The Carolina Panthers, despite holding the league’s worst record in 2010 and now being led by a rookie quarterback, had been competitive in every game this season, yet had still only won once in six weeks.
The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, started the season off hot with a 3-1 record and a rejuvenated defense, but that success seemed to be a mirage after QB Rex Grossman’s four-interception performance against the division rival Philadelphia Eagles at home in Week 6. Many people doubted that Washington could be a contender with the QBs on their roster – the maligned Grossman and John Beck, who hadn’t started a game since 2007 – and it seems they were right.
The dreaded injury bug that had already struck other NFC East teams hard finally got the Redskins in Carolina. It took away their top receiver, Santana Moss, and their top runner, Tim Hightower. Beck, stepping in for the benched Grossman, was still able to move the Redskins up and down the field against the Panthers’ less-than-stellar defense (with the help of a solid running game), but he just couldn’t keep up with Cam Newton. The Redskins’ defense who, in their worst outing of the season, struggled against Newton’s arm and legs, and have to take much of the blame for the defeat; the 9-6 halftime score could have been much worse had they not stiffened near the goal line a few times.
Here’s a look at both QBs, and other performances that shaped this game.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Coming into this game, the rookie phenom Cam Newton (+5.1) was piling up yardage and points both throwing and running, but has only played one turnover-free game. Despite facing a Redskins defense that had generated a turnover in every game they had played, Newton’s ball security was flawless; he was even poised enough to hold onto the ball when Redskin star pass rusher Brian Orakpo speared him in the back on a blindside sack. Newton was spectacular, with two plays personifying his performance: 14:18 left in the first quarter on 3rd–and-9, the pocket collapses and he scrambles for a 25-yard gain, forcing three missed tackles in the process; and 10:56 left in the fourth quarter on 2nd-and-16 where he hangs in the pocket and delivers a beautiful 36-yard pass to Steve Smith that set up a TD. In Cam they trust.
Steve Smith’s resurgence continues
After a well-documented 2010 campaign to forget (a dreadful -7.8 in our ratings), Steve Smith (+3.6) continues his resurgence with his amazing rookie QB. Neither DeAngelo Hall nor Josh Wilson could stop Smith, who caught five passes against them for 119 yards, and 143 yards total. Currently our fourth-rated WR overall, Smith needs only seven more catches to tie his total last year, and has already surpassed his previous season’s receiving yardage (552) with 818 in only seven games. He has also already caught more TDs (3) than last year (2). Newton has to be thankful the media was wrong about Smith being traded in the offseason.
Don’t Gamble against this guy
Another Panther bouncing back from a disappointing previous season is on the other side of the ball, CB Chris Gamble (+2.2). With his only overall negatively-rated performance coming in Atlanta the previous week, Gamble continued his nice 2011 start against Beck and his crew of wideouts. Beck threw at Gamble seven times, coming away with with no completions, a pass defensed, and a pick that essentially sealed the game.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
John Beck’s first start since 2007
After helping bring some life to the Redskins’ offense late in the game last week against the Eagles, one of the biggest storylines coming into this game was how Beck (+3.1) would play. He earned his grade by completing 22-of-34 passes for 279 yards and a TD, but will look back with regret at his ill-timed pick. Besides the interception, ball security was again an issue for Beck, who has now fumbled in consecutive games. However, he clearly wasn’t the reason for the 13-point loss. Like his counterpart, he also continued to show that he’s also a threat to run the ball, picking up a rushing TD for a second straight week.
Not enough pressure
One of the best things about this Washington team has been its legit pass rush, with OLBs Orakpo and rookie Ryan Kerrigan leading the way with a combined seven sacks, five hits, and a further 33 QB hurries. Kerrigan did beat Jeff Otah’s replacement Byron Bell for a pressure on Newton that forced him into other defenders for a sack, but that was it. Orakpo did get a sack where no one bothered to block him, but otherwise only had two pressures, which isn’t good enough considering the talent he’s shown in his first two seasons. To make matters worse, both also struggled defending the run, each earning a -0.8 run defense grade. Not good enough.
The weakest link
Slot defender (and occasional safety) Kevin Barnes took over the job thanks to Carlos Rogers (who had played the position well numerous times in 2010) departing in free agency and Philip Buchanon being injured and suspended for four games. He has been one of the biggest weaknesses on this unit, grading positively in coverage only once so far this season (+0.2 in the first game against the Giants), and this game was no different (-2.3). He gave up all four passes thrown his way for 66 yards and a TD. He provided further assistance to Carolina’s winning effort by missing a tackle on Newton on the above-mentioned 25-yard run, as well as taking a horrible angle on a 3rd–and-goal Newton run that nearly would up as another rushing TD for the rookie. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Buchanon reclaims the job when he gets healthy.
● Redskin receivers totaled three dropped passes, while Panther receivers did not drop a single one.
● Despite receiving the big offseason contract, DeAngelo Williams continued to see fewer snaps (30) than fellow running back Jonathan Stewart (41).
● Rookie Ryan Kerrigan has yet to miss a snap this season – the only Redskin defender to do so – and has played 40 more snaps than two-time Pro Bowler Brian Orakpo.
PFF Game Ball
Cam Newton remains a very raw quarterback, but he has rare ability. He did enough with his legs and a few exceptional throws to put this game out of Washington’s reach.
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