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Minutes: Deconstructing third down

Posted Sep 23, 2009

Jon Beason tackles Tony Gonzalez in the Panthers' Week 2 loss Sunday. (PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS)


CHARLOTTE -- Against the Falcons last Sunday, the Panthers actually finished with a slight edge in third-down success ratio, converting seven of 12 opportunties compared with six of 12 for Atlanta.

But because the Falcons converted six in succession -- and then followed two third-down failures with successful fourth-down plunges -- it certainly felt as though the Panthers couldn't get Atlanta off the field when it mattered most.

Nine teams league-wide have fared worse on third downs through two weeks of the season. But what irked the Panthers most of all was their struggles in third-and-long yardage, as one Falcons scoring drive saw them convert third-and-11 and third-and-7 within 80 seconds of each other.

"That's what you want -- third down and seven-plus (yards to go)," Beason said. "Not getting off the field is demoralizing. But we've got to keep punching and keep playing."

Quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons were particularly destructive out of the shotgun formation, from which he passed 13 times on various downs, completing 10 (76.9 percent) for 109 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

"The dude (Ryan) was getting rid of the ball so fast," said Damione Lewis. "He's not stepping up in the pocket much. He's trying to get rid of it between two and a half and three seconds."

One shotgun play did end in a takeaway -- a first-quarter Richard Marshall interception. The play offered Carolina's defense room for optimism, but wasn't enough to offset the struggles.

"You get frustrated out there when they keep getting third downs," Marshall said. "We're not doing what we pride ourselves in, which is stopping third down."

By game's end, the Panthers did stiffen on third downs, getting three stops. Two were runs -- the Falcons' only two third-down runs of the day.

"The way we finished the game up is probably the best we played (on defense) all year," Lewis said. "Those last two series were awesome. We came out and played really good, sound football on those two series."

It was a strong, albeit fruitless, finish.

"We played a (heck) of a lot better than we played (in the 38-10 loss to the Eagles) any way you want to turn it," Lewis said. "So we've got a lot of stuff to be positive about and can build off of.

"All we've got to do is continue to get better every week and it's going to turn around. It's no time to panic. We've got 14 games to go."

BUT HAVING SO MANY GAMES LEFT also underscores just how injury-plagued the Panthers have been this year.

Defensive tackle Louis Leonard's fractured ankle made him the sixth man to be placed on the Panthers' injured reserve list this season. The release of safety Nate Salley from that list Tuesday reduced its complement to five, but that is still larger than the list was at the end of the 2008 season, when only Dan Connor, Ryne Robinson, Keydrick Vincent and Gary Gibson were on injured reserve.

SPLIT SECONDS: Weakside linebacker Thomas Davis is the NFL's unofficial leader in tackles after two weeks. He was credited with 14 stops Sunday after logging 18 against the Eagles in Week 1 ... With the Panthers not playing until Monday, their normal preparation schedule was pushed back one day. Their first full practice -- and along with it, the first injury report -- of the week comes Thursday.