As one of just two remaining undefeated teams in the NFL, the Panthers will look to keep things rolling again this week versus the Washington Redskins.
The Panthers haven’t had many negatives as their 9-0 record would suggest and this matchup looks to be another that favors Carolina.
Each phase of the game for the Panthers has been terrific this year and even when one has faltered, the others have stepped up to compensate.
Washington holds a 4-5 record and is still very much alive in their NFC East division. Overall they’ve been rather inconsistent but have flashed some brilliance at times both on the defensive side as well as offensively with Kirk Cousins at the helm.
After a blowout performance from Washington over the Saints last week where Cousins dominated the box score, Carolina will need to keep them in check and disrupt them the way they have each team before them if they hope to remain unbeaten.
Here’s what to watch for in this Week 11 matchup for the Panthers.
Heavy Dose of J-Stew
The last few matchups have shifted the Panthers from a run first team to a more pass happy attack, and it’s certainly worked. But this week a 30th ranked rush defense in Washington could get things back to normal.
The offseason additions in Washington were supposed to give them one of the more formidable front sevens, but it clearly hasn’t worked out that way as they are giving up an average of 135.3-yards per game on the ground.
Carolina on the flip side has the 3rd best rushing offense in the league, averaging 139.7-yards per game, meaning a big day for Jonathan Stewart should definitely be in the books.
Even during the “pass happy” games of late, Stewart has continued his strong season rushing for 157-yards and one touchdown on 42 carries in the last two weeks combined.
The success of the passing game will likely lead Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula to play call a bit differently but look out for a heavy dose of Stewart as well, and a potential big game for the Panthers backfield
Funchess & Benwikere, Time to Shine
The latest injury report for Carolina listed starting cornerback Charles Tillman (knee) and starting receiver Philly Brown (shoulder) as doubtful for this contest and Head Coach Ron Rivera confirmed that report in his Friday press conference meaning Bene Benwikere and Devin Funchess will be the next men up.
Benwikere is no stranger to the starting lineup as he became the starter opposite Josh Norman last season and ended as one of the highest rated corners in the league according to Pro Football Focus. This season, he’s been relegated to nickel corner duties where he has played well and usually remains on the field for as majority of the defensive snaps. He’ll face a solid receiving corps featuring DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon but should be more than prepared for the role change.
Funchess is another story. The receiver was expected to step in and contribute as a starter immediately this year but injuries hampered his development and he has played the number three and four receiver role for much of this season but has come on strong as of late and could be poised for a breakout day with the added opportunity. In the last two games he has combined for 5 catches, 112-yards and a score and could very well post a stat line like that in this game alone. His chemistry with Cam Newton has improved and this chance to start could pay off huge for the rookie and the Carolina offense as a whole.
The experience of Tillman and Brown will be missed in this matchup but their replacements leave a lot to be excited about.
Bring Cousins Back to Earth
Washington’s quarterback, Cousins, has had quite a year since being named the starter but has turned it up as of late and looks like he’s proving his worth as an NFL starter.
He’s thrown for over 300-yards in two of his last three matchups and also has seven touchdowns in those two games, albeit against two of the league’s worst defenses in Tampa Bay and New Orleans. But nonetheless, he’s done what he should against these lackluster defenses and now seems to be gaining confidence; something the Panthers will need to stomp out.
Carolina has the 11th best pass defense in terms of yards allowed and the secondary has been arguably the brightest spot of the defense this year. Even with Tillman doubtful in this one, Norman, Benwikere, Kurt Coleman and Roman Harper make up an impressive group for the Panthers who have done more than enough to fluster opposing quarterbacks and lock down even the best receiving corps.
The pass rush will also be key once again in getting to Cousins and making him feel consistent pressure. Kony Ealy and Kawann Short will need to continue their success from this season and against a Washington team that has given up just 12 sacks all season, they’ll need to make sure they find creative ways to get pressure and hits on Cousins.
After a few solid performances, Cousins will be riding high and Carolina will need to bring him back to earth to secure a 10th straight victory.