KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: FOX, Chris Myers, Tim Ryan, Jaime Maggio
KEYS TO THE GAME: Headlines in Washington focused on the quarterback change -- John Beck makes his first start since 2007 with Miami, replacing Rex Grossman -- but the three offensive line starters expected to change might be the greatest storyline to follow. The Redskins can exploit the Panthers between the tackles with RBs Ryan Torain and Tim Hightower. Carolina is 31st in the NFL against the run, and the key to an efficient Beck has been keeping the passing game in a supporting role. The Panthers would be wise to lead with RBs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart given the Eagles' gawdy rushing totals last week at Washington before testing a secondary that has had multiple busted coverages in the last two games.
FAST FACTS: Panthers QB Cam Newton has 2,054 total yards; the Redskins have 1,711 (1,162 passing, 549 rushing). ... Redskins S Oshiomogho Atogwe has 22 interceptions in the last six seasons, fifth in the NFL.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
A few months ago Byron Bell was laying carpet in New Mexico.
Now he's one of the offensive tackles in charge of protecting the Carolina Panthers' biggest investment, rookie quarterback Cam Newton.
Bell is Carolina's full-time starter at right tackle for the foreseeable future with Jeff Otah lost for the remainder of the season to back and knee problems. Bell has started two games for the Panthers in place of Otah, giving up sacks in both games.
But he's become a favorite of the coaching staff, fighting against tough odds making the team as an undrafted rookie.
Bell believes he's played well for the most part, but thinks he can be much better.
"I have to stop all of my holding penalties in general," Bell said. "I have two sacks in my first two starts as well and I need to cut down on that. But I'm learning. I'm learning and getting in my playbook."
Said coach Ron Rivera of Bell: "He's a work in progress. But he's been a good, steady worker and we're really pleased with what we're getting. He is a rookie. But he's played well when he's had opportunities."
Panthers guard Travelle Wharton said while he hates to lose Otah, he likes what Bell brings to the table.
"Since day one he has come in and wanted to get better," Wharton said. "He worked at trying to understand the concepts we have on offense. He's a hard worker and it just shows. He stays late and studies. He's a hungry young guy who is full of energy. It will be tough losing a guy of Jeff's stature, but I really feel Byron can step in and do a good job."
The Redskins should be happy to be facing the Panthers on Sunday. After all, Carolina is 1-5 and has a rookie quarterback.
However, the Panthers, who have suffered four of their five defeats by seven points or less, have the fifth-ranked offense and their quarterback, Cam Newton, is setting rookie records.
"He's not playing like a rookie," Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen said of the No. 1 overall pick in April's draft. "He's throwing for (308) yards a game. We just got to do a good job of having him flustered ... so he makes some mistakes. He's got a strong arm. He can make all the throws. And he'll get out of the pocket if there's a lane open. He's a big dude (6-foot-5, 248 pounds), man. A lot of times you see people wrap him up and he'll twist out of it and throw the ball away so we've got do a good job of wrapping up this week."
And besides Newton, the Panthers have running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, who have run for 512 yards and two touchdowns while elite receiver Steve Smith has 32 catches, 675 yards and three touchdowns and tight ends Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey have combined for 46 catches, 492 yards and three scores.
"With the numbers that he's put up and the weapons that he has, the running game (averaging 4.9 yards per carry) and the best O-line we've seen all year, we've got a lot to prepare for," said Redskins nose tackle Barry Cofield. "(Cam)'s playing at a high level. He's exceptionally talented. He's got all the measurables. (But) he's still learning. He's turned the ball over at times (nine interceptions) so those are things you have to take advantage of."
Newton is physical where last week's opposing quarterback, Philadelphia's Michael Vick, is swift, but they're both two-way threats so the latter was good preparation for the former.
"He's made a whole lot of plays," said Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall. "The biggest problem he poses isn't so much the scrambling it's his ability to keep the play alive. He doesn't look to run as much as Mike does, but when that guy's coming at you and he's 6-5, 250 pounds, that's a different beast than a Michael Vick-type guy. ... He definitely throws some picks into coverage. It happens when you throw the ball as much as those guys do. If we stay disciplined and tackle better, we'll be in great shape."
Oddly, Washington -- which might be without injured free safety O.J. Atgowe -- has lost five in a row to rookie quarterbacks: Tennessee's Vince Young (2006); Buffalo's Trent Edwards (2007); Baltimore's Joe Flacco (2008); Detroit's Matthew Stafford (2009) and St. Louis' Sam Bradford (2010).
--TE Greg Olsen returned to practice Thursday and is expected to start Sunday against Washington.
--WLB Jason Phillips will make his first start for the Panthers on Sunday in place of Jason Williams, who has been benched.
--TE Jeremy Shockey was given a veteran's day off Thursday. He will play Sunday.
--S Jordan Pugh (concussion) sat out practice Thursday and is not expected to play this week.
--LB Thomas Williams returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday's practice with a concussion. He's expected to play Sunday.
--LB Omar Gaither sat out practice Thursday with a sprained MCL. He's probably still a week away.
--FS O.J. Atogwe, who suffered a knee injury during the first quarter of last Sunday's game with Philadelphia, missed a second straight of practice on Thursday and is questionable to play Sunday at Carolina. Reed Doughty will start if Atgowe can't.
--CB Byron Westbrook, who injured a hamstring during Wednesday's practice, didn't work on Thursday and is questionable to play on Sunday. If Westbrook's out, Phillip Buchanon would be expected to make his 2011 debut after missing the first four games with an NFL suspension.
--RB Tim Hightower took full work on Thursday for the second straight day after not playing against the Eagles because of the shoulder he injured early in the Oct. 2 game at St. Louis.
--WR Anthony Armstrong, who missed the past two-plus games with a hamstring injury, took full work the past two days after being limited in practice or fully sidelined since he was hurt on Sept. 26 at Dallas.
--TE Logan Paulsen will replace Chris Cooley (finger, knee) against the Panthers.
--TE Chris Cooley had surgery on his broken left index finger on Wednesday and will have his chronically ailing left knee examined Sunday at Carolina by famed surgeon James Andrews.