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Defense looking for turnovers, to help turn a tough situation

Derrick Brown

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Once again, the Panthers turned in the kind of defensive performance that should allow them to be competitive. But once again, they're forced into needing to be perfect because of the consistent struggles on offense.

And that's left those players at a bit of a loss for words after a 17-10 loss to the Titans on a day when one of the Tennessee touchdowns came after a turnover gave them the ball at the Panthers' 15-yard line.

"It's terrible," cornerback Donte Jackson replied. "It's abysmal. You need any more synonyms? It just sucks, man.

"I mean, we're grown men, and as grown men, we don't like to lose like that at nothing. So it sucks. I don't really know what else to say. We just have to get back to work."

That work for the defense is complicated. They actually held the Titans to a manageable 264 yards, limited them to 2-of-11 on third-down conversions, and just two plays of more than 20 yards all day. It ought to have been enough.

But it wasn't again, and the Panthers know they can't just be good; they need to create turnovers to be able to succeed in this environment.

"We played solid on defense, played good on defense for the most part," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said. "But the challenge for our defense is, we've got to create some turnovers. You're playing a young quarterback (rookie Will Levis); we've got to find a way to create a turnover somewhere along there to make a play to give us a short field or score some points."

The Panthers didn't get those Sunday, and since they only had two drives all day with more than 10 plays (which yielded a field goal and a touchdown), that defense is being forced to defend every inch of the field to cover that slim margin of error.

It's a frustrating proposition, and they're looking for answers themselves. Captain Brian Burns spent a long time after Sunday's game huddled with injured captain Shaq Thompson, looking for the kind of advice the veteran normally provides when he's on the field.

"Basically, what can we improve on?" Burns said when asked about that conversation. "What can we do in the opportunities that we have, you know, Shaq sees in the game from a different perspective. So, with that being said, he could see things that we can't. So we were just thinking of different ways to get the ball out, thinking of different ways to get to take away the turnovers and pretty much where we were messing up at.

"Shaq is one of the main leaders on the team. A big key to the defense, so you know, his input is always needed."

His body would be useful, too, but he was lost to a broken ankle in Week 2, part of what Burns called a "weird" year of injuries all around. Those were mostly on offense Sunday (they used three different right guards during the game because of Chandler Zavala and Cade Mays leaving the game), but they finished without veteran safety Vonn Bell and rookie outside linebacker DJ Johnson.

That puts that much more pressure on those who remain.

"It's what we have to do, you know?" safety Xavier Woods said. "We understand we can't just keep letting them punt the ball and get in a field-position game. We've got to take field position by taking the turnovers.

"It goes between getting a rush on the quarterback and also coverage. So if we can pressure the quarterback, we get sack-fumbles, maybe we get tipped balls or interceptions on overthrows and stuff like that. We understand that we don't have to be perfect. But at times, you've got to play better and turn the ball over, and offer more possessions."

"We're trying to be perfect every game, that's the goal," linebacker Frankie Luvu added. "It ain't no pressure at all. Us as a defense, we hold ourselves to the standard, just doing our job, giving our offense a chance, control what we can control.

"Those turnovers, they come in bunches. Obviously, we do need to get the ball out, we need to get turnovers, but when this opportunity shows, we just got to capitalize on them, and it's not like we're going in the game not wanting to get the ball out. That's on my mind every time we step on the field."

So is trying to find a way to explain the impossible situation they've found themselves in, at 1-10 with six games left in the season.

"I mean, it's a team effort, you know what I mean?" Burns said. "When a certain part of the team's lacking, you gotta pick up that slack.

"So, if that's what we need, that's what we need to do. But like I said, going into the games, we always plan on, getting two takeaways, and keeping them under 13 points. So that's always a goal that will never change at a personal level."

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 12.

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