CHARLOTTE – "I got 11 or 12 sacks last year, so everybody's expecting me to have 18 sacks now."
Kawann Short knows that expectations are high for him after his impressive 2015 season. He finished the year with 55 total tackles, including those 11 sacks – both career highs and the franchise record for sacks by a defensive tackle. He followed that up with two more sacks in the postseason.
Fast-forward to this season, and Short's 21 total tackles and one sack have him on pace for 56 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
Like Short implied, that's not the season one would expect from the fourth-year player coming off his first Pro Bowl selection.
Perhaps it's a long overdue sophomore slump that Short never went through. More likely, head coach Ron Rivera blames opposing teams specifically planning to neutralize one of his best defensive linemen.
"It's tough, because when you watch the tape, one of the things that really stood out was how many times he does get doubled," Rivera said. "That (running) back, when he goes through the middle, is looking for KK and he's chipping him on his way out. It's not like he's getting the free runs like he had last year. That's the hard part.
"A lot of people are keeping those tight ends in and doubling both DTs. We've been approached a little differently this year."
Short recognizes that he's faced significant opposition this season, but he also knows that there have been other plays where he's had only one offensive lineman in his path.
"You've got to capitalize," he said. "I could do a lot of things better. Shed better. Take on the double teams better. Take combo blocks better. There's a lot of things that can be better."
That goes for Short's defensive teammates as well. Through six games, the Panthers' 12 sacks are fifth-fewest in the NFC. Short, however, knows that this isn't the first time Carolina has struggled out of the gate.
"We've started off slow before on the defensive line, and we've picked it up and responded when we've needed to," he said. "Now is the time that we've got to respond."
This Sunday provides just the opportunity to do that. Coming off the bye week, the Panthers play host to a 3-3-1 Arizona Cardinals team that has allowed 17 sacks, the seventh-highest total in the NFL.
"We need to pick it up from here on out and not be inconsistent," Short said. "We've got to finish it out to Week 17."
View photos of the Panthers' week of practice leading up to their game against Arizona.