Carolina Panthers: Why Is the Defense Struggling This Preseason?

Ryan KennedyAnalyst IIAugust 30, 2011

Carolina Panthers: Why Is the Defense Struggling This Preseason?

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    The Carolina Panthers have always been a defense-first team. You have to when your "star" quarterbacks are Kerry Collins and Jake Delhomme. The Panthers have relied on big-name defenders making plays.

    From Sam Mills to Julius Peppers, the Carolina Panthers' goal has always been to just allow less points than the other team, not outscore them.

    This year was supposed to be the return of that. With the offensive side of the ball seemingly headed in the right direction with the additions of Cam Newton, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey, the defense, with all its stars re-signed, should have been ready to make a leap to a top-10 defense.

    Unfortunately, from what we have seen so far, the Panthers have regressed but for no real reason. Thomas Davis is back and looks stronger than ever. Charles Johnson is back in blue and black and virtually every key piece of their defense is back.

    So why is it not working? Let's take a look. 

New Defensive Tackles

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    Yes, this was a big flaw last year as well. The addition of rookies Sione Fua and Terrell McClain were supposed to bolster the middle of the defense, not weaken it.

    So far the Carolina defense has made Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas of the Miami Dolphins look like the next great running back tandem, and made Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott both look like All-Pros.

    The Panthers are looking like they will certainly miss veteran Ron Edwards, who will be out for the rest of the season with an injury. There recent pickup of Ketwan Balmer is likely not a long-term answer, either.

    The big key for the Panthers will be finding a waiver wire pickup who can step into the rotation immediately. This will be a huge focus for them as the Panthers' defense has not really been the same since the departure of Kris Jenkins and Maake Kemoeatu.

Cover Corners

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    The Carolina Panthers had one solid cover corner in Richard Marshall, but bad blood between him and Panthers' management led to Marshall's departure.

    Currently, the Panthers are fairly weak at corner. Chris Gamble is solid and Captain Munnerlyn can start but is probably better fitted for a nickel corner.

    The Panthers' passing defense isn't horrid, but it certainly leaves something to be desired. Ultimately, the Panthers need to be able to create turnovers through the passing game, and their current set of corners just isn't cutting it.

    The Panthers do have hope. Rookie Brandon Hogan should be ready sometime midseason, and R.J. Stanford has shown himself to be competent while on the field. If the Panthers can find another starting corner via trade or off the waiver wire, that could solve a big issue.

The Offense Is Stagnant

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    This is the same thing we heard last year. When the offense can't sustain long drives or eat up the clock, the defense gets tired.

    The Panthers' offense is only on the field longer than the putrid Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning. The defense barely has time to catch their breath before it's another three and out.

    The running game does not look like it is worth the money invested in it, and Cam Newton looks no better or worse than Jimmy Clausen at this point. The receivers can't get open and the only real bright spot is the excellent play of the tight ends.

    It's going to take time for the offense to gel. This was understood, but not at the expense of the defense. Ron Rivera should know better.

Dan Connor Is No Jon Beason

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    Dan Connor is a perfectly good situational linebacker, and could possibly even start for several teams in the NFL. Unfortunately, the Carolina Panthers have one of the 10 best linebackers in the NFL and Dan Connor just happens to be his backup.

    While Jon Beason is out recovering from his Achilles injury, Connor is the man in the middle.

    No knock against Connor, but Beason is a significant upgrade and the clear heart and soul of the Panthers' defense. Until Beason returns, the Panthers may have that flat look to them.

Where Is the Pass Rush?

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    It's the preseason, so blitzing isn't exactly "in season." Now, take a look at this: three sacks in three games. Now take a look at this:

    Eli Manning, Sage Rosenfels, Chad Henne, Matt Moore, Andy Dalton, Bruce Gradkowski.

    Which one of those are you labelling as mobile? If you can't sack a statue, you won't catch Josh Freeman.

    Charles Johnson has seen very limited time but has not looked dominant. Johnson just received a huge payday, so much more will be expected of him once the games count. Getting pressure from the outside will be key to making the linebackers' job easier and make the corners look a lot better.

There Is Hope

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    This is the preseason, so we can all relax.

    There is concern, but the defense does have its bright spots.

    The linebacker unit is one of the strongest in the NFL. If the defensive tackles could stop the run and pick up blockers, they would be able to roam even more freely.

    The safeties are another strong unit. Charles Godfrey, Sherrod Martin and Sean Considine will continue to grow together as a unit.

    Some of the players are starting to grow as well. R.J. Stanford, Jordan Pugh, Greg Hardy, Corey Irvin and Eric Norwood all have shown significant growth. If they can continue over the next season to grow at this rate, the Panthers will be set up for the future.

    Most importantly, Jon Beason will return and Thomas Davis has been a machine on the outside. If the linebackers can stay healthy, the defense will get itself on track.