Reasons for Panthers’ Defensive Struggles Go Beyond Execution

Bill VothNews, Week 85 Comments

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There was no way for the Panthers to make the film from their 38-17 loss in Green Bay look any better than it was. But the tape apparently revealed something that may be a bigger concern than poor execution.

“We’re not competing hard enough,” linebacker Thomas Davis claimed Monday. “From the film we watched, we have a lot of guys that are on a consistent enough basis that are not competing hard enough, and it’s showing up.”

That’s a disturbing take-away from one of the Panthers’ captains. But except for one half against the Bears, the defense hasn’t been good for more than a month.

While searching for reasons why, most have looked for a drop-off in talent from 2013’s second-ranked unit. This group has many of the same faces, but it doesn’t appear to be playing with the same passion.

“If you look at last year’s defense, if I miss a tackle or someone misses a tackle, we had guys flying around and making that play. It covered up some of the stuff that was going on,” Davis said.

“You have to be willing to go out and compete and give yourself up for this team, for this defense. You have to play like that the whole game. You can’t pick your spots and say ‘Hey, I’m going to play right now, and, I’m going to take this play off.’ That play you take off could cost us the game.”

The Panthers are obviously having a harder time without Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who’s been in NFL limbo since Week 3. But it’s fair to wonder if they’re also missing a guy like safety Mike Mitchell. They would have been silly to match the five-year, $25 million contract the Steelers gave Mitchell this offseason, but he did provide a certain edge to last year’s defense.

Former cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, who also left for a bigger deal in Minnesota, had a bit of an attitude as well. That’s one of the reasons the 5-9, 195 former 7th-round pick has been able to carve out a six-year NFL career.

The Panthers rebuilt their secondary with veteran safeties Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud and cornerback Antoine Cason, while ends Wes Horton, Mario Addison and rookie Kony Ealy are trying to fill Hardy’s spot. Seven weeks into the season, the pieces still aren’t fitting into place.

Most of the numbers are ugly, and they’re getting worse each week.

After allowing at least 37 points in four of their last five games, the Panthers have given up 195 points this season. They allowed just 241 all of last year.

The 2013 defense gave up 13.8 points per game, the second fewest in the league. This year they’re allowing an average of 27.9 points, which ranks them 29th.

The Panthers are also missing way too many tackles, something that’s led opposing offenses to gain chunks of yards after the catch. According to Pro Football Focus, the Packers picked up 193 of their 255 passing yards after the catch on Sunday.

“When you play fast, and you play physical, you’re going to miss some tackles. As long as somebody else is coming, that’s ok. It’s when you’re missing tackles from technique, and nobody else is there … we’ve got to do a better job of swarming and gang tackling,” defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said.

“People are going to make plays in the passing game. These quarterbacks are good, and they’re going to make plays, and if the ball’s going to come out, then we’ve got to swarm and reduce the yards after catch.”

Another problem is what’s happening before the Panthers have to make a tackle. They’re allowing a 70 percent completion rate, the league’s third-highest mark. Only the Raiders and Bucs — who have just one win between them — are allowing passes to be completed at a higher clip.

The last five quarterbacks who faced the Panthers were especially efficient. Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and Aaron Rodgers combined to connect on a stunningly high 76.5 percent of their passes (124-of-162). All those completions added up to 1,390 yards with 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

“We’ve got to find a way to contest throws. The NFL is a game of contested throws. We didn’t have a pass breakup yesterday,” McDermott said.

Despite all the negative numbers, the 3-3-1 Panthers are somehow still in first place. And while that mostly speaks to the current quality — or lack thereof — in the NFC South, if the defense doesn’t figure out a way to play better or harder, Carolina’s place atop the standings will change sooner rather than later.

“We’re number one in the division right now, but if we continue to play the way we have it won’t last long,” Davis said. “First and foremost we have to go out and do our jobs against Seattle, or the outcome won’t be any different than the one we had this past weekend.”

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  • my1voice57

    Thank you Thomas Davis for saying what has been needed to be said several weeks ago and “keeping it real.” Preferably by Coach Ron Rivera and QB, Cam Newton. Almost every facet of the Panthers game needs to improve and players and coaches truly need to hold themselves more accountable and not just talk about it. The days of Coach Ron Rivera and Cam Newton standing at the podium during press conferences talking about “corrections” is over. The corrections need to be in the players and coaches demanding more of themselves and displaying that on Sundays. Truthfully, I don’t see a whole lot of passion or a sense of urgency coming from Coach Ron and the buck stops with him. Perhaps Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera missed the boat on the idea that they could get along just fine without a passionate, firery, hard-playing, and demanding veteran named Steve Smith. Right now the Carolina Panthers have NO ATTITUDE, NO PASSION, AND NO IDENTITY! And as a result they are commanding NO RESPECT!

  • warvetpro

    This is the most damning evidence that Rivera needs to go. Players not giving effort, I can forgive his horrible in-game decision-making and the fact that he always seems to be coaching last weeks game this week, and the lack of a killer-instinct. However, allow guys to remain on the field after not playing hard. Unacceptable. Hustle can make up for lack of talent.

  • warvetpro

    my1voice57 You had me until the Steve Smith part. The O has performed above expectations. Smitty has nothing to do with the D or Rivera’s lack of accountability. The team misses Hardy, Mitchell and Captain way more than they miss Smitty.

  • warvetpro

    And before it starts. Give Shula a break. The guys on O are trying they are just not very talented. There is really no effective scheme for our guys to run. The creative plays many call for require blocking, getting the ball out quick requires WR that can beat press man quickly, power running requires a consistent push. The only way this O can account for the lack of talent on O and the lack of effort on D is if Cam does it all himself. Maybe moving the pocket? Hell, I don’t know.

  • sncsurf

    I agree I love Smitty but can looks like a new man the way he’s spreading the ball around. While the guys from the secondary we let go were not elite players or deserved the money they got they did know the defense. And they gave 110 % effort almost to a fault. We really need a leader in the secondary. If we keep playing this way we may have a chance to get one in the draft. Maybe the safety from bama or the corner from Oregon.