Entering Sunday, the Panthers were ranked 26th in rushing defense as they were giving up an average of 133.4 yards per game and a problem to this point has now become an epidemic – the Panthers defense wasn’t any better against the Packers in their 24-16 loss at Lambeau Field.
In fact, they were even worse.
Last season, the Panthers allowed only 112.8 yards on the ground per game – that number is 20 yards higher this year and if they don’t get it corrected, it might just cost them a shot at the playoffs.
Carolina allowed 163 yards on the ground as running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams were a two-headed monster for Green Bay all afternoon. Jones led the way as he rushed for 93 yards on 13 carries, ripping off gains in huge chunks. Williams also had 13 carries for 63 yards – all told, the Packers averaged six yards per carry, with Jones over seven on the day as he also scored three touchdowns to tie Christian McCaffrey for the league lead.
“We, as a defense, we’ve got to be better against the run,” Gerald McCoy, who had one of only three tackles for loss on the day, said after the game. “Moving forward, people are going to try to run the ball on us and we can’t allow it.”
The Packers were able to reach the linebackers and secondary on several occasions. That was evident in Eric Reid (eight) and Ross Cockrell (six) leading the defense in tackles.
“Talking about it isn’t good enough,” head coach Ron Rivera said about the Panthers porous rush defense. “We work on it, but we just have to get better at it.”
“We pride ourselves on stopping the run, forcing the offense to be one-dimensional in having to throw the ball,” Reid said. “Giving ourselves a good position so that our pass rushers can rush on third down. We have to be better if we want to make the playoffs.”
One thing that certainly didn’t help the Panthers was the Packers time of possession, in particular in the second quarter. Out of the entire period, the Packers offense was on the field for over ten minutes of it.
Carolina had the ball early in the second quarter, but a Kyle Allen fumble led to a six-play, 52-yard drive for the Packers, which ended in an Aaron Jones one-yard touchdown run. Then, after punting the ball, the Packers held the ball for over five minutes to end the half. Tight end Greg Olsen said the offense’s lack of time on the field during the second and third quarter was a game-changer for the Panthers – the Panthers led 10-7 after the first play of the second quarter and entered the fourth quarter down 24-10.
The Packers had 146 more yards than the Panthers in those two crucial quarters where the score flipped.
“We didn’t convert a third down there and we never really went back on the field,” Olsen said. “In the third quarter, we had that ball get tipped in the red zone. So that’s the way it goes.”
“It felt like we didn’t play the whole second quarter.”
The momentum boost of stopping the Packers on the final play of the half was mitigated on the opening drive of the second half when the Packers needed only five plays to go 75 yards, including a 38-yard pass on 2nd-and-26, to put them up 21-10.
“You never want that to happen,” McCoy said. “Vernon [Butler] started it off hot for us with the sack and we had the penalty and backed them up – and they made a great play. They get paid, too. Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Famer, so he is going to make big plays.”
“We’ve just gotta do our best to eliminate big plays.”
Having to chase down Rodgers all afternoon was also definitely a challenge for the Panthers. While Rodgers just rushed for seven yards, he extended so many plays because of his mobility in and out of the pocket; on the day, Rodgers completed 17-of-29 passes for 233 yards.
The rush defense has been an issue since the start of the season as the Panthers’ gap integrity has been compromised and tackles are being missed on a consistent basis – mistakes are being made on all levels. Next week won’t be any easier as the 5-4 Panthers will host the Falcons. In their upset victory over the Saints, Atlanta was able to run for a total of 143 yards despite an injury to starting running back Devonta Freeman. The Panthers have talked about being accountable for weeks, but it starts with all 11 starters doing exactly what they’re supposed to do – which hasn’t been happening.
“You can’t try and hold someone else accountable if you’re not doing your job,” said McCoy. “So everyone just needs to worry about themselves and makes sure we are doing what we need to do and everything else will take care of itself.”
Something needs to change soon. The Panthers aren’t doing what they need to do – and it shows.