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Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Panthers

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Need to Know: Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Panthers

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, November 22, the day the Washington Redskins play the Carolina Panthers.

Five final thoughts on Redskins vs. Panthers

CHAROLOTTE—A final look at today’s game as the Redskins try to knock the Panthers from the ranks of the undefeated.

—The Redskins started out great when it comes to starting out great. In their first six games the opposing team was shut out on its initial possession—the drives resulted in four punts, a fumble, and an interception. But in the last three games that pattern has changed. The Bucs, Patriots, and Saints all scored touchdowns the first time they had the ball. The visiting team needs to get off to a better start today.

—Like many games, this seems like the kind of game that will come down to turnovers. The Redskins had a turnover-free game last Sunday against the Saints after having given the ball away at least once in their previous 20 games. They will need to keep that up. The Redskins are 4-0 when Kirk Cousins doesn’t throw any interceptions and 0-5 when he throws at least one. Cam Newton had a three-pick game against the Eagles and was intercepted twice against the Seahawks. Passes will be in the air for the taking.

—You’ve heard about Cam and TE Greg Olsen all week. The other two offensive weapons to watch are RB Jonathan Stewart and WR Ted Ginn. Stewart is on pace to gain about 1,200 yards rushing and he will chew up yards and clock if the Redskins haven’t fixed their problems with rushing defense. Ginn is having a career renaissance at the age of 30. He’s the Panthers’ second-leading receiver with 25 catches and he’s averaging over 16 yards per reception. It’s possible that the Redskins hold down production from Olsen and Newton but get beaten by Ginn and Stewart.

—Somebody, anybody on the Redskins’ linebacker corps needs to step up. The group has been one of the stronger units on the team the past few years but not in 2015. Ryan Kerrigan wasn’t generating much consistent pass rush even before he suffered a broken hand. On the other side, Trent Murphy is good against the run but generating little pass rush and Preston Smith can’t develop the consistency he needs to take the starting job away from him. On the inside, Keenan Robinson has had lots of issues with missed tackles and Perry Riley looks lost at times. Will Compton has been competent filling in and now as the starter but he needs to find his next level. If they are going to contain Cam and Olsen one or more will have to have a big game.

—If the Redskins had shown an ability to win on the road any time in the last calendar year, I’d probably pick them to win this game. The Panthers are unbeaten but they have shown they are not unbeatable. I think the Redskins will be able to move the ball on the ground. With all of their defensive backs now healthy they will be able to mix and match coverage on Olsen. They should keep it close and have some chances to pull out a win. But eight straight losses is a trend that just can’t be ignored. I suppose you could say that the Redskins are due for a win away from home. Until they show me, however, I just can’t pick them to win. Panthers take a close one.

Timeline

Today’s schedule: Redskins vs. Panthers, 1 p.m., FOX

Days until: Giants @ Redskins 7; Monday night Cowboys @ Redskins 15; Redskins @ Bears 21

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Trent Murphy had offseason foot surgery to repair broken bone, per source

Trent Murphy had offseason foot surgery to repair broken bone, per source

Redskins outside linebacker Trent Murphy underwent surgery this offseason to repair a broken bone in his foot, per a source with knowledge of the situation. Murphy has completely healed and is a full participant at training camp. 

The injury came late in the 2016 season and he played the Redskins final game of the season with the broken foot. He was listed on the injury report for that game as limited with a foot injury. He was not listed on the Week 16 injury report against the Bears.

Hit with a four-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs this offseason, Murphy won't suit up for the Redskins until Week 6. He will be forced to miss the first four games, and then the Redskins have a bye in Week 5. 

Murphy had a breakout season in 2016, finishing the year with nine sacks and 47 tackles. A second round pick in 2014, Murphy had a combined six sacks in the two seasons prior. Last offseason, Murphy was tasked with gaining weight for a position switch to defensive end. After he gained the weight, outside linebacker Junior Galette was lost for the season, and Murphy was moved back to outside linebacker. 

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Redskins' Gruden will readjust to calling plays by going off script

Redskins' Gruden will readjust to calling plays by going off script

RICHMOND—The Redskins offense is dealing with some challenges on the field. Their top two wide receivers from last year left as free agents and replacements Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have little game experience with quarterback Kirk Cousins. Tight end Jordan Reed (toe) was a surprise entry on the PUP list. Running back Rob Kelley needs to prepare to get ready to carry the load for 16 games.

There is one other change the team must deal with. Sean McVay, the team’s offensive coordinator, left in January to become the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. He had been calling the plays for the past two years. That duty will now fall on head coach Jay Gruden.

RELATED: Reed one of four to start camp on PUP

Play calling is not new to Gruden. He did it from 2011-2013 for the Bengals when he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. Gruden also made the play calls in 2014, his first season as the Redskins head coach.

Still, he wants to make sure that he’s ready to retake the play caller’s headset. The method he will use is to throw away the script.

“I think early on we’re going to have scripted practices, and once we get going, get our main core of plays in there, I think we’ll have a lot of unscripted practices where I can call plays,” he said. “So I think that’s the most important thing, the unscripted practice. Whether it’s two -minute, whether it’s drives down the field, whether it’s third downs, all that good stuff, do a lot of unscripted work, red zone and go from there, but I feel pretty comfortable already.”

That certainly makes sense. Games are not scripted and the successful play callers who can adjust to the ebb and flow of the game. You can’t duplicate the dynamic but you can come close in 11 on 11 work on the practice field.

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Another key to making this work will be trusting his defensive and special teams coaches. If Gruden can’t delegate to them he will be getting pulled in too many directions on game days.

“How well I handle that will be how successful I will probably be as a coordinator calling plays and as a coach,” he said. “I feel good about the staff that I have around me. Coach [Greg] Manusky and Jim Tomsula and Torrian Gray on the defensive side of the ball, I don’t think I have to worry so much about that, Ben Kotwica, Bret Munsey on the special teams. The big thing is I have got to be involved in the football game, make sure I’m ready for the red flag tosses and all that good stuff, but for the most part I have confidence in the defense and special team coaches and players.”

We will see how well it works out. As a rookie coach he occasionally seemed to be overwhelmed by all that he had piled on his plate (the situation was complicated by his curious decision not to hire a quarterbacks coach). But now, with three years under his belt and an exponentially better understanding of what is involved in coaching an NFL game, there should be more confidence that he can handle it.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.