Most of the talk surrounding the Panthers’ Week 5 loss to the Eagles has centered around the frustrations with Sam Darnold’s play, the inconsistent play calling of Joe Brady, and the sometimes-bizarre decision making of Matt Rhule. While all of this is warranted, let’s take a deep breath and look at the good on this Carolina team; the defense, a key cog of which is second year defensive tackle Derrick Brown.
Through five games, Brown has one sack, 11 tackles, a quarterback hit, and 2 tackles for loss and, while those numbers might not jump off the page, Brown’s presence alone is setting up teammates for tackles at or near the line of scrimmage, even if he’s not benefitting on the box score. After all, it can be forgotten that sometimes the most important plays don’t even count as stats for certain players.
Having said that, advanced statistics have not shied away from lavishing praise on Brown. Pro Football Focus gave his Week 5 performance a grade of 74.9, the highest from any Panther, while ESPN’s advanced metrics have Brown’ run stop win rate of 42% ranking sixth among defensive tackle.
But does the tape back up the metrics when it comes to Brown’s play? Let’s find out.
It’s difficult to imagine the success this Panthers defensive line (which leads the NFL in pass rush win rate through five games) having the success it has without Brown. At 6’5 and 320 lbs, he is an entire fortress going up against interior linemen. Literally from the Panthers’ first play from scrimmage you can see the impact Brown has on the team defense. Shuffling and working as the 1-tech from a diagonal tilt, he’s able to get a step ahead of the zone blocker, who can’t get his inner arm in control.
This allows him to stuff Tevin Coleman right away, setting the tone for the season as the Panthers established themselves as one of the league’s best defenses through the early season.
We get a similar impact on this next play from the game against the Saints. This time from the 3-tech, Brown’s B-gap penetration doesn’t lead to a tackle on his stat sheet, but his power rush against zone blocking forces Kamara to cut up field to avoid the brick wall in front of him.
What this does is give him slight yardage, but also the opportunity for Haason Reddick to bring the stud back down for a stuff. Stats help pay the bills, after all they are always considered when it comes to contract extensions, which Reddick is due for.
If you’ve taken a deep study at Brown’s 2021 tape, one thing you may have noticed is his stunning ability to shed blockers, which is to say he rips out of block attempts on the run and establishes gap integrity, getting in the way of a back and bringing him down for a run stop. In this first clip, Brown rips the left guard into the shadow realm, opening up an opportunity for Jermaine Carter Jr to bring the back down.
In this second clip, Brown has a bit more help in the form of Reddick, but his ability to shed the right guard prevents Miles Sanders from cutting outside.
Brown has been so good against zone blocking because of his bulk, power, and tilt on the line of scrimmage. That tilt gives him an incredible advantage over any lineman he’s faced, and with his long arms and burst he’s able to wrap up backs with ease.
However, while the Panthers might not have come away with the win against the Eagles, Brown had arguably his best game of the season in what ended up being a losing effort.
Many people don’t associate Brown with pass rushing ability, but against the Eagles offensive line he was generous enough to show us a few tricks. The first clip features one of the most devastating club moves I’ve seen in quite some time. The amount of violence on this hand throwing assault stuns the left guard long enough to get Brown through the B-gap and generate some pressure, affecting the throw from Jalen Hurts.
In the second play, Brown uses a rip move to generate pressure on Hurts, forcing him out of the pocket and eventually resulting in a throwaway.
These plays may not show up on the stat sheet, but they’re just as important if not more so than the ones that do.
Lastly, Brown shows brilliant technique here against double blocking. Just when the center seems to have the upper hand, Brown motions his hand like he’s throwing a softball and gets it under the center’s grasp, freeing him into the backfield for yet another stuff.
These are the kind of plays Brown has made all season even if they’re just a bit under the radar. Matt Rhule might have struggled to find positives to take from the Panthers’ performance against the Eagles, but Derrick Brown’s play against both the run and the pass should be something to cling on to.
On a defensive line loaded with talent and youth, Derrick Brown is establishing himself as one of the league’s best young defensive tackles. His versatility allows him to play multiple gaps and techniques, and he’s among the more difficult defensive tackles to stop against the run.
Not only has he made the most of his opportunities this season, but as he continues to develop and refine his game as a pass rusher, he will continue to move ever closer to becoming a star in the league and among the league’s more underrated defensive tackles.
(Top photo via Chanelle Smith-Walker/Carolina Panthers)