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Desperate Redskins host hungry Panthers

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Desperate Redskins host hungry Panthers

What: Panthers (1-6) vs. Redskins (3-5) 

Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Fox WTTG-5

Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live: Comcast SportsNet noon and 4

The Redskins have arrived at the first crossroads of the Robert Griffin III era. 

On Sunday, the season can go one of two ways when they host the one-victory Panthers. With a win, they’ll enter the bye week confident, pointed in a positive direction and looking ahead to getting back some injured starters on the other side. A loss, though, and any serious discussion of making the playoffs can be shelved until 2013. It could also foreshadow another second-half collapse.

“This is where, normally, football teams are taken over by their veterans,” Coach Mike Shanahan said this week. “It can go one direction or the other, and you expect these guys to play at a higher level. It’s either step up or shut up; it’s where you’ve got to get it done.”

Shanahan is not often so blunt when speaking publicly. But there’s no doubt that the seriousness of the situation demanded such a tone.

His Redskins are coming off their worst performance of the season, an unsightly 27-12 defeat in Pittsburgh. Receivers dropped a combined 10 passes, the defense generated virtually no pass rush and allowed a third-string running back to gain 107 yards, special teams struggled and cornerback DeAngelo Hall was ejected for losing his cool with an official.

The 15-point margin of defeat, meantime, was the largest of the season.

On paper, hosting the scuffling Panthers appears to be the break the Redskins need to bounce back. Except Washington is 1-2 at home and Carolina is not the pushover its record suggests. 

Cam Newton and his teammates have been competitive in all but one game, dropping their past four by a total of 12 points, including a 23-22 loss to the NFC North leading Bears last week. Newton has not been as dynamic as he was during his record-breaking rookie season, but the 6 foot 5, 245-pound dual threat quarterback remains a threat to break off huge chunks of yardage -- through the air or on the ground -- against a Washington defense that’s yielded 28.4 points per game as well as league-worst 2,514 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns.

In fact, the Redskins are on pace to become the first team in NFL history to allow 5,000 yards in the air in a single season. 

Griffin, Alfred Morris and the rest of the Redskins’ offense, meantime, must find a way to get going against a menacing Panthers’ front four. Linemen Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy and Dwan Edwards have combined 15 sacks -- one more than the entire Redskins’ defense -- and Carolina ranks a respectable 15th in yards allowed per game (343.9). 

Johnson will likely matchup against tackle Tyler Polumbus, while Trent Williams is expected to handle Hardy.

Indeed, the Redskins cannot afford to look past the Panthers and forward to a week off. Not now, not given what’s at stake. 

“We still have all of our goals in front of us,” Williams said. “We can be a playoff team if we go on a run.” 

That run, however, must begin Sunday.

Here are some other storylines the team at www.csnwashington.com will be monitoring:

1—Newton vs. Griffin. Although Griffin has mostly been compared to Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck because they were taken 1-2 in the draft, the better comparison is Griffin and Newton. Their teams run similar schemes, each possesses a cannon for an arm and both are as likely to keep the ball on an option as pitch it.

Newton is passing for 243 yards per game and rushing for 44.3, while Griffin is passing for 222 and rushing for 59.5. The big difference is their touchdown to interception ratio. Newton has tossed five touchdowns and eight interceptions, while Griffin has thrown eight touchdowns and three picks.

Asked what he thought of the comparison, Griffin said: “I’d rather be compared to Aaron Rodgers or a guy like that, someone who’s won Super Bowls.”

2—Aldrick Robinson reemerges. After falling out of favor following a miscue-riddled performance in St. Louis, the speedy wide receiver is expected to receive ample playing time against the Panthers.

With No. 1 receiver Pierre Garçon expected to be sidelined again, the move was made to inject some speed into the lineup and shake things up after a big drop by Leonard Hankerson last Sunday.

“Aldrick is one of the faster guys in the NFL,” offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. “And he’s getting better at his routes and blocking.” 

3—Special teams struggles. After a mostly uneventful Weeks 5-7, the units contributed to the Redskins’ misery last week at Heinz Field. Kicker Kai Forbath kicked a PAT too low and it was blocked, and punter Sav Rocca kicked a 12-yard punt that Pittsburgh parlayed into a scoring drive.

