Carolina Panthers try to plug holes in defense
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP)
The Carolina Panthers are trying to plug holes in their defense, which has given up four plays of 49 yards or more in the first two games.
Only two games into the season, the Panthers have surrendered touchdown passes of 49, 55, 70 and 84 yards in a pair of seven-point losses to Arizona and Green Bay. That's in addition to giving up an 89-yard punt return for a score.
While there's never an ideal time to give up a big play, it seems Carolina's defense has picked the most inopportune times to allow the backbreaking plays.
''It's the big plays, man, they're killing us,'' Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. ''If we can eliminate those big plays and busted coverages we'll be fine. If we can do that, we will be a great passing defense and be able to hold some teams to under 300 yards.''
Or under 200 yards.
Take away Green Bay's two long touchdowns and Aaron Rodgers throws for 175 yards. Without his two big strikes Arizona's Kevin Kolb has just 174 yards passing.
Against Green Bay, the Panthers dominated the Super Bowl champions in the first half in time of possession and total yards and took a 13-7 lead into the locker room. But on the first possession of the second half, Greg Jennings beat safety Jordan Pugh for a 49-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field and the Packers never trailed again.
Late in the game, when the Panthers desperately needed a stop, Jordy Nelson flashed over the middle and beat Carolina's zone for an 84-yard touchdown, putting the Packers up by 14 and basically sealing the victory with less than four minutes to play.
''We have to be more disciplined in what we're doing,'' said Panthers defensive backs coach Ron Meeks. ''For the most part, you take away a couple of those big plays and those guys are being aggressive and really playing tight coverage. We just have to make sure we understand exactly where our fits have to be. They're going to be plays where he have to stay back and read our keys a little better.''
Meeks attributes part of that to guys learning an entirely new defensive system, one that was just installed eight weeks ago.
''It's a learning process and it's one of those things the guys have to get corrected,'' Meeks said.
Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has a reputation for being an aggressive play caller, and both touchdown passes the Panthers allowed in week one against Arizona came on all-out blitzes. The Cardinals scored one touchdown on a 55-yard touchdown pass to Jeff King on a play where linebacker Jon Beason blew out his Achilles in coverage.
Against the Packers, the Panthers didn't do as much blitzing, but the problems remained.
''We just have to get the checks down and when we check the coverage everybody has to be on the same page, that's the key,'' Munnerlyn said. ''If they do pop a big play, let's try to make the tackle right then and there instead of letting them go for 84 yards.''
Munnerlyn covered Nelson last Sunday. He took the wrong angle and missed the tackle and safety Sherrod Martin fell down.
''After that, (Nelson) was off to the races,'' Munnerlyn said.
Coach Ron Rivera said the breakdowns have mostly been individual players messing up an assignment, but he refused to put all of the blame on the defensive backs.
The Panthers have only registered three sacks this season.
''When it's a mistake in the back half it's glaring, for sure,'' Rivera said. ''But when it's a deep throw, that often means the quarterback is getting too much time, too.''
NOTES: Rivera announced that Jason Williams will take over as the new weak side linebacker in place of Thomas Davis, who went on injured reserve Tuesday. Meanwhile, linebacker Thomas Williams will see action in nickel packages alongside James Anderson. ... Right tackle Jeff Otah has been cleared to play and will return to the starting lineup Sunday. ... Safety Charles Godfrey (concussion) is the only Carolina player who didn't practice Wednesday. Pugh will start if Godfrey can't play this week. ... Quarterback Cam Newton twisted his ankle last Sunday but it did not keep him out of practice.