CHARLOTTE – Reviewing tape of Carolina's run defense from Sunday's 31-24 loss at Atlanta was not a fun exercise for defensive coordinator Eric Washington or his players.
Missed assignments and missed tackles led to a number of big runs for the Falcons, who compiled 170 rushing yards.
"There's too many of them, unfortunately," Washington said shaking his head.
But days like that – even for Carolina's vaunted rush defense – are going to happen. Despite all the frustration, Washington perked up when talking about his two favorite plays from Sunday, which were the final two snaps for the Panthers defense.
"I told the guys, 'This is what mental toughness looks like,'" Washington said. "Sometimes things don't go the way you want, but you have to stay strong mentally."
Second-and-10 (2:13 of 4th QTR)
The Falcons are clinging to a seven-point lead and are looking to grind the clock out. The Panthers load the box anticipating run, but quarterback Matt Ryan instead rolls right and throws a quick pass to running back Tevin Coleman, who can end the game if he reaches the sticks. But linebacker David Mayo keeps Carolina alive.
"We have to get the ball back to our offense," Washington says. "David Mayo is in a conflict here because he is addressing the crease as a run defender but he's also a curl-flat defender against the pass. It's just tough duty for him with the nature of this play.
"But David hauls his tail off to make the tackle, and actually the spot is pretty generous. His effort right there set up the opportunity for us."
Third-and-1 (2:08 of 4th QTR)
After Mayo's stop, Atlanta needs one yard to end it.
"It's a foregone conclusion that they are going to run the ball," Washington says. "Who wants it more in this situation?"
The Panthers keep their comeback hopes alive by stuffing Coleman for no gain. It's Kuechly's collision with the lead blocker that halts Coleman's momentum and allows Shaq Thompson to swoop in.
"KK penetrates and sets the edge," Washington says. "Luke comes downhill and addresses the fullback correctly, stacks it, and then Shaq comes off the backside for the tackle.
"Those two plays allowed our offense to get the ball back with a chance to tie."
First-and-10 (14:20 of 3rd QTR)
Carolina's first interception of the year is a perfect example of the front and coverage working together to disrupt the offense.
"Wes (Horton) recognizes that this is pass information based on the tight end's depth," Washington explains. "He counters the momentum and actually hits (Ryan) to give Donte Jackson a chance to make a play.
"We didn't have our best day of rushing. We want to hit the quarterback, sack him and create sack-fumbles, but from everybody across the board, we have to affect him."
Ryan's deep ball for wide receiver Julio Jones hangs in the air, allowing Jackson to get under it for an easy first career interception. Takeaways are always huge, but Washington notes that this one could have been even better with more attention to detail on the part of Jackson and Bradberry.
"The only thing we'd like to see him do is land on his feet so we can try to get some yards after the interception to better set our offense up, or to score himself with his speed," Washington says. "That's one more step we can take. And just like any time we intercept the ball, James (Bradberry) has got to block the intended receiver."
Second-and-10 (7:13 of 2nd QTR)
We couldn't get through this film review without taking a look at one of Atlanta's big runs, and Washington chooses to examine Coleman's 27-yarder in the second quarter to illustrate the ups and downs and learning experiences for a rookie starter.
After the season-opening win against Dallas, Jackson was applauded for his one-on-one tackle versus Ezekiel Elliott. This week, he's presented with a similar challenge versus Coleman, but it's a different outcome as Coleman jukes past Jackson and charges down the sideline.
"That is pure technique," Washington says. "In that situation, we always tell the rotation player to that side – that can be a corner or a safety – his job is to chase and squeeze the hip (of the tight end), specifically to put himself in position where he can take away the cutback.
"On that play, Donte stalled his feet way short of the landmark, which created a lot of space for (Coleman) to make him miss. If he squeezes against the tight end, he forces the back to juke sideways with inside-out cutback leverage, which gives us a chance to rally to the point. But with that much room, a running back will likely win that."