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Redskins vs Panthers Preview: 5 things to know with the playoffs on the line

Redskins vs Panthers Preview: 5 things to know with the playoffs on the line

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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. 
  5. 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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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

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Need to Know: The Redskins week that was—Roster competition, Brown vs. Pryor

Here is what you need to know on this Saturday, June 23, 33 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The Redskins week that was

A look at some of the most popular posts and hottest topics of the week on Real Redskins  and NBC Sports Washington.

Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense—NFL coaches and others like to tell you that competition determines who wins roster spots in the league. And that may be true to an extent. But many roster spots are predetermined by a player’s contract situation and/or draft status. It is unlikely that an undrafted player like Fish Smithson will win a roster spot over Troy Apke even if the former outperforms the latter in every way during training camp. Apke was a fourth-round pick and they aren’t going to give up on him in favor of an undrafted player. It would cost $3.2 million in dead cap to cut Stacy McGee and only $150,000 to move on from Ziggy Hood so McGee will win a “competition” that is even remotely close. (Offensive projection here)

Redskins will 'have it out' for Terrelle Pryor at training camp—While this is something that could add a little spice to the Jets’ visit to Richmond, don’t look for much of anything to happen. Zach Brown might give a little extra shove to Pryor here and there but he’s not going to do anything that will draw blood or even cause a deep bruise. If nothing else, a big hit on Pryor would invite retaliation by the Jets on Josh Doctson or Paul Richardson. And that might lead to more retaliation and you end up with a brawl like the Redskins and Texans had a couple of years ago.

Trent Williams very much of approves of Smith and Guice—Williams is going into his ninth NFL season and he has yet to be on the winning side of a playoff game. He thinks that Alex Smith and Derrius Guice can help change that. 

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list—I normally greet this list with a big yawn and this year was no exception. But I do find the omission of Smith, who led the NFL in passer rating and was third in adjusted net yards per attempt, odd. In an update to this post, the NFL released the names of the top 10 players and Smith is not on it. He shouldn’t be, but he should be somewhere on the 100, perhaps in the middle of the pack. The only Redskins player to appear on the list was Trent Williams at No. 57.

The Redskins' best players who are 25 or younger—It’s likely that nine players who are 25 or younger will line up as starters for the Redskins this year. I don’t have a rundown of how that compares to the rest of the league but it’s notable that in the last two years six of them have replaced players who were either approaching age 30 or over it. I’ll engage in some speculation here and say that five of the young players—Daron Payne, Derrius Guice, Preston Smith, Jonathan Allen, and Montae Nicholson—are good enough to potentially make a Pro Bowl at some point in their careers. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Former Redskins defensive tackle Dave Butz was born on this date in 1950. 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 33
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 47
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 70

The Redskins last played a game 174 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 78 days. 

In case you missed it

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Redskins schedule preview: Week 16 vs. Titans

Redskins schedule preview: Week 16 vs. Titans

We’re previewing every game of the 2018 season with a look forward and a look back. Up today, it’s the game against the Titans. 

Week 16 December 22 or 23, Nissan Stadium (the date of the game will be determined no later than Week 8 in early November)

2017 Titans: 9-7, Second in AFC South, lost in the divisional round 

Projected 2018 wins per Westgate SuperBook: 8

Early line: Redskins +5.5

Key additions: CB Malcolm Butler, DT Bennie Logan, RB Dion Lewis

Key losses: DT Sylvester Williams, RB DeMarco Murray

Biggest questions: 

  • QB Marcus Mariota improved from his rookie year and had a solid 2016. But he regressed last season. In which direction is his career headed?
  • After head coach Mike Mularkey took the Titans to the second round of the playoffs he was summarily fired. Will they regret making to switch to Mike Vrabel?

Series history

The all-time series between the two teams is tied a 6-6; the teams split six games when the franchise was the Houston Oilers and they have gong 3-3 since the move to Tennessee. 

Series notables

The first time: October 10, 1971, RFK Stadium—The Redskins offense didn’t score a touchdown but that often didn’t matter when George Allen was the head coach as they still won 22-13. Washington’s scoring came on five Curt Knight field goals and on an 18-yard interception return by defensive end Ron McDole. That touchdown came on one of five takeaways by the Redskins defense. 

The last time: October 19, 2014, FedEx Field—Quarterback Kirk Cousins was struggling in the first half, losing a fumble and throwing a head-scratching interception. With the Redskins trailing the 2-4 Titans 10-6, Jay Gruden decided it was time for a change and Colt McCoy came in to play QB in the second half. 

Things clicked immediately as McCoy threw a short pass to Pierre Garçon, who turned upfield and rolled in for a 70-yard touchdown. It was back and forth in the second half and the Redskins were trailing 17-16 when they got the ball on their own 20 with 3:14 to play. McCoy led a 10-play drive that consumed all of the remaining time and culminated in a 22-yard Kai Forbath field goal to win it 19-17. 

The best time: November 3, 1991, RFK Stadium—To win nine straight NFL games to start out a season, you need solid blocking, accurate passing, hard-hitting tackling, inspired play calling, crisp execution and, as was the case today, a little bit of luck. Chip Lohmiller kicked a 41-yard field goal for Washington to give the Redskins a 16-13 overtime win over Houston. Darrell Green’s interception at the Houston 33 set up the kick. All of that, however, would not have happened if not for Oiler placekicker Ian Howfield. 

After Houston tied the game on a one-yard run by Lorenzo White with 1:42 left in the game, Brian Mitchell fumbled the ensuing kickoff, giving the Oilers prime field position. Howfield came in for a 33-yard field goal attempt with one second left. It appeared that the winning streak would end at eight. “You don’t exactly give up, but you’re not far from it,” said Andre Collins. 

The snap was perfect as was the hold, but Howfield’s kick was wide right. 

On Houston’s second offensive play of overtime, Oiler quarterback Warren Moon got bumped as he threw an out pass and Green picked it off. Three Ernest Byner runs preceded Lohmiller’s game-ending kick. 

The worst time: October 30, 1988, Astrodome—Washington entered the contest riding a three-game winning streak and appeared to be rounding into form to defend their Super Bowl title. Warren Moon threw three touchdown passes to Drew Hill, however, and the Redskins took a 41-17 whipping that wasn’t even as close as the final score would indicate.

Redskins schedule series

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS  and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS  and on Instagram @RichTandler