Coordinators' Chat: Panthers lack of pass rush is a concern

Phil Snow

CHARLOTTE — Through two games, the Panthers' lack of pass rush has been a glaring deficiency. The defense has not generated a sack and managed only one quarterback hit through two games.

Every other team in the league has at least one sack, and no other team has fewer than four quarterback hits.

Those aren't winning numbers, and neither were the ones defensive coordinator Phil Snow shared Thursday.

"The analytics people tell you you need 11 pressures to win football games, and we had five last week," Snow said. "We've got to do a better job, obviously, than that."

Head coach Matt Rhule said last week the Panthers' coaches recorded only five quarterback pressures against the Raiders as well.

The lack of a pass rush is a concern. Snow admitted as much, saying, "We've got to start being around the quarterback a little bit more."

But sometimes that's easier said than done. Blitzing can be an effective way of getting to the quarterback, especially one who doesn't have much experience like the Chargers rookie Justin Herbert, who the Panthers will face this weekend. But sending extra rushers can leave an eligible receiver uncovered.

"When you blitz, somebody's band is going to strike up — either theirs or yours," Snow said. "If you look at the pressure in the National Football League … a little less than three quarters (of sacks) are coming with a four-man rush and not the blitz. The ball's coming out versus the blitz.

"We have to rush the passer with four, and that's the key."

Becoming an effective pass-rushing defense will take more than one player. Still, for now, end Brian Burns is one key to increasing pressure. He had 7.5 sacks as a rookie, and Snow believes Burns is making good progress in the scheme. As Carolina's coaching staff continues to get to know the 2019 first-round pick's strengths, Burns has flashed his versatility.

"He really rushed the passer well in the second half (against the Buccaneers), but he also can drop and do some other things," Snow said. "We're trying to utilize who he is, and we're in the infant stage with it."

Still, the Panthers will need more than Burns to deliver pressure consistently. Carolina's defensive front is mostly young and inexperienced, particularly if defensive tackle Kawann Short remains sidelined for another week with a foot injury. But pass rush is a glaring area for improvement.

"At some point, I think you'll see us play and really play well," Snow said.

BUILDING IS A PROCESS

Snow has been the defensive coordinator at each of Rhule's stops as a head coach, a relationship that's been continuous since 2013. They've known each other since 2001 when Snow was the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at UCLA, where Rhule served as the Bruins' defensive line coach.

When asked on Thursday why their partnership has worked for so long, Snow pointed out they've developed a successful process both at Temple and Baylor.

"Will it work here? We'll have to wait and see. But I think it will," Snow said. "Now, it takes a while to process it. But pro football is different than college football. Your roster turns over 30-35 percent every year. It's not like college ball where you get a young guy for four to five years.

"It takes a lot of time, and you've got to be tough and believe in what you're doing to turn things. I believe in that, so does he. So I think it's been a good match."

Snow is right that success under the new coaching staff won't come overnight. But he likes the challenge of building a defense, and that's what Snow is trying to do now.

INVOLVING THE TIGHT ENDS

On offense, tight ends Chris Manhertz and Ian Thomas have caught 100 percent of their targets between the two of them.

The issue is, those plays have resulted in only four catches for a combined 28 yards.

The Panthers' offense is ninth in total yards and is averaging 6.0 yards per play, illustrating that the unit can efficiently move the ball. But especially with running back Christian McCaffrey out for the next three weeks, the team needs everyone to step up production.

Offensive coordinator Joe Brady reiterated that he likes the Panthers' tight ends. What they're doing isn't necessarily why they've received only four targets. As an offense, Carolina doesn't want to force-feed players. Instead, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has to make the proper read based on the opposing defense.

"If this is a week where there's an opportunity to get the tight ends the ball a lot, I'm sure Teddy will take advantage of that if that (happens to) be the case," Brady said.

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