Changes coming to the Carolina Panthers defense

The Carolina Panthers have been a huge disappointment to their fans this season. While the Panthers offense is ranked 4th in the league, the defense has fallen to depths that resemble awful Panthers teams of years past. The Good news? All is not lost. The Panthers can still get their defense turned around and have made recent moves that signify changes are coming to their defense.

Get Running

There is one sure fire way of limiting the number of big plays the Carolina Panthers defense gives up. Keep them off the field. 

The Panthers currently rank 4th in overall offensive production, but that ranking drops to 11th when it comes to time of possession. This means while they are moving the ball well, they are doing so too quickly. Long bombs to Greg Olsen this season have no doubt been exciting to watch, but they may not be the best means of offensive production in the grand scheme of things. The Panthers would much rather methodically march down field, rush for 5 or 6 yards  at a time, and chew up the play clock.

The signing of blocking tight ends this week indicates the Panthers are looking to get back to their running roots. Last week in Atlanta, their most productive runs came with offensive tackle Chris Scott playing the role of a blocking tight end. While this was a temporary fix, an extra lineman it is a “tell” to the defense that a running play is coming. The Panthers took notice and moved quickly in signing Chris Manhertz and Scott Simonson. If either of these two tight ends can provide quality blocking for Jonathan Stewart, the immediate result will be an increase in time of possession and fewer big plays given up by the defense.

Get Healthy

I know it seems like this is the worst Panthers defensive roster in history. Losing two high scoring games against division rivals no doubt played a large role in that perception. But when the Panthers started the season healthy, the defense didn’t look all that bad. Injuries have contributed to the collapse more than any other factor.

The good news moving forward is that the Panthers should get back their first and second draft picks against the Cardinals. This is an immediate injection of talent into a defensive roster in need.

Before his high ankle sprain, rookie Vernon Butler looked like the best under tackle on the roster. Butler was routinely getting at least some pressure on the quarterback on the interior of the defensive line. He will make his return against the stoic Carson Palmer and could be the difference in the game.

Rookie James Bradberry has been dealing with turf toe ever since he was unable to complete the Atlanta Falcons game. His departure in that game was immediately felt, to the tune of 500 Matt Ryan passing yards. Their is no doubt that James Bradberry is the best corner on the Panthers roster. Getting him back on the field instantly improves the defense.

The other starting corner, Robert McClain, will also return. McClain is a serviceable veteran that at the very least will keep rookie corner Zack Sanchez off the field. Anything that keeps Sanchez on the sidelines is a big improvement for the Panthers.

Get Pressure

This is likely the most obvious fix for the Carolina Panthers defense, but is easier said than done. The Carolina Panthers defensive line has looked as lethargic and inept as it has in years. Teams have focused in on doubling the Panthers nose tackles and have matched up one on one with the other three, unconcerned about their effectiveness.

This week’s release of defensive end Lavar Edwards was a head scratcher, but could actually indicate more changes coming along the defensive line.

The Carolina Panthers would love nothing more than to get adequate pressure on the quarterback with a base four defensive lineman. If they can accomplish that, everything else falls neatly into place. It would improve the defense instantly and dramatically.

The Panthers have been able to get pressure with only four lineman this season, but usually with Kawann Short at the defensive end position. The return of Vernon Butler and the release of Lavar Edwards could indicate the Panthers plan on moving Short to defensive end more frequently. He is not a full time defensive end, but could be a huge upgrade over the lackluster Kony Ealy for several plays a game on passing downs.

Jeremy Igo is owner of Carolina Huddle. Based in Charlotte, he has covered the Carolina Panthers for over a decade.