Carolina's Secondary - The Legion of Bums

I'm writing this as the Carolina Panthers are down 21-0 at Green Bay, having saved it from becoming 28-0 on a pick-six by "virtue" of the intercepting DB being blatantly guilty of pass interference. 

Yes, our first first down of the game came because of a penalty and the defense still looks like it doesn't know which team is the "bad guys" - the guys in the OTHER uniforms or the guys in the SAME uniforms.

With the rapid demise of a once-great defense (last year and the first two games of this one), I have been giving their issues a LOT of thought the past month. Cam Newton and Kelvin Benjamin are the only two real bright spots for the offense along with Greg Olsen's continued steady if unspectacular playing, but the offense isn't helping the defense consistently. This is about the defense itself.

So what IS the issue here? What happened to the defense from last year?

In short, David Gettleman's "defensive backfield on-the-cheap" strategy has come back to bite him, and the entire team, right in the rumpus.

He and Rivera have been improving the front-seven during their few years recently in Charlotte, and have been successful after a couple of poorly-chosen DTs before Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short were picked in last year's draft.

But to be fair, Gettleman at least made a gesture towards the defensive backfield, using the 4th and 5th-round picks on DBs. 

Tre' Boston, a strong safety candidate from UNC, was a pick I never personally liked for reasons Roman Harper has been demonstrating consistently - I wasn't impressed with Boston's ability to tackle in space. 

He has been injured almost his entire pro career (this season) and hasn't been a factor. In his case, it's probably a GOOD thing.

That 5th-rounder, CB Bene' Benwikere (ben-WICK-uh-ree), has looked solid as a nickle corner. Fine.

Here are the biggest problems: SS Roman Harper, FS Thomas DeCoud, CB Antoine Cason, CB Melvin White, and CB Josh Norman.

We simply lack talent in the defensive backfield, and Gettleman's history of re-treading other teams' rejects isn't working. 

I think out of the entire group, Roman Harper is the biggest offender. I've been over and over his poor plays and his being out of position so I won't beat it to death here. Suffice it to say that he has been doing it since his arrival.

It would be okay if he were at least a good pass defender, and he was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with many others coming into today's game with three. Two of those were off deflected passes that he got lucky on, but at least he caught them. Otherwise, he's slow...physically and, apparently, mentally as well.

Not only is he out of position too often, but at Green Bay in a simple Cover 2 (Tampa-two) defense, he was slow getting over to help out Antoine Cason against Jordy Nelson. Oh well - it isn't like Nelson is at or near the top in every meaningful receiving category, is it? 

When he did get to him, Nelson made him look like a lumbering defensive lineman completely out of his element. How in the world IS this defense EVER going to be any good when your starting "strong" safety has the speed of a tackle and the open-field tackling ability of a kicker?

Harper barely even laid a finger on Nelson, if at all, while allowing him to get right by him for a long touchdown.

On the front end of this so-called Cover 2 against Nelson? Antoine Cason. He dove lazily at Nelson's feet on the play I just mentioned that Harper couldn't clean up in part due to the fact that HE lazily made HIS way over to Nelson.

Jordy made them both pay.

As the team gets behind now 28-0, I'm thinking of Robert Lester and his being waived...turning my attention to Thomas DeCoud.

DeCoud isn't quite as bad as Harper in pass coverage but he seems to have gotten worse after the first couple of games as well. Although I have seen him make some nice form-tackles in the open field since then, I've seen him miss his share of tackles as well. 

If Robert Lester was SO much worse than DeCoud, apparently Lester doesn't even belong in the NFL because DeCoud doesn't look like he does these days, either.

Roman Harper and Thomas DeCoud are "athletes" that even our defense-starved division competitors didn't want. Harper was waived by the Saints and DeCoud by the Falcons.

The rest of our CB group, aside from Benwikere, has been playing as if they don't belong, either. Truly, they were all either low-priced re-treads from other teams or undrafted rookies the Panthers picked up over the past few years. 

In Josh Norman's case, a late-round pick. Oh, I almost forgot Charles Godfrey...the most overpaid 3rd-string safety in the NFL!

It's quite normal to use ONE late-rounder or rookie UFA in your rotation in the defensive backfield, but with today's pass-happy NFL, it stands to reason you want some guys with TALENT back there to at least help be that last-ditch effort to stop a long play.

It looks to me like this lack of draft talent is rearing its ugly head and there's not a single thing, short of making a mid-season trade before a rapidly-approaching deadline, Gettleman OR Rivera can do this year to fix it.

But the defensive malaise runs deeper than "just" the least-talented defensive backfield in the NFL...whom I officially dub "The Legion of Bums."

With Greg Hardy's absence - rightly or wrongly handled - the defensive line isn't generating pressure like it did last season. They aren't holding their ground well against the run, either.

If our prized possession on defense, third-year All-Pro MLB Luke Kuechly, can't be free to make tackles, fellow LB Thomas Davis has to take up the slack. He has been unable to do so, having missed HIS share of tackles as well. I'm not "dogging" TD here, but both he and Luke aren't playing up to what we're used to seeing from our dynamic duo.

Again - it goes back to the line not generating pressure as a 4-man rush. The results are that the linebackers often have to shed blockers or make their way through traffic to make the stop. Kuechly leads the NFL in tackles again this year as much due to the fact he's on the FIELD so much as anything else.

In fact, nobody - not one single player - is playing up to the level we saw last season. The only constant missing is Greg Hardy, and I don't think a single player would turn the second-best defense last year into the second-worst one this year. We don't have a new system or new defensive coordinator, either.

I think Hardy's absence makes one of the NFL's best defensive lines a bit more mundane for sure. You can't be missing a guy who makes a sack per game and all that goes with that and NOT have it make a difference, but this is way too much.

What we're seeing is the effects of having to not only use castoffs and re-treads from other teams, but multiple years' worth of doing so. When you roll over your entire secondary from year to year, there's no stability to build upon. 

The result? Missed assignments. Missed tackles. Letting things get out of hand and not playing with urgency are but two negative results of poor play. It all feeds off each other and has a snowball effect, each one amplifying the others.

Without even getting much into the deep issues we have at the offensive tackle position, next year's draft should include one of those as a high pick. The rest should be spent on the secondary and yet another pass-rushing DE but can hold up against the run as well, with thoughts of replacing an aging Charles Johnson. CJ hasn't been stout against the run himself - he never has been known as a great run defender but not a bad one either - and with his salary, he'd need a huge pay cut to stay past his current deal.

Sorry folks, but I still see a LOT of rebuilding needed...this time, starting with the back end of the defense.

If you can't put consistent pressure on the QB, you'll at least need guys who can somewhat cover receivers and fill holes against the run.

Being cheap and doling out revolving-door 1-year deals is officially a failure.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye