If there’s been one chink in Carolina’s defensive armor, it’s been the lack of a consistent pass rush. Graded -1.3 and ranked #23 by ProFootballFocus, the Panthers pass rush hasn’t produced results. Kawaan Short and, rotational end, Mario Addison have been the lone bright spots, but Carolina’s starting defensive ends haven’t generated much. Charles Johnson was invisible as a rusher against Houston, and Kony Ealy may still be drawing penalty flags.
Sunday’s match against the New Orleans Saints, however, presents an opportunity for Carolina’s pass rush to get back on track. New Orleans’ offensive line struggled mightily against Tampa Bay this past week, allowing 5 sacks and 6 quarterback hurries. PFF graded the Saints -6.7 in pass protection and -4.5 in rush blocking. It was ugly. So ugly that Saint’s right guard Zach Streif even publicly apologized to Drew Brees after alone being abused for 3 sacks.
Strief isn’t the only one that should be apologizing. Here Max Unger, the highly acclaimed center acquired in the Jimmy Graham and left guard, Tim Lelito, looked unfit to slow a single rusher. Yes, it was Gerald McCoy, but this effort couldn’t stop anyone.
arolina’s pass-rush hasn’t been all that intimidating this season. It’s shown potential, but hasn’t shown the ferocity that has been the M/O of past Panther defenses. A much improved secondary. led by Josh Norman, and strong linebacker play, has really been the source of Carolina’s defensive this success to this point.
For the third consecutive week, however, Carolina faces a team with a struggling offensive line and protecting an equally struggling quarterback. The third time may be the charm though. Although Drew Brees remains “pretty confident” he will play Sunday versus Carolina, he’ll certainly be limited by the injury. At one point against Tampa Bay, some describe Brees arm as appearing dead at halftime Sunday. If Brees does play, he doubtfully will be able to throw downfield, relying heavily on short passes, the screen game, and establishing a rushing attack.
This strategy will play right into Carolina’s defensive strengths. Although the Panthers haven’t mustered much of a pass-rush, they have played solidly against the run. With dynamic linebackers, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson are great in pursuit. With a secondary that has played well enough press up, Carolina can easily smother the dink and dunk passes Brees will be forced to throw. The Saints haven’t rushed the ball all that great either. Ranked 25th overall, the Saints have averaged a mere 79 yards on the ground this season. It’s these offensive limitations that will give the Panthers defense another chance to get back on track. Look for the defensive line to pin their ears back and put Brees on his back this Sunday. And if Brees doesn’t play, they’ll only feast more.
By the Professor, aka Tony Dunn
Follow him on Twitter @Cat_Chronicles