Five Things to Watch: Panthers at Redskins

1. Wide receivers must step up to the plate: There's no avoiding that former Panthers cornerback Josh Norman was the talk before and will be a big part of the talk during Monday Night Football in Washington.

But for the Panthers' position group charged with facing Norman, they need to let their level of play do the talking for them regardless of Norman's role in the proceedings.

"You know he's going to be fired up, so there's going to be a lot of trash talking from him, but we're going to take it as it is and go out there and play ball," wide receiver Devin Funchess said. "It's primetime football, so they're going to try to make a statement. Everybody's watching us, so we just have to be ready and prepared and match their energy."

It's been a challenging year for Carolina's receiving group in terms of consistency this season, plus beating the Washington secondary isn't just going to be about beating Norman. It's going to be on the receivers and quarterback Cam Newton to step up their game.

"Just like last year when we played them, they have a lot of athletes over there. They have (Donte) Whitner in the back, and we know he's a head hunter – he's going to come hit you," Funchess said. "We just have to be precise in our routes and do our job.

"We can't touch the ball every play, but go out there and make a difference in the run game and the pass game."

2. Washington wideouts a handful: On the other sideline, Washington's pass-catchers have enjoyed a banner year. Jamison Crowder, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are the only trio in the league all inside the top 35 in the NFL in receiving yards, and it could well be a foursome if tight end Jordan Reed had been healthy all season.

Linebacker Thomas Davis likened Crowder to a young Steve Smith, while Garcon is the epitome of a reliable possession receiver and Jackson is the definition of a deep threat. The key to it all, though, might be Reed, who has 60 catches for 640 yards and five touchdowns despite playing in just 10 games and playing just 14 snaps last week because of a shoulder injury that could impact his status Monday as well.

"I think highly of Jordan. He's very talented," said Greg Olsen, who needs 93 yards to become the first tight end in NFL history with three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. "He's a little bit different type of tight end. He runs a lot of slot receiver type of routes because of his ability to change direction and run after the catch. A lot of what he does is pretty unique, and they utilize him well within the scheme of their offense.

"The biggest thing for him obviously has been just staying on the field. When he's been on the field, he's showed his talent."

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3. More challenges for defense: The pass game – one of two averaging more than 300 yards a week - is a big part of the reason the Redskins rank second in the NFL in total offense, headed by quarterback Kirk Cousins.

"He's got a good arm, makes all of the throws and makes good decisions. He has a good handle," head coach Ron Rivera said. "You've got to be able to get after him and affect him early."

In order to do that, the Panthers will take an approach similar to last week, when they slowed the Chargers' high-octane pass game by first slowing their dangerous run game. Washington's attack is led by undrafted rookie Rob Kelley, who has averaged 81 yards and scored five touchdowns since taking over as starter six games ago.

"They've got a good running game," Rivera said. "If you don't stop it, then their passing game – specifically their hard play-action – becomes very deceptive. You've got to stop the run to make that play-action not as effective."

4. Super Mario setting the tone: The Panthers will try to get after Cousins and Co. with a pass rush that leads the league in sacks and is led by pass rush specialist Mario Addison.

"Shoot, the way he's playing, it needs to be 'Super Mario,'" Newton said. "What a difference a person can make."

The Panthers signed Addison off Washington's practice squad late in the 2012 season, and over what amounts to four seasons of football, he has 23.5 sacks on limited snaps.

"He gives us that fastball off the edge, that quick twitch, and I love his attitude," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "He's tough. He'll do anything. No job is too small, no job is too big. I love that attitude and that approach to our defense, and he really embodies what we're all about in terms of that. He just brings a lot to the table."

5. Reeling in Ryan Kerrigan: The Redskins in response will get after Newton with the league's fifth-most sacks to their credit and with a worthy leader in Ryan Kerrigan, who entered Week 15 ranking third in the NFL with 11 sacks.

"He's an animal," fullback Mike Tolbert said. "That defensive line is stout, and the linebackers play fast and flow. We've got our work cut out for us blocking up and protecting Cam and Stew (Jonathan Stewart), but we're just the men for the job."

View photos of the Panthers as they prepare for their game against Washington.

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