The Redskins.com crew breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Monday's Redskins-Panthers 2016 Week 15 showdown at FedExField in Landover, Md.
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TAKE IT TO THE AIR
Now that Josh Norman is on the Redskins and no longer providing his All-Pro services for the Panthers, Carolina's defense has struggled to stop opposing passing attacks. Their season worst performance was a true nightmare showing against Julio Jones and the Atlanta Falcons as the wide receiver caught 12 passes for 300 yards.
While the secondary has improved some since that outing they've still struggled, giving up more than 270 yards through the air per game along with giving up 24 touchdown passes.
Replacing Norman and other veterans Carolina has circulated through are rookies James Bradberry and Daryl Worley.
"I think they're playing well," quarterback Trent Williams said. "I think that especially when you factor in that they're rookies, it's hard to come into this league and play right away and understand coverages and concepts and play fast. So very impressive that they've been able to play at a high level as rookies. It's not easy to do."
The passing game, of course, is the Redskins' strength, so if Cousins can continue to hit on his record-breaking pace, Washington should be able to put up points in bunches in front of the home crowd.
Cousins also has some behind the scenes help in deciphering the defense with Norman now wearing a Redskins uniform.
"That goes back to April or May, cornering him and saying, 'Hey, can you talk to me about the defense and I'll take some notes and get some thoughts on Carolina's defense so that come the week of the game, it's already there,'" Cousins said. "So we talked a little bit about the coverages and things, but at the end of the day, it's about executing and being on top of our stuff and just reacting to how they play it."
LET THE EMOTIONS RUN WILD, JOSH
It doesn't matter if it's a primetime battle with a division foe or a matchup with another NFC team, Norman comes ready to play each and every week.
But it'd be untruthful to say Norman isn't just a little bit more amped up to play the team that unexpectedly rescinded his franchise tag in April.
"Whatever you see is what you're going to get," Norman said. "But I do know how to contain it to a certain extent. But then again, I just let the fire go that's inside and I don't know how to pretty much shut it off once it gets started. So it's kind of one of those things where it's going to be a different feel. Definitely it's going to be a different feel, I know that. Just because coming in earlier in the week, I paid attention to detail and then I saw something and I was like, OK, now [that] reminds me back of practice again."
Norman became a household name in 2015, becoming the vocal leader for the Panthers' defense. Opposite of him on the practice field was a player that was just as talkative and competitive: Cam Newton.
While teams have really avoided throwing to Norman this season, he's positive Newton will test him at least a few times.
"I hope so," Norman responded when asked if he thinks Newton will throw his way. "The competitor in him… Well, it's two things. Cam, the coach tell him no. Cam, the competitor, yes. So I'm looking for that guy. Just like practice."
A LOT HAS CHANGED; PROVE IT
The last time these two teams tangled – a November 2015 matchup in Charlotte – the Redskins couldn't keep up with the then-undefeated Panthers.
Take a look at some key players for the Week 15 match up against the Carolina Panthers.
"We went up there and got outclassed," Redskins offensive tackle Trent Williams said of last year's 44-16 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers.
The Redskins and Panthers were actually tied 14-14 after one quarter before Carolina reeled off 30 straight points, thanks to a flurry of Washington turnovers. The Redskins turned the ball over five times on the afternoon – a number that hasn't been matched since. The turnovers, which included an interception and two fumbles by Kirk Cousins, a Rob Kelley fumble and a Jordan Reed fumble, led directly to 27 of Carolina's 44 points.
"I think any team you play, it happened to be against a really good defense last year, but if we had turned the ball over five times against anybody else, we probably would've been blown out as well," Cousins said. "We made it tough on our defense. We gave them a short field and we weren't able to score points and were turning it over. If we were to do that against anybody, we were going to have an uphill battle. And I think that was a big part of how the game got away from us and that's why ball security and turnover margins are such important stats and tend to favor winning teams."
The Redskins have lost the turnover battle just five times this year and are 2-3 in those games. In contests in which they have tied or won the turnover margin, Washington is 5-2-1. For the first time since the 2006 season, the Redskins haven't turned it over more than twice in a game all season.
Of course, Carolina is not the same defense. In 2015, the Panthers ranked sixth in the NFL in points allowed and yards allowed while leading the NFL with a ridiculous 39 turnovers forced. This season, the Panthers are ninth in turnovers forced, 22nd in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed.
The big difference has come on the back end, where Carolina is very young after the exit of Josh Norman with both starting cornerbacks currently in their rookie season. The Panthers' pass defense has allowed the third-most pass yards in the NFL, but Carolina is also tied for second in the NFL with 15 interceptions.
"I think they're playing well," Cousins said. "I think that especially when you factor in that they're rookies, it's hard to come into this league and play right away and understand coverages and concepts and play fast. So very impressive that they've been able to play at a high level as rookies. It's not easy to do."
DON'T LET CAM BREAK YOU DOWNThe reigning MVP is coming to FedExField on Monday, and while the Panthers may not be having as successful a season as last year there is no denying the threat that Newton poses.
The Redskins' defense is well aware of what Newton can do both on the ground and through the air, and are preparing for him differently than the average quarterback.
"He's just a big guy, great athlete," linebacker Mason Foster said. "He can run the ball in those tough situations, 3rd-and-3s, whatever they need him to do. He's a big-time competitor. We've got to go out there and match his level of intensity and play hard and make more plays than he does."
Newton is completing 53.5 percent of his passes for 2,774 passing yards, 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions. On the ground, where Newton is also an extremely dangerous threat, he has 317 yards on 76 attempts and five touchdowns. He also has three fumbles, two of which were lost.
But despite not reaching the statistical peaks he has in years past, Newton has still shown an ability to lead this offense to success in recent weeks. Part of what makes him dangerous is the dual threat capability that he possesses, which the Redskins will attempt to counteract by keeping him in the pocket as much as possible. But that will take every player on the defense performing at a top level.
"It's always tough playing a quarterback that can throw and run. I think that's going to be the biggest thing," linebacker Martrell Spaight said. "The D-line giving him a good rush and standing in their rush lanes and not letting him get out the pocket. I think that's going to help us a lot. In the back end, having great coverage and that's going to be the biggest key, keeping him in the pocket, trying not to allow him to run the football and I think we'll be pretty successful."
Last year when the two teams faced off in Week 11, Newton threw 21 passes for 246 yards and five touchdowns. He only ran, however, four times for 16 yards. The defense had two sacks on the day. The biggest takeaway from the game is the Redskins need to limit Newton's ability to find open receivers and create as much pressure as possible.
Creating pressure against this quarterback, however, has to be done very carefully to limit his ability to find an open lane to run.
"You've got to rush smart, but you can't rush scared and that's always the fine line whenever you're playing an athletic quarterback," linebacker Ryan Kerrigan said. "You do have to keep him in the pocket, but at the same time if you're keeping him in the pocket and not putting any pressure on him, then you're not really doing yourself any good either. You gotta rush, but at the same time, you just got to have good lane integrity."
Even the way the defense approaches tackling him has to be considered due to his size and ability to make plays.
"If you get free, just don't try and hit him with a kill shot," defensive end Chris Baker said. "You got to go in there balanced and get to the outfield shoulder so he can't spin out and make a big play with his feet or his arms."