Three keys to a WFT victory over the Panthers on Sunday

By Gibson Hirt

After a massive upset of the Buccaneers in Week 10, Washington will play host to the Carolina Panthers as they look to begin their first winning streak of the season. Despite Carolina’s seemingly average 5–5 record, they’re looking like a legitimate NFC playoff contender. The Panthers are coming off of a 34–10 obliteration of the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals. While the Cardinals were missing Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and JJ Watt, Carolina’s defense was dominant, and their offense looked rejuvenated with PJ Walker and Cam Newton leading the charge. 

Sunday’s game will also be sort of a homecoming for many Washington personnel; 27 members of Washington’s organization have been a part of the Panthers at some point in their respective careers. While Ron Rivera may be reminiscing about the good ol’ days of 2015, he will also be creating a solid gameplan to take down his former team.

Here are three keys to victory for Washington on Sunday in Rivera’s reunion: 

Run the ball

Antonio Gibson has been managing a shin injury all season long, and as a result, he has yet to amass over 100 rushing yards in a game. However, Gibson started to get back on track last week; he took 24 carries for 64 yards, and was able to find the endzone twice. The low yards per carry isn’t reflective of Gibson’s stellar outing. He was met in the backfield a few times by the Bucs stingy d-line, but also broke out three runs of at least 10 yards. Washington constantly stayed ahead of the chains, a direct correlation with Gibson’s efforts. Carolina’s run stoppers are also nowhere near the level of Tampa Bay’s, so Gibson should have a much easier time finding holes to exploit this Sunday. On average, Carolina has allowed over 105 rushing YPG, which puts them right in the middle of the pack, and also puts Gibson in prime position for his first 100 yard outing of the year. Even if he doesn’t find the endzone two more times, Gibson should still play a huge role in Washington’s efforts to defeat the Panthers.

Keep Cam Newton in the pocket

Prior to Carolina’s blowout of the Cardinals, the Panthers re-signed Cam Newton to serve as the backup quarterback. In just nine snaps against Arizona, Newton accounted for two touchdowns — one rushing and one passing. According to numerous sources, Newton is in line to get the start this Sunday. His ability to scramble and create plays for himself is what has kept him in the NFL for nearly a decade. Washington needs to focus on containing Newton inside the tackles and force him to play like a pocket passer. If the defense can take away Newton’s most impactful aspect of running, they are likely to force multiple bad throws and turnovers. Newton has been known for throwing interceptions throughout his career; in every season Newton has started at least 14 games, he’s thrown double-digit interceptions. It’s also of note that Newton is coming off of a season where it seemed like he was under throwing his receivers on every pass attempt. If Washington can shut down his running abilities, it’s going to be a long afternoon for Newton and the Panthers.

Let Taylor Heinicke be a playmaker

In their domination of Tampa Bay, Taylor Heinicke had his best game of the season, throwing for over 250 yards and a touchdown. A big part of the win was Heinicke’s decision-making and playmaking. He wasn’t forcing balls that we had seen him throw earlier in the season. Most importantly, he used his legs only when he needed to. During Washington’s game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter, Heinicke picked up two first downs on the ground, keeping the drive alive and ultimately clinching the victory. Heinicke needs to have this same mentality against Carolina. If the pocket collapses quicker than expected, or a free runner comes on a blitz (which wouldn’t be surprising — Carolina blitzes 31.7% of the time, good for seventh in the league), Heinicke must use his legs. If he can pick up positive yardage on a broken play instead of taking a sack or turning the ball over, Washington has a great chance of stringing together long drives like they did last week.

After a ginormous victory last week, Washington has confidence and momentum heading into Week 11. They will certainly miss Chase Young’s presence off the edge, but the team has been playing short-handed all year long, so they should be able to adapt quickly. As long as Heinicke continues to thrive in a playmaking role, Gibson builds on his previous performance and the defense contains the quarterback, Washington is in prime shape to start a winning streak.