CHARLOTTE — The Browns have the kind of run game that will test any defense this year.
But while the Panthers have made changes on that side to help shore up the run defense, defensive coordinator Phil Snow objected to the notion the Panthers weren't effective in that area last year.
Snow pointed out that the Panthers' 4.1 yards per carry allowed ranked ninth in the league, which is a fact.
"I'm not sure. I'm tired of hearing that," Snow replied when asked about struggles against the run last year. "Because we were ninth in the league in yards per carry, right? They happened to run a lot against us, but we were ninth in the league in yards per carry, so we've been able to play the run.
"Now, it's really to important to stop the run when you need to; we had a couple of games last year when we didn't last year. But overall, we were decent against the run. But this is a new team, new everything, so this is a big challenge for us."
The problem for the Panthers last year was volume, especially after the Dallas game early, when a weakness was exploited, and more teams tried them. Once the Cowboys ran for 245 yards on what was at that point the league's top-ranked defense, teams realized that the 2021 Panthers were built for speed and not a power game.
The fact only 11 teams in the league allowed more rush attempts than the Panthers last year (when the offense struggles and you're behind, teams can afford to run more) was the reason the Panthers ranked ninth in yards per carry but 18th in yards per game (113.8).
A more competent offense could also help, by keeping opponents off the field, but Snow and the defense have made other changes.
For one thing, they're bigger, replacing a smaller speed-rusher in Haason Reddick on the edge at defensive end with the bigger Yetur Gross-Matos and Henry Anderson, and a smaller group of linebackers with 245-pound Damien Wilson at middle linebacker. They also should be better inside with Matt Ioannidis next to Derrick Brown.
So they're playing differently, and Snow hopes the other lessons carry over.
"It's yards per carry, right?" he replied when asked the best way to measure improvement there. "That's what it is. If you hold them, ... it's amazing because 4 yards a carry is good in this league. Now back in the day, that was not good. Anything you can get under 4 yards per carry, you're doing pretty good in this league. If you're under 4, it'll put you in the top 12 in this league."
— The Panthers announced eight captains on Thursday, with Christian McCaffrey, Shaq Thompson, Taylor Moton, JJ Jansen, Donte Jackson, and Brian Burns returning to the roles they had last year.
Safety Jeremy Chinn was named a captain for the first time in his third season, and he called the honor: "Super exciting, super humbling."
"Grateful for my teammates," Chinn said. "It's definitely a responsibility, but I'm in this position because I'm ready for it. . . .
"I mean, when I came here, it was a goal I set for myself, especially year three, being around the team, just being the same person every single day. I felt like these guys would see it and respect it, and I feel like that's why they voted me to be in that position."
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was also voted a captain after being here just two months. That's not a surprise since quarterbacks are often captains ( Sam Darnold was last year), but Thompson said the way Mayfield has embedded himself here stood out to his peers.
"It shows a lot," Thompson said. "A lot of guys respect him. Not to take anything away from Sam, guys respect Sam, too as well.
"Baker's a competitive guy; he's a leader out there. And that's probably why a lot of guys voted him captain. Even though he just came here, he has a lot of experience, been to the playoffs. And he's one of us now, so that's why we voted him a captain."
— Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo brings an entertainment factor to his press conferences.
Already in his short time here, he's dropped some classics including, "As long as we don't resort to cannibalism, I think we have a chance to get out of this pretty good," and "I left my crystal ball in my other pants."
Thursday, he struck a more relaxed tone, trying to be present in the moment at a time when everyone's excited.
"I think breathing is important," McAdoo said with a nod when asked how he keeps everything in perspective. "We need to focus on our breathing, slow our breathing down, and it will be contagious the rest of the week."
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Zen McAdoo.
View photos from Thursday's practice at the Atrium Health practice fields.