Sorting the NFL Sunday Pile: Old-school Redskins could win NFC East, Cam Newton dissects top defense

Steak is great but sizzle sells, which might explain why the Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers aren’t drawing much attention despite a combined record of 10-4. Neither team is winning in fun fashion, necessarily, but there is reason to believe the success can continue for both squads. 

The Redskins were not a popular preseason pick, although some of us liked their chances to contend for a playoff spot and perhaps even win the division. But after beating up on the Giants in a 20-13 road win, the Redskins remain in first in the NFC East and are looking very much like a team capable of continuing to pile up victories. 

What’s bizarre about Washington is it’s hard to fully understand how they’re dominating. But perhaps we just don’t need to look any further than the trenches to see how the Redskins are winning these football games. Defensively, they’ve been outstanding against the run and it’s been a huge net positive. 

Cardinals (Week 1)

David Johnson


Colts (Week 2)

Jordan Wilkins


Packers (Week 3)

Aaron Jones


Saints (Week 5)

Mark Ingram


Panthers (Week 6)

Christian McCaffrey


Cowboys (Week 7)

Ezekiel Elliott


Giants (Week 8)

Saquon Barkley


Look at list over the last four weeks: Ingram, McCaffrey, Elliott and Barkley? Those are four of the most dangerous running backs in the entire NFL. Say what you want about the Ingram thing, what with the Redskins getting blasted and the Saints throwing all over them. That’s fine. But since that game, the Redskins have won three straight outings against physical NFC teams who want to put the ball on the ground and run first and foremost. 

Washington hasn’t allowed a team to run for more than 104 yards thus far in the season and while the advanced metrics don’t love their performance (Washington is 22nd in defensive DVOA and 26th against the run), they are near the top in traditional stats. The Redskins rank fifth in overall yards allowed on defense, sixth in points allowed (19.1) and sixth in yards per rush allowed (3.8).

The addition of Jonathan Allen with their first-round pick in 2017 had a major impact: the Redskins were a top-five team against the run through five games until Allen suffered an injury. The Redskins doubled down this offseason by adding Da’Ron Payne, another former Alabama defensive lineman to pair with his old pal Allen. Mix in Ryan Kerrigan and Matt Ioannidis and the results have been outstanding, with Washington capable of slowing down even the most dangerous running backs. 

Josh Norman described the defensive line as “menacing” after the game and he’s not wrong with that description. Watch Ioannidis smashing through and get to Eli Manning for his second sack of the first half.

The defensive lineman finished with 2.5 sacks on the day, a career high, which also gives him a career-high 5.5 sacks for the season. All told, Washington sacked Manning seven times, the first time since 2014 the Skins produced a seven-sack outing. This line is helping to anchor a team that’s surged to a 1.5-game division lead over the rest of the NFC East, despite struggling at times to produce a ton of offense.

“I think we’ve invested some resources in the defense, hoping they would pay off,” coach Jay Gruden said after the game. “We hoping this is what we’re trying to build. In this division, you’ve got to play great defense, in my opinion. This is critical for our success; until we get going offensively we have to win games like this. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Let’s give credit where credit is due though: Adrian Peterson is running his TAIL off. Peterson is playing way above his head, pummeling opposing defenses with his physical style of running and even managing to catch a touchdown pass for the first time since 2013. He ripped off a powerful 64-yard touchdown run that was ultimately the difference in this game. 

Peterson’s 149 rushing yards on Sunday are tied for the third-most by an NFL player over the age of 33, behind only John Riggins and John Henry Johnson. Peterson became the oldest player in NFL history with 100 rushing yards, a rushing touchdown and a receiving touchdown in a single game.

So far the Redskins haven’t had to open things up offensively in the passing game. Maybe they won’t. Maybe they can’t. Maybe it doesn’t matter: they can run the ball and stuff the run. In a year where we’ve started to see explosive offenses occurring all over the NFL, the Redskins are winning in a throwback, blue collar kind of way that looks entirely sustainable. 

Surprising Seahawks

Don’t look now, but Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are doing their best Undertaker impression, rising up from the mat and getting to 4-3 on the season after handling the Lions with relative ease on Sunday. If the season ended today, the Seahawks would be in the playoffs, sneaking as the second wild card team.

That’s a fairly stunning development for a roster no longer featuring the Legion of Boom. And it’s even more surprising when it’s a team coached up by Brian Schottenheimer, one that’s looking sharp on offense. The Seahawks aren’t explosive or anything, but as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora noted on Sunday while poking fun at our pal Pete Prisco for Russell Wilson playing well, the Seahawks quarterback has been dialed in over Seattle’s last five games.  

La Canfora also dove further into the Seahawks’ excellent first half in his notes column for Week 8.

The Seahawks drafted Rashaad Penny in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft but haven’t had to use him yet as a primary rusher out of the backfield. They’ve gotten good games from Chris Carson (25 carries, 105 yards, one TD on Sunday) and Mike Davis and they’ve managed to produce on offense without forcing Russell to rely on his legs. He’s rushing less than he ever has in his career right now.

