CHARLOTTE -- Each week during the season, Panthers.com will sit down with defensive coordinator Eric Washington to review the coaches' tape of some notable plays from the most recent game.
We kick things off with a closer look at Carolina's defensive effort in a 16-8 victory over Dallas in the season opener.
First-and-10 (15:00 of 1st QTR)
It’s the first play of the game. All week the Panthers have talked about stopping the run. All week the Cowboys have talked about establishing the run.
The first snap is what everyone in the stadium anticipates – a handoff to Ezekiel Elliott. It results in a one-yard loss, which sets the tone for the game.
Washington notes the proper alignment in response to the tight end motion, then makes mention of defensive end Wes Horton’s effort to occupy two blockers on the play (he’s highlighted in the clip below). Then Washington commends linebacker Luke Kuechly for doing his job against the lead block.
“For all of the accolades Luke Kuechly gets for chasing the football and finishing plays, Luke addresses the lead blocker correctly here, which forces Elliott back inside,” Washington says.
That leaves linebacker David Mayo free to wrap up Elliott, with some additional help from defensive end Mario Addison.
“We still have Mario Addison on the backside ready to help him clean it up,” Washington says. “Outstanding execution and team defense in that situation.”
Second-and-21 (14:01 of 1st QTR)
After a holding call on the next play, the Cowboys face second-and-very long. They decide to run Elliott off the right side behind two pulling linemen.
Kuechly brings the crowd to its feet with a tackle against the sideline for no gain, but Washington credits safety Mike Adams for making it happen.
“Mike is in run support with a 300-pound guard pulling at him,” Washington says. “Right here, he’s got to set the edge. This lineman has got momentum, power, the whole thing, and Mike has to set the edge while Luke is running from inside out. If Mike cannot establish the edge of the defense, then that’s a much harder play for Luke to make.
“Mike sets the edge, gets off the block and then collaborates with Luke to finish it. I was so proud of this. These are the unsung things. That’s team D.”
First-and-10 (5:46 of 1st QTR)
Draft analysts and armchair scouts had a big question when it came to evaluating 180-pound cornerback Donte Jackson. How will he hold up in run support?
The second-rounder answered that question in a big way in his NFL debut. He finished with five tackles (third-most on the team) but there was one in particular that stood out to Washington, so much so that he replayed it for the defense in its Monday meeting.
On this play, Elliott cuts back and Jackson is the only man standing between him and a long gain.
“Da’Norris Searcy has to address the gap and he was real physical against the receiver. So this thing cuts back, and we’ve got an All-Pro one-on-one against a rookie,” Washington says.
Jackson goes low and executes a perfect form tackle and brings Elliott to the ground. It’s the definition of teaching tape for a defense that has always emphasized the importance of corners being willing tacklers.
“That’s as good as it gets,” Washington says.
Then he directs attention to the reactions from Kuechly and Mayo.
“The other thing is emotionally what that does for our defense,” Washington explains. “Luke, Mayo – these are guys that tackle for a living and they see the buy in from Donte. This young man has said, ‘I’m in. I’m here.’ That’s important.”
3rd-and-11 (6:36 of 3rd QTR)
Up to this point, Dallas is 0-for-6 on third downs. They finally get their first conversion with a 16-yard completion to slot receiver Cole Beasley.
The Carolina defense line applied pressure on Dak Prescott for much of the afternoon, but this was a rare example of a clean pocket for the Cowboys quarterback.
“First of all, this is waaaay too much time,” Washington says. “I’ll start with that.”
Prescott takes advantage and connects with Beasley, who finds a soft spot in the zone.
“Captain (Munnerlyn) does a nice job of forcing Beasley to expand a little bit right here,” Washington says. “The safety, just based on the (quarters) coverage that we’re playing, he has to stay square and be ready to drive that. Read the profile of the receiver.
“And then Captain gets a little too wide right there. He does a nice job re-routing him, but he gets just a little bit too wide. If Captain maintains position, he can force the quarterback to throw it through him instead of having that clean shot.”