Scouting the Panthers
1 What has happened to the running game? » Last year the Panthers ran for the third-most yards in the NFL -- averaging 150.5 yards a game -- and led the league at 5.4 yards per carry. But this year they are 13th in yards per game (114.4) and their yards per carry have dropped by more than a yard (4.3). While quarterback Cam Newton is taking the brunt of the blame for the Panthers' offensive woes, he's actually on pace for about the same rushing yards as last year while running at a better rate (5.6 yards per carry in 2011 to 6.1 in 2012). But Newton is not getting any help from his backfield mates. DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert have averaged 3.5 yards per carry or less.
2 Not winning close games » Carolina is 1-6 but may not be as bad as its record indicates. Five of the Panthers' losses have been by six points or less. Also, three of their six losses have come against the division-leading Giants, Falcons and Bears -- who are a combined 19-3 this season. They were blown out by the Giants on a Thursday night, but the Panthers played the Falcons and Bears tight. Atlanta rallied from its own 1-yard-line with 1:09 remaining to kick a game-winning field goal in a 30-28 victory over Carolina. And last week, the Bears outscored the Panthers 16-3 in the fourth quarter and kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired for a 23-22 win.
3 Going deep » In his 12th season, Steve Smith is still a deep threat. Only six receivers in the NFL have more than Smith's nine catches of 20 yards or more this year. But despite his playmaking ability, Smith is still without a touchdown catch. Meanwhile, the Redskins' defense has allowed 31 passes of 20 yards or more -- fifth most in the league -- and an NFL-high 19 touchdown passes. So maybe this is the week Smith finds the end zone.
4 Getting pressure » While Ryan Kerrigan (41Ú2 sacks) is the only Redskins player with more than 11Ú2 sacks, the Panthers have three pass rushers with 41Ú2 sacks or more. Carolina has an above average defensive line with Greg Hardy (five sacks), Dwan Edwards (41Ú2 sacks) and Charles Johnson (51Ú2 sacks).