Wilson only needed 17 attempts to get 248 yards (that’s 14 yards per attempt!) and had as many touchdowns (three) as he had incompletions. He finished the day with a perfect passer rating, making him the second quarterback, along with Jared Goff, to do so this season. 

Credit the offensive line as well. This is a unit coming together despite what anyone expected, and the loss of Tom Cable has been a major gain for Seattle. 

Seattle has a gauntlet coming up in November — vs. Chargers, at Rams, vs. Packers (TNF), at Panthers — but survive that stretch .500 or better and the Seahawks will very much be involved in the playoff hunt. 

Carolina coming together 

Last week in this spot we mentioned the Carolina Panthers and Cam Newton thanks to their remarkable comeback against the Eagles. He’s getting room here again because he’s playing too well not to get a lot of love as a top-tier quarterback. Cam was out of his mind against the Ravens on Sunday, as Carolina throttled what is one of the NFL’s best defenses, completing 21 of 29 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for 52 yards and a score on 10 carries. 

Newton is now completing more than 66 percent of his passes on the season, an unheard of number for the former No. 1 overall pick who spent most of his career well below the NFL’s version of the Mendoza line, hanging in the 55 percent area for most years. 

His red-zone numbers are eye-popping before you even factor in Cam’s ability to run the ball near the goal line. 

I don’t think it’s out of control to suggest Newton is the greatest rushing quarterback in NFL history, and I don’t think it’s out of control to suggest he’s the greatest red-zone threat in NFL history either. 

What’s happened this year is Norv Turner has taken over and made Newton more efficient, while keeping him from taking shots. The Panthers’ offensive line played well — Newton wasn’t sacked once by the top team in sacks in the league — and John Harbaugh admitted Turner had the NFL’s top defense on its toes all game long. 

“I thought Norv Turner did a great job scheming us up, keeping us off balance,” Harbaugh said. “He forced us to put certain personnel groups out there and then he had counters for it. He did a tremendous job.”

The emergence of D.J. Moore (five catches, 90 yards) and Curtis Samuel as movable, yards-after-play threats changes the Panthers dramatically.

“It’s a dangerous offense,” Samuel said via the Charlotte Observer. “We’ve got speed guys on the field who can beat guys down the field. We got guys who, when you get the ball in their hands short, we can make plays. It’s dangerous for a defense. They can’t scheme us up as well.

“You can’t just say, ‘These guys are going to run downfield and catch the ball.’ You’ve got to watch out for the run threat, too.”

Those guys along with McCaffrey give the Panthers the ability to move their weapons all around, to utilize misdirection and to put explosive playmakers in positions where Newton can make easier throws. It’s 2018 and the NFL made life easier for offenses. There’s no need to make a quarterback throw deep into tight windows on every single play. 

Oh yeah: and the defense is starting to look good too. The Carolina Panthers are 5-2, no one is really talking about them, and they’re starting to trend in the right direction. 

Is the Jameis era over?

It was wild to see what happened to Jameis Winston on Sunday, a complete and utter implosion for the former No. 1 overall pick that resulted in him tossing four interceptions and getting benched for Ryan Fitzpatrick. It might be a permanent thing.

Winston, who was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season, nearly didn’t get his job back because Fitzpatrick — aka FitzMagic — played well enough for the Bucs to get out to a 2-1 record to start the season. After Fitzpatrick struggled against the Bears in Week 4, Winston replaced him and took over again on a full-time basis following the team’s bye. 

He’d been lobbing up big stats over the last few weeks and then, against a Bengals team that has been kind to opposing offenses in recent weeks, Winston completely melted down. Winston would finish 18 of 35 for 276 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. 

Our John Breech gave Winston a well-deserved “F” for his performance in his weekly grades column.

Despite missing those first three games, Winston is still tied for the NFL lead in interceptions. That’s impressive in a horrific way. At this point Winston and Fitzpatrick have basically thrown the same number of passes. And Winston’s been substantially worse. 

There’s also the problems of the weapons not enjoying Winston under center as much: DeSean Jackson requested a trade and Mike Evans morphed from a WR1 to a WR2. 

Now the Bucs have a decision to make. Do they keep trotting Winston out on the field? If he’s injured, they have a fifth-year option on him next season for $21 million that’s guaranteed for injury. Jameis getting hurt and guaranteeing that salary would be a disaster. They could try to trade him, but is there anyone really willing to give up something for a turnover machine with off-field issues? They certainly can’t work on a contract with Winston. He might very well end up playing out the string and hitting free agency next year. It’s a remarkable fall from the No. 1 overall pick who looked like he was preparing for a breakout year when he wrapped up a strong close to the 2017 season. 

Tampa might be preparing to blow it all up and start over from top to bottom the way things are going. 

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