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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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Ricky Jean-Francois signs with the Packers, per report

Ricky Jean-Francois signs with the Packers, per report

Before last season with the Redskins, Ricky Jean-Francois had made the playoffs five consecutive times, doing so twice with San Francisco, twice with Indianapolis and then once with Washington.

Now, the veteran — who was released by the 'Skins on March 15 — has given himself a strong chance of getting back to the postseason again in 2017 by reportedly signing with the Packers on Thursday.

ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that Jean-Francois and Green Bay agreed to a one-year, $3-million contract.

MORE REDSKINS: DESEAN JACKSON ON WHY HE CHOSE TAMPA BAY

The 30-year-old lineman visited with the Bears and Seahawks before choosing to sign with Green Bay. Former Redskin Chris Baker, now in Tampa Bay, had also attempted to recruit Jean-Francois on Twitter to join him with the Bucs.

By cutting Jean-Francois last week, Washington will save $3 million toward their 2017 salary cap. Some have also speculated whether his criticism of the franchise was a factor in the transaction.

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DeSean Jackson chose Tampa because he wanted a young QB with 'a lot of upside'

DeSean Jackson chose Tampa because he wanted a young QB with 'a lot of upside'

Kirk Cousins is a 28-year-old quarterback, which is pretty youthful by NFL standards, and he's thrown for 4,100+ and 4,900+ yards in the past two seasons, suggesting that his career is on the rise.

But when DeSean Jackson was evaluating where to ink his next contract during his time on the open market, he saw another passer who is younger than Cousins and, in his mind, has more potential than Cousins, too.

And that is one of the main reasons why Jackson left the Redskins and signed with the Buccaneers.

"I think it was a great fit, a great opportunity, a great up-and-coming, young team," the receiver said during an interview on ESPN's First Take. "Jameis [Winston], obviously, in my decision making, I really wanted to go with a young quarterback, someone who had a lot of upside to him and I think he was the one to fit that position."

Like Cousins, Winston has been a full-time starter for two seasons in the league, and like Cousins, he's posted some gaudy numbers.

Most of the numbers, however, don't stack up to Washington's QB. Cousins edges out Winston in touchdowns, completion percentage and yards, and has also taken fewer sacks and thrown fewer picks than the former Heisman Trophy winner, in the last two years.

RELATED: A LOT OF ROSTER TURNOVER COULD BE COMING IN D.C.

With those stats in mind, it's safe to say the Michigan State product is superior to the Florida State product today. But after hearing Jackson say he valued Winston's "upside," it's not hard to take that a step further and conclude that Jackson believes Winston's ceiling is higher than Cousins' ceiling. On top of that, the latter's contract situation probably was a factor to some extent.

Speaking of Cousins, the pass catcher was asked to talk about his old signal caller. His response was complimentary — but also quite short.

"I think he has what it takes," Jackson said. "At times, we probably needed more out of him and everybody else on the team as well, too. Kirk Cousins, obviously his numbers are off the charts. He had crazy numbers. But moving forward man, we're in Tampa now." 

It was a speedy answer from a speedy player. And while that speedy player did speak highly of Cousins, he's opting to wind down his career with Winston instead, which basically declares that he decided Winston must have "what it takes" more than Cousins.

Jackson is certainly moving forward in Tampa, but whether his production will move upward with Winston isn't as certain.

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