CHARLOTTE – Last year at Green Bay, the Panthers secondary was searching for confidence. This year, with the Packers traveling to Bank of America Stadium for Week 9, the Panthers secondary has plenty of it.
"No doubt about it. Confidence is a great tool to have," said safety Kurt Coleman, part of a defense that ranks seventh-best against the pass with 229 yards allowed per game. "We believe in what we're doing."
During the 29-26 overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Monday night, quarterback Andrew Luck tested the Carolina defensive backs deep downfield on multiple occasions and they answered the challenge, recording 10 of the team's 14 pass breakups.
"They all trust one another," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said of the defensive backs. "That's probably the biggest element I'm seeing back there.
"And when we were tested down the field, we did a really good job."
Cornerbacks Josh Norman and Charles Tillman, who recorded his first interception of the season, came up with several late-game denials in isolated situations, combining for five passed defensed. Coleman and fellow safety Roman Harper registered the other five breakups, with Coleman securing an interception and Harper recovering a fumble.
"I definitely think (that production) is something we can build on," Tillman said.
Good timing with the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player coming to town.
"It'll be a tough matchup, but if we're able to play the way we've played in the past, we'll be OK," cornerback Charles Tillman said.
"I think Aaron Rodgers is good, but I don't think he's unstoppable."
He looked near unstoppable in Week 7 last season, when he was 19-of-22 for 255 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 victory over Carolina.
That defeat was a catalyst for midseason change. Cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Melvin White and safety Thomas DeCoud started that game in Green Bay, and Charles Godfrey played nickel cornerback. All four players are no longer with the team.
Rodgers was at his best that day, frustrating the Panthers with quick, precise passes and taking shots downfield for big plays. He performed like an MVP.
"He's a complete quarterback, probably the best in the league," said Harper, the lone secondary starter still on the team from last year's trip to Green Bay. "But last year was last year. Completely different team.
"This year we are a more confident group."
There's no denying that.
"We drive the bus from the back," cornerback Josh Norman said. "We have that mindset."
But this confident group is mindful of Rodgers' ability.
Yes, the top-ranked Broncos defense limited Rodgers to a career-low 77 passing yards in last week's 29-10 Denver victory. In Norman's opinion, that makes Rodgers and the Packers offense as dangerous as ever.
"(Rodgers) is probably going to come back madder since they lost last week," Norman said. "Taking that into consideration, we are going to have to be on our A-plus-plus game, knowing we have a guy like that coming in here."
"We have to be able to go up against the best QBs," Coleman said, "and assert ourselves."
View photos from the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game versus the Packers.