Panthers: First Half Grades – Defense

With a 3-5 record and in last place among the NFC South division, the Carolina Panthers are in need of a second half turnaround for a return to the playoffs…

Nov 6, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Case Keenum (17) rushes against the Carolina Panthers during a NFL football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In order to return to the playoffs, or even compete for a playoff position, the Carolina Panthers will need to display some inspired play throughout the second half of the season. Through eight games, Carolina is 3-5 and far below the expectations of both the media and fans entering the season.

How did the defense perform during the first half of the season?

Continue to see grades for each of the individual defensive units as it relates to their first half performance. However, be forewarned that these grades reflect individual performances and the unit as a group. On pace for a 6-10 season after eight games, these are the report cards you hide from your parents and hope that a signature return is not required.

It is not all doom and gloom in Carolina. The team is 2-0 since the bye week and the defensive pass rush appears to be rejuvenated. However, after struggling through the first six games of the season, continued pressure up front and solid secondary play will be needed moving forward.

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (98) in the second quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

DEFENSIVE LINE, Carolina Panthers

B-

Despite only accumulating 12 sacks during the first six games of the season, the resurgence following the bye week has been monumental. In the two games following, the Carolina defense matched their season total. Recording eight sacks in a home game against Arizona and four last Sunday, the Panthers appear to be heading in the right direction. On Sunday alone, pass rushing specialist Mario Addison accounted for half of the sack total and batted down balls at the line of scrimmage. Currently, the Panthers rank third-best in run defense and sacks. Rotating defensive ends has allowed the unit up front to remain fresh and continually stop the run and pressure the quarterback. With four games of sub-par production, the last two have helped to improve this groups’ rating and must continue to help them claw back into the playoff picture.

Oct 30, 2016; Charlotte, NC, USA; Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (59) and outside linebacker Shaq Green-Thompson (54) against the Arizona Cardinals during the first quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKERS, Carolina Panthers

A+

The one group on defense that has played spectacular all season. Asked to cover receivers, pressure the quarterback, and stop the run game the Panthers’ linebacker corps has answered the call. Starters Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, and Shaq Thompson are arguably the best unit in the league, continually proving their case. In the first eight games alone this unit has accumulated 108 solo tackles, four sacks, three interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and two defensive touchdowns. Even backup A.J. Klein has contributed when called upon as Thompson missed Sunday’s game in Los Angeles. Opposing offenses have to account for each of these individuals and as the defensive line play improves, the production from this unit could be record breaking.

Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Carolina Panthers cornerback Daryl Worley (26) and cornerback James Bradberry (24) against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Panthers 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

SECONDARY, Carolina Panthers

D

Cornerback play has been questionable since the departure of Josh Norman, but the Carolina Panthers are not only struggling on the outside. The play of safeties Kurt Coleman and Tre Boston has also been unimpressive as the Panthers search for an answer on the back end of their defense. Rookie James Bradberry has missed time with a turf toe injury, but when active appears capable of maturing into a productive pick. Daryl Worley has recently earned more playing time and could also develop into a solid corner, but both need experience. Zack Sanchez was promoted from the practice squad following the release of Bene Benwikere, but has proven to be unreliable on the field. The newest member, Leonard Johnson, has provided a spark and will need to continue being productive if Carolina hopes to contain opposing passing attacks in the future.

Nov 6, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano (9) reacts after kicking a field goal against the Los Angeles Rams with Panthers punter Andy Lee (8) during the second half of a NFL football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

SPECIAL TEAMS, Carolina Panthers

C-

Kicker Graham Gano’s missed game winning field goal to open the season in Denver appears to have been a prelude to a subpar season. Since then, Gano has missed three more opportunities and two extra points on the season. A miss during the Monday night game versus Tampa Bay potentially could have changed the outcome and while Newton and the offense converted a successful two-point attempt, his extra point miss could have spelled disaster in New Orleans. To blame two missed kicks on a 3-5 record as opposed to 5-3 seems drastic, but very well could have been the case during the first half of the season. Newly acquired punter Andy Lee has been great, averaging fourth in punt yards for the league. However, in net yards following the return, Carolina is tenth, needing to improve on coverage. Speedy return man Ted Ginn has averaged over 20 yards on kickoffs, but only a little over five yards per punt return.

With eight weeks remaining there is still plenty of football left in 2016. The Carolina Panthers have won two in a row and are hoping to continue turning the corner as they prepare to battle for a playoff position. However, as evidenced by the first half grades, improved play is necessary among the secondary and in special teams.

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