by Sharon Thorsland
It's another prime time matchup for the Panthers, who travel to the nation's capital to take on the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football. The Redskins are still fighting for a playoff berth - they're 7-5-1 on the season after a 27-22 win over the Eagles last week. Of course there’s been plenty of talk for the past week about former Panther Josh Norman, the All-Pro cornerback who now headlines Washington’s secondary. But the Panthers aren’t focusing on the reunion with their former teammate. “Its gonna be a fun game, just because I know he’s gonna be high energy and ready to go and so are we,” says Panther defensive end Kony Ealy. “But more so we’re going to keep everything narrow, we’re just trying to concentrate on getting this win.”
Norman and the Redskins haven’t put up impressive numbers on the defensive side of the ball, they’re 24th in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Pro Bowl safety DeAngelo Hall is on IR with a torn ACL so fellow Pro Bowler Donte Whitner, Sr. starts in his place. They run a 3-4 scheme, with 300 pound nose tackle Ziggy Hood anchoring the front line. They get after the quarterback, with 34 sacks on the season, that’s fourth in the league. Pro Bowl linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has 11 of them to go with two forced fumbles.
The Panthers lead the NFL with 39 sacks but they’ll have their hands full with the Redskins offense, which ranks 2nd in the league averaging 412 yards per game. Fifth year quarterback Kirk Cousins has been outstanding this season, throwing for over 4000 yards and 23 touchdowns with just 9 interceptions. His offensive line have done a great job protecting him as well, he’s been sacked just 18 times, that's 3rd in the league.
Cousins has plenty of weapons, including three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon and former Duke standout Jamison Crowder. Garcon leads the team with 64 receptions, Crowder has 7 touchdowns. Top tight end Jordan Reid is playing with shoulder injury but veteran Vernon Davis has stepped up with nearly 500 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rookie running back Robert Kelley has played his way into a starting role, he’s rushed for nearly 600 yards and five scores.
The Panthers have won four straight in this rivalry, including last season’s 28 point rout in Charlotte. But they expect this game to be much closer - the Redskins are fighting for a berth in the playoffs, and the Panthers are trying to keep their slim chances for a postseason berth alive as well. “It's big for both of us,” says receiver Ted Ginn, Jr. “It’s a playoff game, every game from here on out is a playoff game. So you gotta go out and attack it just how it is - it’s either play or go home.”