This week, Mike Shanahan revealed that Rocca has been punting with a torn meniscus in the knee on his kicking leg. Despite his gutsy effort, he and the Redskins know the team cannot afford another shank.

“Anytime he has a punt like he did,” Shanahan said, “you know it is bothering him a little bit.”

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Redskins injury report: Three return but still plenty of question marks

Redskins injury report: Three return but still plenty of question marks

The Redskins’ injury report is looking a little better today, three days away from their game against the Eagles. 

DE Chris Baker (ankle), CB Will Blackmon (concussion), T Ty Nsekhe (ankle), C Spencer Long (concussion) didn't practice today. That is a substantial reduction of the number of players who were out of practice on Wednesday.

Going from out yesterday to limited participants today were S Donte Whitner (illness), DE Ricky Jean Francois (knee/foot), and DE Anthony Lanier (leg).

Also limited were TE Derek Carrier (knee), ILB Will Compton (hip), TE Jordan Reed (shoulder), G Brandon Scherff (ankle), and OLB Preston Smith (groin).

A player moving from out of practice to limited is no guarantee that he will be able to participate come Sunday but it’s a step in the right direction.

On area of concern is the offensive line. Three players who started against the Cardinals have not practiced this week. One was Nsekhe and he already was headed to the bench after the return of Trent Williams from suspension.

RELATED: Five Redskins who need to perform vs. Eagles

According to Jay Gruden, the line will have enough bodies even if Long, Nsekhe, and Lauvao are out. Second year guard Arie Kouandjio would start at guard and John Sullivan, who finished up after Long left the game on Sunday, would be the starting center. They could activate Kory Lichtensteiger from injured reserve to back up guard and center and Vinston Painter would be the backup tackle.

It appears that Reed is making progress from the AC joint separation he suffered in his left shoulder on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas.

“He looked good out there today,” said Gruden. “He’s still a little sore. Right now I have absolutely no idea (if he will play).”

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Jay Gruden won't commit but Jordan Reed 'confident' he will play vs Eagles

Jay Gruden won't commit but Jordan Reed 'confident' he will play vs Eagles

After missing the Redskins 31-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals with a left shoulder injury, tight end Jordan Reed sounds like he will return this Sunday in Philadelphia. 

"I feel confident," Reed said of playing against the Eagles. 

The injury came in the first half against the Cowboys on Thanskgiving Day. Reed went up high to try and grab a Kirk Cousins' pass in the end zone. The ball fell incomplete, and Reed landed hard on his shoulder. The diagnosis was bad: an AC joint sprain. Even with that, Reed returned in the second half against the Cowboys and caught two touchdowns.

MORE REDSKINS: Garcon named Redskins' Walter Payton Man of the Year

Last week, Reed did not practice once and the team ruled their star tight end out for the Cardinals game on Friday. This week, facing a division foe in the Eagles, Reed said he's feeling much better and the range of motion in the shoulder has improved significantly.

"Today I just felt a lot better. It's painful but something I can deal with," Reed said. "I'm pretty good with range of motion, I almost got all my range of motion back."

While Reed is still fighting through a lot of pain, he practiced on Thursday in a limited role. Going through practice while the media was present, Reed looked athletic and fluid going through drills, but also seemed to show discomfort in between reps. 

"He looked good today, but we'll see," Washington coach Jay Gruden said of his tight end. 

The coach did not express the same confidence that Reed would play Sunday as the 'Skins look to halt a two-game skid. 

"I have absolutely no idea," Gruden said. "But it is good to see him out here running and catching the ball."

Faith plays an important role for Reed, just as it did coming back from a concussion earlier this year. Reed proved his willingness to play through pain when he returned for the second half in Dallas.

"It's definitely some worries," Reed said about pushing through the pain. "I just leave it in God's hands and I just go out there and do my job."

He's made clear that the shoulder is still hurting him, but that he is willing to fight through that to be on the field with his teammates.

"We can't predict that or guess how he actually feels come game time," Gruden said of Reed. "Ultimately, it will be his call."

On the season, Reed has 59 catches for 630 yards and five touchdowns. 

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