Last week against the Saints, Washington posted 47 points and 510 yards of total offense in a rout that eventually got New Orleans defensive coordinator Rob Ryan fired.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the 18th start of his career.
But he’s under no illusions that a repeat performance is in the works this week against the much more stout Panthers.
“We certainly expect a serious challenge. I don’t know that we even would say a repeat performance is what we are shooting for, I think,” Cousins told Charlotte reporters this week. “We know we have a tough challenge and we’re just trying to find a win any way that we can. I see them being the best team in the league as an undefeated football team.”
Never miss a local story.
The Panthers have the 10th-best defense in the league in total yards, but any time a team puts up 47 points it gets your attention.
I don’t know that we even would say a repeat performance is what we are shooting for, I think.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, on facing the Carolina Panthers
Along with Cousins’ accuracy last week, Washington has been given a boost by its one-two punch at running back with Matt Jones and Alfred Morris. The team averages more than 104 rushing yards per game, which is near the middle of the league.
“I think Kirk’s doing a great job of really directing the offense. I think he has a lot of confidence right now,” Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly said. “I think he’s delivering the ball where he needs to. He’ll look guys off. He’ll look over here and then make a throw over here. I think they’re playing really well and I think their run game is a big part of that.”
While Washington has won two of its past three, a deeper dive into the offense shows some deficiencies. According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins has the second-worst accuracy on balls thrown more than 20 yards at 19.4 percent.
Washington’s passing offense thrived against New Orleans last week, but it was mostly horizontal and not vertical. Cousins lived off screen passes and underneath routes, putting the onus on the receivers to get the yards.
Of Cousins’ 324 passing yards, 80 percent of them came on yards after the catch, according to PFF.
“It’s tough to just matriculate the ball down the field, to borrow the line, from (Hall of Fame) Coach (Hank) Stram, you know,” Cousins said. “It’s difficult to sustain over and over and over when your plays are 3 yards, 5 yards, 7 yards. You want to have those explosive plays over 20 yards and when you get long runs after the catch, that is where you can find explosive plays and it makes a big difference. So, (it’s) something that we will continue to look for and hope to get.”
It’s the kind of offense that Washington coach Jay Gruden brought over from his days as an offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. They try to establish a run game, and then beat you with a hard play-action pass for their explosive play.
“I think that they’ve got elements of it off the play action,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “They try to get you to suck up and then they’ll throw it downfield a little bit, especially if your safeties bite hard. The one thing I’ve talked about that I want to make sure we do is handle the run game early, and really not allow them to do what they do.”
Washington has its No. 1 receiver in DeSean Jackson back after missing part of the season with a hamstring injury. The team also has an aggressive, physical receiver in Pierre Garcon and a speedy rookie in Jamison Crowder, who’s from Monroe.
Even though the Panthers are banged up in the secondary with Charles Tillman doubtful, Washington coach Jay Gruden didn’t seem inclined to take too many shots this week.
“I think they’re number one in the NFL as far as passer rating against quarterbacks and the big thing is not getting too greedy,” Gruden said. “They force you to get a little bit on edge. They force you into throws you don’t normally make, they frustrate quarterbacks and make them throw passes that they shouldn’t normally throw. So it’s very important for us to play within the framework of our offense.”