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Panthers are well aware they must shore up the run defense before it's too late


CHARLOTTE – Every NFL defense talks about stopping the run every week. Talk of making an offense one dimensional and the many benefits that come with it.

"Talking about it is not good enough," head coach Ron Rivera said after Carolina's 24-16 loss in Green Bay.

That's the cold, hard truth.

The Panthers have struggled to defend the run this season. