The Redskins likely need to win out to make the playoffs - and that begins Monday night against a talented but troubled Panthers team. After a Super Bowl run last year, Carolina has struggled this season and is already eliminated from the postseason with three games remaining. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. at a cold but calm FedEx Field, but all the action starts on CSN at 7:30 p.m. Here are five storylines to watch:
- Slow starts - For the last three games the Redskins have allowed their opponent to march down the field after the opening kickoff and score points. Three weeks, 17 points allowed on the opening possession. The quick deficit has put added pressure on Kirk Cousins and the 'Skins offense, and in two of the three games, Washington has lost. Don't expect Jay Gruden to change his strategy, the coach prefers to defer when he wins the coin toss, but his team must focus on getting a stop early if the Panthers open the game with the ball.
- Cats still bite - Yes the Panthers have been eliminated from the playoffs, but that doesn't mean their defense can't cause Washington trouble. Carolina is the No. 1 sack defense in football, and their front seven can absolutely create pressure on Cousins. Additionally, the Panthers are stout against the run, ranking fifth in the NFL against the rush and giving up just 3.7 yards-per-carry.
- Take the long road - Three weeks in a row DeSean Jackson has gotten open deep, and Cousins has connected with the speedster. Not only has that created instant offense for the Skins, but it also opens things up for Sean McVay's playbook. Another deep connection with Jackson should open more up for other wideouts Pierre Garçon and Jamison Crowder.
- Missing in the middle - Rookie linebacker Su'a Cravens is out for the Redskins on Monday night, and it sure looks like Will Compton won't play either. That means a ton of snaps for Mason Foster and quite possibly Martrell Spaight's first NFL start. Can that duo handle the Panthers rush attack - which often features a healthy dose of Cam Newton - as well as stud tight end Greg Olsen? Those will be huge questions for Joe Barry's defense.
- Speaking of the middle - The Redskins offense is loaded, but that doesn't mean the unit doesn't play its best when Jordan Reed is on the field. The star tight end is dealing with a very painful shoulder injury, and while he played last week in Philadelphia, Reed was limited to just 10 snaps. Gruden said this week he hopes to get more from Reed against Carolina, but that it's no certainty as he fights through the AC joint injury. More from Reed, especially if Panthers star LB Luke Kuechly misses the game, could be huge for the Redskins offense.
Numbers & Notes:
- Pierre Garçon needs to catch one pass to tie Art Monk for the most consecutive 65-catch seasons in team history (four, 1988-91).
- Jordan Reed (242) needs to catch three passes to move past Don Warren (244) for third-most career receptions by a tight end and 12th most career receptions by any player in Redskins history.
- A win Monday night would give the Redskins five-game home winning streaks in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1996-97 seasons.
- Kirk Cousins needs just 122 yards passing to break his own team record for passing yards in a single season (4,166 in 2015).
- The Redskins defense ranks third in the NFC and fourth in the NFL in sacks (34).
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