Both Washington and Carolina are coming off of big week 10 wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals, respectively. At 3-6 and coming off of their first win since October 3rd, Washington is trying to erase the stench surrounding the team over the past month. Rivera’s next obstacle is heading back to Charlotte to face the Carolina Panthers.
Head Coach Matt Rhule, who is already 1-0 against Rivera and Washington, has the Panthers at 5-5. Further, Rhule signed quarterback Cam Newton a week ago, and Rivera’s former franchise quarterback is slated to start against Washington. Both Washington and Carolina’s season is still very much alive, but the storylines behind the week 11 matchup make this game that much bigger than just a conference seeding.
Can Washington get the best of Carolina this year? We’ll see; here are three key matchups to watch in Sunday’s matchup.
Landon Collins and Cole Holcomb vs. Christian McCaffrey
This week, Collins and Holcomb will have critical jobs against one of the most versatile running backs in today’s league. McCaffrey, who is fully healthy again, accumulated 161 yards from scrimmage against the Arizona Cardinals and played nearly 60% of the offensive snaps for the Panthers. Washington’s discipline in zone coverage has improved over the past couple of weeks. Collins has had many curl-flat responsibilities, while Holcomb has had hook defender responsibilities. This matchup will be essential for both players because McCaffrey is used all over the field. Carolina will utilize him as a check-down option for their quarterback or as the primary receiver in the offense by incorporating option routes for him. These two, and most likely rookie linebacker Jamin Davis, will see a fair share of matchups against the former All-Pro running back.
Cornelius Lucas and Charles Leno Jr. vs. Haason Reddick and Brian Burns
Reddick and Burns have combined for 15.5 sacks on the year so far, with Reddick leading the Panthers defense with 9.5 sacks ten games into the season. Per ESPN, edge rusher Haason Reddick is fourth in the NFL in pass-rush win rate and, according to PFF, he is coming off of a game against the Arizona Cardinals where he had four tackles and four pressures, three quarterback hits, 1.5 sacks, and one fumble. The Panthers, as a collective, are fourth in the NFL in team pass-rush win rate. They have had plenty of success making opposing quarterbacks feel uncomfortable. According to the same ESPN analysis, Charles Leno Jr. is ranked sixth in the NFL in pass-block and run-block win rates. Further, Washington as a collective rank has the fourth-best pass-block win rate in the NFL.
In a sense, this is an underrated matchup across the entire slate of games this week, Washington’s offensive line versus Carolina’s defensive line. Leno Jr. and Lucas will have their hands full; however, if they can win against these edge rushers and keep Heinicke comfortable, this will bode well in critical conversion situations.
Jonathan Allen and James Smith-Williams vs. Michael Jordan and Brady Christensen
The Panthers have one of the worst offensive line units in the NFL this year, especially on the left side of their line. While Washington seemingly rattled Tom Brady, they weren’t able to sack him. Washington registered one quarterback hit and nine hurries, per Pro Football Focus. These numbers are without edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young, making the production against the Carolina Panthers offensive line much more important. Jonathan Allen’s 2021 campaign has been dominant so far and will be critical for any game plan for Washington. Now that Sweat and Young are out, it will make it easier for offenses to determine which lineman to double team or chip. Allen may see plenty of double teams in the absence of the two edge rushers. James Smith-Williams and the hosts of other backups for Washington will need to step up in a way where Sweat and Young’s absences aren’t felt.
If Washington can manage to sack the Panthers’ quarterbacks (Newton and P.J. Williams) at least four times, this is a game where you are dominating up front, in the trenches, and keep the team in the game on the defensive side of the football.
What are your key matchups this week against the Carolina Panthers?