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Panthers seek 'morale boosting' victory

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Panthers seek 'morale boosting' victory

The Redskins are a desperate team entering Sunday’s game.

But so are the Panthers, who, like Robert Griffin III and his teammates, believe they’re better than their record indicates.

There may be some truth to that. At 1-6, Carolina shares the NFL’s worst record with Kansas City and Jacksonville. But the Panthers have dropped their past four contests by a combined 12 points. In any of those games, a first down here or a forced turnover there, and the outcome could have been totally different. 

Last Sunday is a prime exacmple of the Panthers' prowess. They gave the NFC North Division leading Bears all they could handle at Soldier Field before Robbie Gould booted a 41-yard field goal as time expired to lift Chicago to a 23-22 victory.  

“We do need a morale boosting victory,” Carolina Coach Ron Rivera said this week on a conference call with local reporters. “It has been hard. It’s been very hard for a lot of guys because we’ve come so close and it’s been one thing or another. It’s something along the lines of, ‘It’s got to give.’”

Which is how they’re looking at Sunday’s game at FedEx Field.

There's also a sense that second-year quarterback Cam Newton is to break out of his season-long funk at some point. This season, Newton has thrown five touchdowns and rushed for three; last season, he tossed 21 touchdowns and ran for for 14 more.

“I wouldn’t say that,” Newton said, asked if he’s frustrated. “I’ve been learning so much about myself. Has it been humbling? Yes. But I feel as if there’s things I’m getting better at. I just have to keep growing.”

When the teams met in Week 7 last season, Newton directed the Panthers to a 33-20 victory in Charlotte. Carolina snapped a three game losing streak, while the Redskins saw their season-wrecking slide accelerate. It was the second of six straight losses for Washington.

The Redskins' find themselves at a similar crossroads this time. The Panthers, meantime, sense a chance to make good on some opportunities they've let slip. 

“Every time you play is an opportunity to win and that’s how we have to look at it,” Rivera said. "This is an opportunity for us to go out and play well and hopefully get the win."

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The Cam Newton/Kirk Cousins debate is ridiculous

The Cam Newton/Kirk Cousins debate is ridiculous

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. In the land of the hot take, the more preposterous and outrageous suggestion gets the buzz. 

The latest fallacy of a sports debate started when Jordan Rodgers - best known for being Aaron Rodgers' brother and a winner on The Bachelorette  - said he would take Kirk Cousins over Cam Newton while talking on ESPN Radio. Rodgers laid out his reasons, mainly that Cousins is an accurate passer while Newton's game depends to much on athleticism. Rodgers: 

You know what gets figured out? Athleticism. What happened to Robert Griffin? Athleticism. Teams caught up to him. They figured how to scheme him. You know what never gets schemed or what never gets stymied? Going through your reads and completing balls. That is what Kirk Cousins does: completing the last two years 67 and nearly 70 percentage of his throws. Going through your reads, there is always an answer. And if you consistently, from a mental standpoint as a quarterback, go through your reads, you always give your team a chance to win. And I will take consistency, leadership and accuracy over athletic potential any day of the week.

So there's that. Then Tiki Barber decided to get involved. Some highlights from Barber's rant via his radio show:

  • Kirk Cousins will sit in the pocket and find his guy and read a defense and know pre-snap where he’s going to go with the ball, and if something breaks down, then he finds his checkdown back. Those two guys who they had in Washington were fantastic in giving him support in that role, so yeah, of course you take Kirk Cousins over Cam Newton, even though Cam Newton was the MVP.
  • With Cam Newton, you’re getting year-to-year volatility. With Kirk Cousins, you haven’t had that. It’s been pretty consistent.
  • If you’re choosing one and you’re building out for the next five or six years, who are you picking? I think it’s pretty easy to pick Kirk Cousins.

Looking at statistics, the claims of Rodgers and Barber can be validated in some capacity. In six seasons, Newton has only thrown for more than 4,000 yards once in his rookie year. Cousins has done it both years he's been the starter, and nearly went for 5,000 in 2016.

And Cousins completes way more of his passes. The Panthers QB's best completion percentage came in 2013, when he connected on 61.7 percent of his passes. Cousins completed nearly 70 percent of his throws in 2015, and 67 percent in 2016.

Dig a little deeper though, and some things are obvious.

The Panthers run a prehistoric offense, where running the ball is the focus. In 2016, Carolina ran the ball 28 times per game, the 7th most in the NFL. That was actually a significant decrease from 2015, where Carolina ran the ball 33 times per game, by far the most run heavy offense in the NFL. 

