People are already writing off the Panthers run defense. What has changed? Was Greg Hardy that important to the run defense from a defensive end position? The answer is no. The run defense is the same. Greg Hardy would have been on the other side of the field or in the backfield with the opposing teams offensive tackle on the runs that have gashed the Panthers defense up the middle to start this season.
It is time for some new hope with the Panthers run defense, and I am here to deliver that to anyone who sees dark days ahead for the Panthers defense. Instead, I am offering you a run defense that will be trending upward for the remainder of the season.
Consider the following:
The Panthers defense has given up 4 runs totaling 274 yards this season, which skews the statistics for total rushing yards. Those 4 runs are the difference between a 29th ranked run defense and a top 10 run defense.
Interesting note is that the Panthers defense has given up 15 runs for 20+ yards in 2013 and 2014 (22 games). 67% of those runs came against AFC Teams. Panthers have played AFC Teams in 7 of 22 games (32%).
Are you seeing a pattern?
Let's put an exclamation point on the run defenses problem that everyone is so fired up about.
The Panthers have given up 100+ rushing yards to 9 of 22 teams. The top 7 worst rushing defensive performances for the Panthers are:
AFC Teams run for 100+ yards on the Panthers defense 86% of the time (NFC 20%).
Panthers run defense has given up 2232 yards and 10 TDs in 22 games. AFC teams have accounted for 1049 yards and 8 TDs in 7 games. That is 47% of the rushing yardage and 80% of the rushing TDs in 32% of the games.
Seems to me the defense is not as prepared for the running games of AFC teams. They are likely putting a majority of their planning and preparation time into division and conference opponents in the off-season/preseason.
There is one glaring weakness in the Panthers run defense that they must fix immediately, and I expect to see more teams aim for this weakness. The Panthers give up a majority of their rushing yardage on big runs when they have an opposing team near their own red zone. The opposing offense will go heavy on one side (typically to the left). The play is a weak side counter/scissor play. They get the Panthers defense to slide the DL to the strong side and then slant to the strong side gaps. This places the weak side DT over the center and responsible for the strong side A gap. The weak side LB is now responsible for the weak side A gap and the safety is now set up for the weak side B gap. The DE contains the C gap. If both OGs are allowed a free release to the second level and get 6 yards deep on the weak side LB, then the RB has 3 angles of attack with only 2 defenders within 5 yards of the RB. Ron Rivera must address and correct this issue to stop the big runs with the opposing offense up against their own goal line.
CJ Spiller did this to the Panthers defense at the start of the 2013 season. LeGarrette Blount did this to the Panthers with the Patriots in 2013 and the Steelers in 2014. The Buccaneers fullback did this to the Panthers to start the 2014 season. Giovanni Bernard hammered this issue home last Sunday. The time has come to stop this from being a point of attack for other offenses with a long field staring them in the face.
Goodbye AFC teams! With 9 NFC teams remaining (5 divisional), I would lean toward fans seeing a much stronger run defense for the remainder of the season. A run defense that will remind us that the Panthers still have one of the stronger run defenses in the NFL.
A new hope for all Panthers fans!