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Carolina Panthers

Notebook: Panthers standing out in third-down defense

Derrick Brown, Frankie Luvu

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers have had a parade of injuries through the secondary and are coming off a game in which the opponent was determined to run.

So if there's a surprise on defense over their first four games, it might be that they're among the best in the league at getting off the field.

The Panthers are third in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage allowed, at 27.7 percent.

The Vikings only converted 1-of-8, and in the Panthers' worst game in that category, the Saints were 7-of-16. For the year, they've allowed 13-of-47 conversions.

For context, the Panthers were 23rd in the league last year in that category, averaging allowing 41.1 percent.

Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero said Thursday that began with the talent the Panthers have in the front seven, beginning with Derrick Brown, Brian Burns, Justin Houston, and Frankie Luvu, among others.

"I think when you look at it, the first thing is that we have a lot of really good rushers when you can put Derrick on the field on the field, Brian, obviously, Justin, Frankie being activated in some of these deals," Evero said. "So we have the ability to get a lot of pressure when we get people to those situations.

"If you can rush the quarterback, you're going to have success on third down."

Of course, no matter the rush, the Panthers have been out there with a mixed bag in the secondary all season, from Jaycee Horn going on IR after Week 2 to Donte Jackson missing most of last week's game to safety Xavier Woods missing time with a hamstring injury.

Evero credited the work of cornerbacks coach Jonathan Cooley and safeties coach Bert Watts in getting new people prepared to play in multiple coverages. For instance, injuries led them to play a lot of one-linebacker looks with Luvu in the middle, and then the injury to Jackson had them scrambling a bit.

"It is, it's a challenge," Evero said. "But, you know, any time you're in this position and really any time you're coaching in the NFL, you just know that that may be part of the deal.

"You've got to coach your twos and threes just as much as you coach your ones because, at any moment, they could be up."

— With so many questions about the struggles of the Panthers' offense through an 0-4 start, there's a reasonable question about what their offensive identity is.

Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown said the question was valid based on results and the fact the Panthers haven't had a consistent approach or clean tape through four games.

"That's a great question," Brown replied. "And that's also my whole point to us when it comes to who we say we want to be and what we put on tape. I think it all still boils down to being physical, every single position. I think we've been that way at times, but it hasn't always been consistent. It still boils down to finding, creating, and winning matchups.

"We've won some matchups. We've had some explosive plays here and there, but it hasn't been consistent and also boils down to the stuff that takes no talent. Way too many mental errors; way too many penalties. So that is who we say we want to be. We've got to prove that."

— As a team captain, Burns is often looked to for answers, and after last week's loss to the Vikings, he admitted he was struggling to come up with a good one. But he said Thursday that when they look at tape, they see things that are positive, but also the individual flaws that have left them at 0-4.

They can look across the field this week at the Lions and see a team that started 1-6 and finished 9-8 last season, becoming one of the hottest teams in the league (other than when they came here and froze). But he also knows that getting the first win is often the hardest part.

"I think it's just the main goal is playing the entirety of the game," Burns said. "Like we're great for a half or three quarters or whatever it may be and then take a slump; we have to work on not doing that.

"I think that's one of the main things like we look at every day as pretty much attacking the day the same way. Once you get that first win, like, OK, now we can start stacking them."

– Special teams coach Chris Tabor said he was impressed with the career-best 56-yard field goal Eddy Piñeiro hit last week since the conditions came into play in a way they won't this week in Detroit.

"I was really proud of that kick because he was a little bit into the breeze there," Tabor said. "Obviously, we'll play here in the dome (this week) and, and we'll see what it's like in there. I don't think the wind is going to be real bad on Sunday.

"He makes a lot of kicks in practice, and, you know, I think that sometimes people overreact if there's a miss. I always like to think, what's the body of work? And I see the body of work through the week. So I like where he's at."

Since the game at Atlanta last year, Piñeiro has hit 27-of-28 field goals, with the only miss a 55-yarder at Seattle.

— Brown said he envisioned having Jonathan Mingo back in the game plan this week.

The rookie wideout was held out last week, after suffering a concussion against the Seahawks. He cleared the concussion protocol prior to last week's game, but since he didn't practice on a full-time basis all week, they held him back.

Terrace Marshall Jr. had nine catches for 56 yards in Mingo's stead last week. Mingo has eight catches for 64 yards in three games this season.

Brown also said he planned on having the same five starting offensive linemen this week, which would make the third straight week of that. The Panthers are awaiting the return of right guard Austin Corbett, though that's not imminent this week.

View photos from the Panthers' practice on Wednesday.

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