Game Overview ::
By MJOHNSON86 >>
- Washington is likely overrated by most people after a surprising upset of the Bucs.
- Carolina is a new team with Cam Newton under center and has one of the best defenses in the league.
- Washington will lean into the run due to recent results and the strength of the Panthers’ pass defense.
- Carolina has the advantage of the unknown as Washington has very little game film to prepare for Cam Newton as the full-time QB, while Washington is also without their two best defensive linemen in Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
How WASHINGTON Will Try To Win ::
Ron Rivera is an old-school coach at heart. While he got some praise for some aggressive 4th down play-calling during his time in Carolina, that really wasn’t him behind most of it and, when it comes down to it, he is a defensive coach with conservative play-calling tendencies. Last week was a signature win for Washington against the defending Super Bowl champion Bucs where they won with defense and a conservative approach. Rivera is now returning to Carolina and facing a team with Cam Newton, his former QB from his time there who he has passed up acquiring multiple times since. While “narratives” are often overblown for players, coaches have a huge impact on games as their decisions and mindsets can set the course of a game. While last week’s win likely had more to do with a depleted Bucs offense laying a dud in a flat performance coming out of a bye week than it did with anything Washington was doing, Rivera will be of the belief that they’ve found a recipe that they need to continue using.
Washington ran the ball on over 50% of their plays last week despite averaging under three yards per carry. Rivera is likely to follow the “results over process” mindset here and attempt to slug it out on the ground. The matchup with the Panthers also dictates that as the likely method of attack as Carolina’s loaded secondary and pass rush give them the #2 ranked DVOA pass defense as opposed to ranking 19th in rush defense. I expect it to be very hard for Washington to move the ball through the air, especially if Logan Thomas and Ricky Seals-Jones both miss the game and leave them down to their third-string tight end. Terry McLaurin is a great player and can overcome tough individual matchups but the Panthers have maybe the most talented secondary in the league. With no other serious threats to draw attention, it will be tough for him to be a focal point of moving the ball. Washington will have a heavy dose of running back usage with Heinicke sprinkling in short area passes spread out among the rest of the receivers and running backs, usually using motions and schemed plays to create easier throws.
How Carolina Will Try To Win ::
Christian McCaffery and Cam Newton are back together in the Carolina backfield and give the Panthers a dynamic look that is much different than the Panthers’ offense from most of the first half of the season. McCaffery handled 23 opportunities (13 carries and 10 targets) in Week 10 before sitting out the 4th quarter of a blowout, signaling that he is back and will see the elite usage that we expect. Newton will also open some things up for Carolina in the running game and short area. His presence can not be understated, as he changes the entire dynamic for the defense. The Panthers spent much of the season without any true playmaking threats in their backfield, which let teams bring pressure and/or get exotic in the secondary to pick on their average to mediocre quarterback play. The presence of both CMC and Cam now stretches defenses both horizontally and vertically, while creating confusion on read-option and play-action plays. Cam isn’t necessarily an elite passer, but what his rushing threat does to a defense along with CMC’s presence in the short area will make things much easier for him in intermediate and deep passing than it was for Sam Darnold and PJ Walker.
Carolina will lean into their new identity and I trust offensive coordinator Joe Brady to use his weapons creatively. Washington ranks 6th in rush defense DVOA, but just lost all-pro DE Chase Young for the season and has not faced anything close to the threats out of the backfield that the Panthers possess. Carolina should be able to use read-option and play-action passing to keep Washington’s front seven off balance while attacking a very beatable secondary (29th in PFF coverage grade and 29th in DVOA pass defense) in one-on-one situations with their talented receivers.
Likeliest Game flow ::
If any team is going to take control of this game, it is overwhelmingly likely that it would be the Panthers. While this is definitely a winnable game for Washington, the range of outcomes in this game leans much further towards Carolina than the 3-point spread would seem to indicate at first glance. While many people will be high on Washington after their big win over the Bucs, the reality is that this is still a below-average offensive team who just lost their best defensive player.
The likeliest game flow is a moderately paced and moderate scoring first half, with Carolina gradually taking control as the game wears on. Washington will be conservative when the game is close and even more conservative if they get any kind of a lead. If Carolina can build a lead, they will force Heinicke to throw into the teeth of their defense and will be able to attack Washington on the ground and through the air in a positive game script — Cam has always been at his best when playing with a lead.