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Notebook: Short-handed defense rises to occasion

Donte Jackson

CHARLOTTE — The last two times the Panthers took the field, their defense gave up 42 points each game. 

And when they took the field Sunday, they were still without a bunch of their guys. 

And yet.

The Panthers held a reasonably hot Texans offense in check for most of the day, allowing just 229 yards of total offense (their second-lowest total of the year), and keeping rookie quarterback CJ Stroud from throwing a touchdown pass (just the second time this season for him) and limiting him to a season-low 140 yards. 

They also created the turnovers they needed, with cornerback Donte Jackson forcing a fumble, which led to a field goal. 

"We understood what it took," Jackson said. "And it didn't take nobody going out there doing anything spectacular, just took everybody doing their job. So Coach E (defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero) kept it really simple so we can just go out there and fly around.

"He's a great player (Stroud). He's a really smart player, and we just had to go out there and do our job, and that's what we did, and that's the results you get when you do your job. We can make it hard on any offense or any quarterback if everybody comes in and just does their job and execute."

Of course, the Panthers had tried to keep things simple in the past, but the simple fact is they were running out of people. Middle linebacker Shaq Thompson's  out for the season. Cornerback Jaycee Horn is on IR, and so are Jeremy Chinn, Yetur Gross-Matos, and Marquis Haynes Sr.. Plus, starting safety Vonn Bell's still out with a quad injury, though fellow starter Xavier Woods was back just in time to get on that fumble Jackson caused. 

Plus, veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston didn't finish the game because of a hamstring strain.

"I think that says what we've been saying all year," cornerback CJ Henderson said. "We have the guys, regardless of the situation, to still win. It's just about executing. 

"I guess that's just from our teammates, you know, picking each other up and then believing in each other. That's throughout the week, and even since offseason training, just knowing the work the guys put in and the work we put in."

— The Panthers might have been short-handed. 

But they did have Frankie Luvu, and that's kind of like when Iron Man says in the Avengers movies, "We have a Hulk."

Luvu filled up the stat sheet with a team-high 12 tackles, a sack, two tackles for a loss, and two passes defensed.

"He was incredible," Panthers head coach Frank Reich said. I mean, he was a beast."

"Frankie was great," outside linebacker Brian Burns said. "Frankie always does his job, and a lot of plays were coming to him, and he was making them. But we always knew Frankie was a baller, so that's no surprise to us."

— Reich said he was impressed with the game offensive coordinator Thomas Brown called — his first as a play-caller.

He said there were a few conversations on the sideline, but otherwise, he left Brown to his own devices.

"I was off the phone," Reich said. "It was his game, and I resisted any temptation to kind of get involved. We talked on the sideline a couple of times about a few things. But I thought he did a fantastic job, and I thought he did a fantastic job getting the guys ready during the week as well."

Reich said he felt like not calling plays helped with an ability to see the whole game, and the workflow appeared to be much cleaner (they tied a season-low with just three penalties).

"I definitely felt that," Reich said. "I mean, as far as the game management side, being able to talk to the guys upstairs a little bit more, there wasn't a whole lot of crazy stuff that came up in the game. But what did come up, I thought we handled it well, and I thought the communication was good. I was able to keep in tune with what the defense and the special teams were doing a little bit more. So I definitely felt the difference."

— Reich said that outside linebacker DJ Johnson, who was carted off the field following the post-game celebration, was just suffering from cramps. That's good news since he and Burns and Amaré Barno were the last remaining outside linebackers. They did acquire Luiji Vilain last week, but he was inactive.

View all the action from the Panthers' game against the Houston Texans in Week 8.

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