Notebook: Challenges remain for second-ranked Panthers defense

Panthers defense celebrates

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers are playing very well on defense at the moment.

There's still room for improvement.

With the Panthers ranked second in the league in total defense, and near the top in a number of other categories, there's not that much

"Our last ball game, we did a lot of good things," defensive coordinator Phil Snow said Thursday, in a bit of understatement. "There's something to improve on every week. I asked them to play faster, and they did, and to win the physical battle, and they did. So we did some good things in the football game that we can control, that the opponent had nothing to do with.

"As long as we can keep working and getting better every week, we have some talented guys in the room, so we have a chance. That's the issue, is you've got to get better every week in this league."

The Panthers lead the league in net passing yards per game (173.7 yards), they're fourth in the league in third-down percentage allowed (33.1 percent) and tied for fourth in the league in sacks (27).

But they're still somewhat susceptible to teams who want to body them up and run the ball, the way the Cowboys and Vikings did. They rank 12th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (107.0), numbers that got out of whack in a few games. The Cowboys ran for 245, the Vikings 198, and the Patriots 151. In half of their games, they've held opponents to fewer than 82 rushing yards, and under 50 three times.

The Football Team is capable of running the ball, as they showed last week against the Buccaneers. While averaging 2.8 yards per carry might not sound like much, being able to run 34 times for 94 yards has its own merits.

"They're getting physical running the football. They have a big downhill back (Antonio Gibson), and a back that's a really good receiver (J.D. McKissic). . . . They have some weapons on offense, and if you look at their offensive line last week, they dominated Tampa, which is hard to do.

"I think they're starting to play the way they want to right now, so they're a challenge."

— Defensive end Brian Burns is trailing teammate Haason Reddick in their friendly wager over the team's sack lead (winner gets a customized golf cart), but he said he's trying to focus on what he can do to improve.

Reddick's at 9.5 sacks on the season to Burns' 6.0.

"Honestly, we haven't even talked about that lately; we've been focused on these games," Burns said with a laugh. "I'm sure we'll talk about that at the end of the season."

Burns went back at the halfway mark and watched his own tape, and said there were particular things he'd like to clean up.

"I'd say just finishing certain plays I feel like I should finish. Dealing with certain ways people try to disrupt my pass-rush. . . . Just really analyzing what people do to me and reacting to that."

— While Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has had shoulder injuries in the past, offensive coordinator Joe Brady said he'd seen no evidence that Newton's arm strength is a problem at the moment.

"I've had no issues," Brady said. "I've seen nothing where there's been any issues with how he's throwing the football. He kind of showed that the other day.

"I think there are things we can do with timing, and footwork, and whatnot. But he was able to throw the ball effectively and push the ball down the field the other day. So there's no issues."

Brady was referring to a deep ball to DJ Moore that resulted in a defensive pass interference call and a 33-yard penalty.

View photos from Thursday's practice as Carolina prepares to take on Washington in Week 11.

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