The Redskins were on the other end of the spectrum. Washington ran the ball less than 24 times per game in 2016, and ranked 27th out of 32 teams in the NFL in rush attempts. 

Consider that the 'Skins play a pass-first offense, and Carolina does the opposite, and that explains much of the yardage differences. Cousins had nearly 100 more throws in 2016 than Newton, 606 to 510, though the Panthers QB missed two starts. In 2015, when Newton won the MVP and the Panthers went to the Super Bowl, Cousins still threw nearly 50 passes more over the course of the year. 

Another consideration on the stats: Newton goes deep. All the time. Cousins and the Redskins move the ball well, but are not reliant on the vertical passing game like the Panthers. Remember, about halfway through the 2016 season, many stories questioned why the Washington offense was under utilizing DeSean Jackson. That changed as the year progressed, but anybody that watches football recognizes the difference.

Rodgers even provided the context. "Any time you talk about the completion percentage being as high as Kirk’s is, it means he’s consistently getting to his third and fourth read and check-downs. That’s how you have that high percentage."

Oh yeah, Newton is arguably the best running quarterback in NFL history. Deadly in short yardage situations, Cam has 48 rushing TDs in his six-year NFL career. Cousins has shown flashes of good wheels, the touchdown run in Detroit comes to mind, but is nowhere near the runner Newton is. Nobody is. 

All of this is not to talk down Cousins. The Redskins passer has proven to be a worthy NFL starting quarterback, and he could continue to improve over the next half decade. He is smart with the football and quick in his reads. In Washington or elsewhere, Cousins will make a ton of money, and deservedly. 

But ranking Cousins ahead of Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, just seems silly. Rodgers and Barber laid out their reasoning, but in actuality, it's hard to believe. 

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!

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Redskins offseason questions: Will DL Chris Baker be back in 2017?

Redskins offseason questions: Will DL Chris Baker be back in 2017?

The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.

That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.

RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: Is Kirk too nice?

Will the Redskins sign Chris Baker?

Tandler: While most of the contract talk centers on the quarterback and the wide receivers, there is one very big decision to be made on defense. Chris Baker is slated to be a free agent in two weeks and there is no indication yet whether the Redskins will bring him back.

Baker has been the Redskins’ best defensive lineman for the last three years. He has seen high-priced free agents Jason Hatcher and Stephen Paea come and go along with others such as Pot Roast Knighton and Kendall Reyes. Now that it’s his turn to sign a moderately rich contract there are serious doubts about his future.

The Redskins are looking at the numbers. He has been highly productive, with 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles in the last two seasons combined. Baker will be 29 in October so age is not a huge factor now but it will become one over the course of a multi-year deal.

The big number, of course, is money. Spotrac has calculated that his market value will lead to Baker getting a four-year contract averaging $7.3 million per year. That would be roughly comparable to what the Redskins gave a 32-year-old Jason Hatcher to come from the Cowboys in 2014 (Hatcher got four years, $27.5 million with $10.5 million fully guaranteed).

Should the Redskins bring back Baker? Yes. They need to rebuild the defensive line and Baker should be around for continuity. He wants to stay here and there is no reason to let him go elsewhere. But the question here is, will they bring him back? There is much information to go on so I’ll guess that he will be back but I won’t be shocked at all if he’s not.  

Finlay: The Redskins need to rebuild their defensive line, however, that should include Baker. Surprisingly quick for his size, he can play well against the run and has great burst to apply interior pressure in the pocket.

Pro Football Focus rated Baker as one of the 10 best under the radar free agents that will hit the market this year, and the 'Skins should take notice. From PFF:

"He has been a very good all-around player on the defensive line for two seasons. Baker gets consistent pressure on the quarterback, but is an even better run defender, as you’ll rarely find the veteran out of position. While Baker’s production took a slight step back in 2016 from 2015, he still is a reliable and dependable option for teams looking for stability on the D-line."

Tandler's Spotrac projection sounds about right, Baker will earn somewhere around $7 million or $8 million per season on his next deal. Just not sure it will happen in D.C.

More offseason questions: 

What are reasonable expectations for Josh Doctson?

— Will there be a surprise salary cap cut?

— Should the Redskins defense switch to the 4-3?

— Is Spencer Long the answer at center?

— How many D-linemen do the Redskins need?

— Should the Redskins draft another QB? 

— With Sean McVay gone, will the Redskins run the ball more?

— Can Cravens handle the transition to safety? 

— Will the Redskins re-sign Pierre Garçon? 

— Will Rob Kelley be the lead running back in 2017?

— Defense in the first round?

— Will they make a change at left guard?

<<<LOOKING AT REDSKINS DRAFT PROSPECTS>>>

Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!