Five Things to Watch: Panthers vs. Redskins

1. RELATIVE SUCCESS OF COUSINS: Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins has been unstoppable against NFC South foes two of the last three weeks, completing a combined 53-of-65 passes for 641 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions in victories over the Buccaneers and Saints.

In between, against an undefeated foe, Cousins was a pedestrian 22-for-40 for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a loss to the Patriots.

The Panthers hope to make Cousins repeat his performance against an undefeated team rather than his recent performances against NFC South teams.

"He's finding himself," cornerback Bene Benwikere said. "He's always had a good arm and has always been able to get the ball out quick to his targets. But now he's understanding and developing his role. He's gaining confidence, and their team is gaining confidence."

The Panthers present a formula that could derail that confidence. Carolina is tied for the NFL lead with 14 interceptions tied for the fifth-fewest touchdown passes allowed with 11. The Panthers are one of just two teams in the league – along with the Broncos – with more interceptions than touchdowns passes allowed.

2. TRIPLE THREAT IN BACKFIELD: Running back Alfred Morris has been a workhorse since his rookie season in 2012, but he's gotten plenty of help this season. Rookie Matt Jones is a dangerous running mate, and third-year back Chris Thompson has developed into a nice complement as a pass catcher.

"They have three guys back there that do a good job, with Matt and Alfred as the two main guys," linebacker Luke Kuechly said. "It will be a good challenge."

Both Kuechly and head coach Ron Rivera credit Washington's run game for fueling Cousins.

"A lot of things start with them running the ball," Rivera said. "If they can be effective running, play-action passing becomes a big part of what they want to do."

3. WE MUST PROTECT THIS BALL: When the Panthers have the ball, they'd be wise to keep a close eye on it against a defense that has forced 17 fumbles this season, the fifth-highest mark in the league.

"They're up there in the league when it comes to turnovers, especially when it comes to stripping the football. We have to be mindful of that," quarterback Cam Newton said. "The front seven really makes those guys go, and they have a lot of athleticism in the secondary. Those guys aren't looking to bat the ball down – they're trying to create turnovers."

The Panthers have been good with the ball so far: Just two NFL teams have fewer than Carolina's three lost fumbles.

4. WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE: Washington has struggled away from home in recent seasons, dropping 17 of its last 18 since the middle of the 2013 season. Over that same stretch, Washington is 9-10 at home.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have gone more than a calendar year without a loss at Bank of America Stadium, winning all seven regular season games and a playoff game at home since their 19-17 loss to the Falcons on Nov. 16, 2014.

5. TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS: Washington's offense has been hot through the air of late, and its defense is good at forcing fumbles. Carolina's defense has slowed opposing passes attacks all year, and its offense has taken care of the ball. Washington has struggled on the road; Carolina has thrived at home.

On paper, it all adds up to another Panthers victory, but it's not that easy – in fact, it's never easy in the NFL. The Panthers have done a great job of taking nothing for granted. That must continue that if their winning ways are to continue.


LAST TIME THEY PLAYED

Photos from Carolina's win over Washington.

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