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Defense not panicking about early drives allowed

Jaycee Horn

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It wasn't a long look at the first defense, but they didn't exactly like what they saw.

But the Panthers who were out there weren't discouraged, either.

After giving up a long touchdown drive to the Giants' starters on the opening possession, the Panthers haven't had a great defensive start to the preseason. Along with last week's loss to the Jets, there have been some leaks with the first group on the field.

They know this, they know some of the reasons, and they're addressing it directly.

"We've got to take some things off tape that we've been giving up. We'll be all right," veteran safety Vonn Bell said. "It's short, but we've seen things on film that are problem plays, and we've got to knock them out of the park and take them off film. We've got to acknowledge it; we've got to nail it in the face, and get it off film. We've just got to do it."

Asked if two weeks in a row with long drives allowed had him concerned, Bell just shook his head.

"No," he replied.

There were some common issues, ones that are a bit predictable when they're playing without starting outside linebackers Brian Burns and Justin Houston, along with defensive tackle Derrick Brown.

The Giants were running bootlegs with Daniel Jones, trying to use play-action and quick passes to keep the Panthers off balance, and Friday night, it worked.

"I just thought they executed on a very high level in that first drive," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said. "I mean, it was good, good play calling, good execution. You know, I thought Jones looked sharp. I thought they kept us on our heels a little bit. So that was a good first drive by them."

After that, things settled a bit, with the Panthers forcing the Giants' backups (led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor) into a three-and-out. But in such a short look, it wasn't enough to create significant concern for them.

"That wasn't us," linebacker Shaq Thompson said. "They went down and drove on us. Lack of communication. That's really it from that one. We showed who we were the second drive and how we could be dominant."

Thompson said they were "just flat," and that's something they're going to have to fix in a hurry since they open the season with division games against the Falcons and Saints.

"Really, just start faster. Have more urgency," cornerback Jaycee Horn said. "Especially knowing we open up with two division opponents, so we're definitely going to get back and watch the film. I'm sure that's going to be a point of emphasis, to start fast.

"The last two games have been long drives. You never want that feeling as a starter, especially when you're not playing that many snaps. That's what I take from it."

While offensive game plans are often described as "vanilla" in the preseason, Horn said they only ran about two different plays when they were out there for two drives. And considering the absence of three impact players, he's not overly worried.

"I think we're in a good spot," Horn said. "I think we've got some room to grow before we're at our best. But I think we're in a pretty good spot. We're starting to put things together.

"But we're getting one or two drives, and it's hard to gauge where we are as a defense off those one or two drives, though I'm sure that's what everybody's doing right now."

Brian Burns

Thompson said without key players on the field, there's an extra burden to "communicate," and it helps they have an experienced spine to the defense between him and veteran safeties Bell and Xavier Woods.

But without a reliable pass-rush, it's hard to get a sense of what they're actually capable of.

"I mean, obviously, those are three good players that we didn't play," Reich said. "But there's still a lot of good things that we can look at. So we'll learn from it. We still evaluate a lot of the individual play, and look forward to getting all of our guys out there. But still, we're responsible, right?

"That happens during the season; you lose guys for a series, a game, or something like that. So we got to figure out ways to play winning football, even when our star players aren't in there."

Cornerback Donte Jackson also had an ankle issue flare up during the game, but said it wasn't serious and was an extension of something he picked up in joint practices against the Jets (and not the same side as his torn Achilles from last year). So for him, the short look was nothing to be alarmed at, and actually provided teaching points they needed.

"With the type of pass rush we've got, you kind of expect that," he said of the Giants' quick game. "It's nothing to really go crazy about or feel discouraged about.

"You never want to be perfect early. You always want to have something to work on. Just clean up the execution; everything else is things we control."

Check out scenes from the Panthers' second preseason game against the New York Giants.

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