CHARLOTTE – "Past performance does not have anything to do with future success," Julius Peppers said. "It can be an indication of how well or how not well someone is playing, but overall the only thing that matters is how you perform on Sunday. So we need to bring it."
Peppers was answering a question about the Detroit Lions' struggles of late, specifically how they've allowed 16 sacks over their last two games. But he just as easily could have been answering a question about the Panthers' struggles to consistently impact opposing quarterbacks.
And actually, he did answer that question as well.
"We need more. We need to be better," Peppers said. "We need to be a lot better."
The Panthers are averaging 2.44 sacks per game, 20th best in the league. The initial team of the Ron Rivera era back in 2011 finished the season 25th in sacks, but since then Carolina hasn't finished lower than 13th.
Of course, they're not yet finished with 2018, and you can look at Kawann Short's sack history for a possible indicator of where things could still head. From 2014 - when he became a full-time starter - through the end of last season, the dynamic defensive tackle recorded 28 sacks. Nearly half of them (13) were piled up over the final four games of those seasons.
"We haven't found it yet," Short said. "We have to come together and get things going."
Sacks represent the ultimate goal for a pass rush, and they're the most black-and-white measuring stick. But they're not the end-all in terms of defensive success. Pressuring the passer can have just as much of a positive impact as sacks, and the value of that shows in Carolina's 11 interceptions – tied for fourth most in the league and one more than the Panthers had all of last season.
"We're a team that thrives on being able to generate pressure with four. We've had some outstanding results with that this year," defensive coordinator Eric Washington said. "The other night was one of those situations where that did not happen."
The other night was Carolina's 52-21 loss in which the Panthers had just one sack. The play that encapsulated concerns about the pass rush was one where Carolina rushed only two (because of a miscommunication) and Ben Roethlisberger had all day in the pocket to complete a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown on third-and-2.
Obviously rushing two isn't a recipe for sack success, but the Panthers believe that rushing just their front four should be. They're not blitzing as aggressively under their first-year coordinator, and that puts an onus on the defensive line.
"We've had our moments. We've had other moments where guys haven't been winning one-on-one, and that's on us," defensive end Wes Horton said. "We can't rely on a blitz on every third down. It has to be the four guys down creating pressure, collapsing the pocket inside and winning on the outside.
"We have the guys to do it. We're not letting it get to us to the point where we're losing confidence, I can tell you that much."
Short, who has two sacks so far, said the front line's mentality needs to change.
"I just think we worry too much. We just need to get back to what we do normally and play ball and not really think," Short said. "We have to take the initiative to do our job as individuals and not be out there timid and thinking too much. We just need to light our hair on fire and just go."
Peppers, who had the Panthers' lone sack in Pittsburgh, feels the same way.
"This is the time of the year where you take it up a notch," he said. "This is where the urgency goes up a little bit for everyone, and this is when we're going to need everybody.
"I think we're getting close. But I think this week for sure we need to pick it up."