looking to add to his season total of 3.5 sacks.
Redskins LBs London Fletcher and Rocky McIntosh vs. Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart
Williams and Stewart are a dangerous pair, averaging 5.2 and 4.6 yards per carry, respectively. Fletcher, McIntosh & Co. will aim to shut down the Panthers’ running game and make Carolina one-dimensional. If they can keep Williams and Stewart in check, then a heavier load is placed on the shoulders of Newton, who has thrown for nine interceptions this season.