1. This sure is a must-win game Sunday. Do we really need to explain why? This isn’t about getting in position for a playoff push (though a 4-5 record doesn’t disqualify such talk, either; the Redskins were 5-6 and 5-7 at various points during Joe Gibbs’ 2.0 two playoff seasons). This is about avoiding two weeks of negative talk – and if you think it would only be outside the locker room you’re kidding yourself – and serious questions about the direction of the program.
  2. You have to let the season play out, of course, so it’s never good to overreact to a win or a loss. But still; 4-5 is much better in year three than 3-6.
  3. I’d be surprised if linebacker Perry Riley doesn’t play Sunday. He expressed plenty of optimism with reporters Friday about his hamstring. Yes, he expects to play.
  4. There’s still no decision on DeAngelo Hall and his punishment, which means he’ll play Sunday. That doesn’t mean he won’t eventually be punished for his verbal tirade vs. the official last week.
  5. One thing that was evident when watching Cam Newton during previous games is that he does not sell the zone read fake as well as Robert Griffin III does when he’s going to pass. At least one Redskins linebacker has noticed this as well. Griffin rides the fake out a little longer whereas Newton – not in every case but on occasion – will give a token fake with his eyes pointed at the intended pass target. I saw the Giants read this and bat down two passes; last week the Bears didn’t bite as hard on some of the fakes because of this. That said, it doesn’t always matter because the guy has a cannon for an arm and can squeeze passes into tight windows. The one time I saw this vs. Chicago, the deep drop by the Bears’ safeties opened an area that Newton found for a completion).
  6. If the Bears game is any indication, the Panthers’ run game isn’t working because the line consistently opened few holes. They lost All-Pro center Ryan Kalil to a season-ending injury and now have Geoff Hangartner in the middle.
  7.  The Bears’ interior got enough penetration to cause problems and the linebackers had no problem shedding blocks to make plays. Of course, the Bears have a pretty strong front. They also play their linebackers a little closer to the ball (3-4 yards compared to the Redskins 4-5).
  8. There were plenty of times when the Bears’ D-line was across the line of scrimmage at the start or on outside runs. The Panthers’ best runs vs. the Bears came when they spread the field and ran a zone read or on Wildcat runs or on a Cam Newton draw.
  9. The Panthers do have an excellent pass rush, but keep in mind that 13 of their 20 sacks have occurred in two losses (seven against Atlanta, six vs. Chicago). It looks like Panthers end Charles Johnson has one thing in mind: get to the quarterback. But the Bears were able to seal the end on his side consistently.  I think the Redskins could have success running at his side. Saw him on a second and 1 just get upfield, leaving a hole the Bears ran through for a first down. But Johnson is an excellent pass rusher; he will occasionally stunt inside as well.  Johnson slanted inside on one sack to collapse the pocket.
  10. That’s something the Panthers did well vs. Chicago: collapse the pocket. They did a good job containing Cutler – and in coverage because most of the sacks took 3.5 seconds or more from start to finish. One took 4.3 seconds. (However, two took 2.5 and 2.6, respectively). So in most cases it’s not just a matter of someone instantly winning a battle. This is something the Redskins don’t have happen enough; quarterbacks get rid of the ball quickly or pockets aren’t collapsed. Take your pick.
  11. Liked how well Newton sold the QB draw vs. Chicago, too (the blemish: he fumbled on a hit at the goal line that a teammate recovered, sound familiar?). The middle was not open from the start, but the patterns and Newton’s patience opened it up, taking away two of the three linebackers. Newton dropped five steps out of shotgun, paused, then took off.
  12. The book on Newton is that he typically doesn’t call his own number until he gets across the 50. Also, the Panthers like to run the Wildcat in the red zone (did so twice vs. the Bears). The running backs have not thrown out of this set, but one guy to possibly watch is receiver Armanti Edwards. He only has one catch this season, but has attempted a pass. He played quarterback in college.
  13. The tough part about trying to push the pocket vs. Newton is that at 6-foot-5 he can see over the line. Robert Griffin III has a couple times thrown off his tippy-toes in these situations; Newton does not have to do that. But the Redskins must find a way to pressure him because he will make mistakes, whether throwing off his back foot or, as he did last week, throwing a ball to the sidelines as he was going to the ground and having it intercepted. Newton will use the entire field and that also makes him dangerous.
  14. I did not think the Redskins would be better than 4-5 at the break so if they win Sunday I’d have to say they’ve met my expectations. But I also did not think Robert Griffin III would have the impact that he’s had. I thought he’d be good, and knew his legs would help him make plays. But I was not smart enough to see how deep his impact would be on the rest of the offense. This kid gets guys open with his presence and his fakes.
  15. Had I known Griffin would play this well, I would have had them better than 4-5 at the break. So how do you judge this team? I know the D has had some injuries; I also just watched a defense last week in Pittsburgh that has had injuries and is not getting much of a pass rush and is still in the top 5. Coaching is so much more than Xs and Os. Talked to one longtime coach who put that low on the list of things that matter most when coaching (in-game adjustments rates much higher). I just think Dick LeBeau is a hell of a coordinator. His guys play fast and sound and it’s clear they know exactly what they’re doing.
  16. I do think the Redskins will win Sunday. I like the locker room and makeup of this team and that matters during times like this.
  17. By the way, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Meriweather are out Sunday. No surprise with either one. That leads to the next item.
  18. Something I did not know: Brandon Meriweather has a good sense of humor. When asked today about Mike Shanahan ruling him out, he started off on a tirade about how he had then just practiced for nothing, etc., etc. Then he said, “I’m just kidding.” Not bad stuff.
  19. Aldrick Robinson, here’s your next chance. I have a hunch the extra time he’s supposed to get Sunday is as much about Leonard Hankerson not being consistent enough and Robinson doing a couple things better. His blocking was bad earlier this year, has it really improved that much in a few weeks? He’ll never be a great blocker, but if he makes plays then he’ll help. But he can’t miss blocks and passes as he did vs. St. Louis. If the Redskins want more speed, maybe they’ll also work in Brandon Banks back into the packages. The problem with the receivers is that each has something to offer and each has flaws that lead to them going in and out of the lineup.
  20. I added this Saturday morning, so I guess the others weren’t my final thoughts. But I forgot to put this in the first time (it’s from my email report). Talked to a defensive coach who has faced both Newton and Griffin (not necessarily this year). This coach said defenses have caused indecision in Griffin, especially in the red zone, but added: “I know myself if I felt it’s not certain that it’s [open] and I know how good I can run it, unless it’s wide open I’m taking off with the ball. That will help you win more often than not. But if you’re always trying to force the ball in there it’ll be three or four years down the road before you learn to play quarterback. Robert has his three outs; if he doesn’t like the looks he can take off.”
  21. The same coach said this about running back Alfred Morris and how he helps Griffin: “You definitely need a back otherwise all you’re doing is taking the quarterback out. If you run that option, but one guy carrying the ball is no good, the defense will say give it to him all day long because it won’t hurt. That is part of the thing that helps Robert. Morris is just going to get better. Mike [Shanahan] always does a great job with running backs.”
  22. Now, finally, that is enough.