Carolina's offense hasn't been as bad as people have made it out to be. Currently, the Panthers are ranked #13 in scoring with 23.9 points per game. Prior to the Seattle game, the Panthers were ranked much higher. The Panthers offense has been anything but consistent. Last week against the Chargers, Carolina failed to capitalize on great field position and found themselves relying on the leg of Graham Gano.
As Carolina faces Josh Norman and the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football, Cam Newton's Panthers look to generate some momentum as the season winds down. It's been a difficult year for the Panthers, but as of late, the offensive struggles have raised important questions as Ron Rivera and Dave Gettleman try to assess the roster heading into 2017. Newton hasn't looked sharp in his last two outings, the run game has been non-existent, and people are wondering if Kelvin Benjamin has quit. Undoubtedly the headlines have focused on facing Josh Norman for the first time since his turbulent offseason departure. The Panthers, however, have a real opportunity get back on track offensively against a struggling Washington Redskins defense.
Norman has been one of the brighter spots in a defense that is ranked #26 in yards allowed (370 per game), #22 in points per game (24.4 per game), and #31 in 3rd down defensive stands (teams are converting 48% of 3rd downs against the Skins). Injuries have played a role in Washington's defenseive struggles. Starting safety, Will Blackmon, missed last week's divisional match versus the Philadelphia Eagles. Two linebackers, Su’a Cravens and Will Compton, left the game with injuries as well.
Will Blackmon's absence has made a bigger impact than most would think. The Redskins have struggled to find a nice compliment to Josh Norman and adding inexperienced players to fill in for Blackmon only exacerbates the problem. Rookie Kendall Fuller has struggled, so much he was benched in a unit that was missing guys already. Washington tried to rotate Quinton Dunbar, Bashaud Breeland, and Greg Tolar as the Eagles attempted to mount a comeback last week. Ultimately, the Redskins greatest problem has been getting of the field. Teams are converting 3rd downs 48% of the time. This helps opposing teams control time-of-possession and places added pressure on the Redskins offense to score frequently with limited opportunity.
This is just the type of match-up that Carolina needs to jump start its offense. The Redskins are ranked #22 in run defense, allowing 112 yards per game on the ground. Carolina has struggled to run the ball all season, and this hasn't helped a team whose offensive identity stems from running the ball and controlling the clock. A porous Redskins run-defense, however, gives Carolina an opportunity to reestablish the running attack.
While all eyes will be on Josh Norman and Kelvin Benjamin, it is the opposite side of the field that Carolina can really establish some efficiency in the passing attack. Last week against the Chargers, Benjamin looked as if he was barely trying. We don't know much about what is going on with him, outside of he doesn't seem to be playing inspired, but Devin Funchess has only been getting stronger. With half as much playing time, Funchess flashed far more then Benjamin and indicated he could be just as, if not more, a dynamic receiver than KB. Washington's injuries at safety and concerns at the nickel position will also open up chances for Ted Ginn to punish the Skins deep.
This won't be an easy contest for the Panthers. Washington has played better football than Carolina, but not by much. Carolina's recent struggles have come in trying to put four quarters of play together on both sides of the ball. As of last week, the defense did this far better than Carolina's offense. Winning on the road, in Prime Time, and against a team who has everything to lose, will require Carolina to play well on both sides of the ball. If the offensive line can hold up, slowing Ryan Kerrigan especially, the offense may just have the chance they need to get back on track.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow his work @Cat_Chronicles
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