After a thrilling victory over the New York Giants on Sunday, the Carolina Panthers (3-1) hit the road to take on Washington (2-2) and former Panthers corner Josh Norman.
In fact, the Panthers are on the road for the next two weeks. They’ll head to Philadelphia in Week 7.
Starting with momentum in Washington is key.
Naturally, you have questions. I picked the five best I received on Twitter this week. Let’s get after it.
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Question from @CorySpiers: (Panthers quarterback) Cam Newton has struggled to throw his deep ball so far this year. ... There’s a certain corner he knows well and who is having some struggles, plus Washington is pretty good against the run. Do you see (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner drawing up some deep shots early?
Answer: Newton is 0 for 7 on passes of 20-plus yards in the air through the first four games. He had a great opportunity for one last week against New York, as receiver Torrey Smith got wide open over the middle, but Newton didn’t see him. Turner said Thursday that it would have been “the easiest touchdown of his life.”
Another deep threat for Newton, Curtis Samuel, will get a heavier workload this week. And the Panthers won’t stop looking for the deep option once or twice a game. If it pops, they’ll use it more.
And remember Christian McCaffrey’s 184-yard game against Cincinnati? What really helped loosen that front up initially was Newton’s first-play shot downfield to Torrey Smith. It was incomplete, but it had the intended effect of stretching out the defense in the first half because they needed to keep the deep threat in front of them. That gave McCaffrey more room as a runner.
I can see a similar scheme happening against a stout front like Washington’s, which ranks No. 6 against the run so far this season.
I wrote about the importance of Smith running those deep routes whether he gets targets or not a couple of weeks ago — it’s important that he “takes the top off” a defense, but ultimately you’d like to see one of those deep balls find its mark. Otherwise, teams won’t take that layer as seriously.
Washington also gave up 447 yards to New Orleans on Monday night, including 349 passing yards. Norman or not, this could be the perfect opportunity for Newton and the Carolina offense to work the passing game.
Question from @_ddot_: What should Samuel’s workload look like this week with a game and a couple of weeks of practice under his belt?
Answer: Samuel was impressive last week despite playing just 12 offensive snaps. He scored a touchdown on a 25-yard catch-and-run, during which he broke five tackles and stretched into the end zone. Head coach Ron Rivera said he got winded so they exercised precaution and took him out.
The Panthers really like the misdirection he offers, especially when on the field with rookie D.J. Moore and running back McCaffrey. It opens a whole new world of decoys, sweeps, motions and reverses. I’d say he’ll be used more situationally until he’s really back into football shape, but you can count on him being productive when he gets his opportunities.
Question from @jaxwine1: Who does Josh Norman cover? Devin Funchess, exclusively, since he’s our No. 1 (receiver), or do they put him on one side?
Answer: I personally think, because the Panthers rotate and shift their receivers so much, that it would be smarter to have Norman cover one side instead of sticking to Funchess the whole time. But I’m not Jay Gruden ...
If I’m the Panthers, I hope Norman sticks with one guy. Then Newton can target everyone else as that receiver, in theory, runs Norman off. It’s not a glamorous job for that receiver, but it opens things up for Carolina’s offense.
Question from @Justin_Coach_1: With Thomas Davis and Greg Olsen coming back, what does that mean for the roles of Shaq Thompson and Ian Thomas?
Answer: Davis will still be on a little bit of a pitch count this week, though he’ll start. So you’ll probably still see a lot of Thompson, who filled in for Davis as he served his four-game suspension.
With Olsen expected back on Sunday, Thomas will slide more into the No. 2 tight end role, which is a heavier blocking role. Good news: Thomas has really excelled as a run-blocker, a skill Carolina needs against the league’s No. 6 rushing defense.
Question from @Bernanke: Is our patchwork offensive line more like “Ocean’s 11” or “Guardians of the Galaxy”?
Answer: This has some levels to it, man.
I like to think “Ocean’s 11”, because if you think about it, the Carolina Panthers line is finessing the league with a veteran left tackle signed off the street, a third-string center starting at left guard, a 33-year-old center who just got out of “injury prison,” an All-Pro right guard and a second-year right tackle who was a hidden gem. The ultimate heist? They’ve only given up seven sacks in four weeks and they have the No. 1 rushing offense right now.
So basically what I’m saying is, center Ryan Kalil is Danny Ocean. Right guard Trai Turner is definitely Brad Pitt’s character, Rusty. Left guard Greg Van Roten is “The Amazing Yen,” because apparently he can fit anywhere. Right tackle Taylor Moton is up-and-coming talent Linus Caldwell. And left tackle Chris Clark is Basher Tarr. He just comes in and gets it done.
Jourdan Rodrigue: 704-358-5071; @jourdanrodrigue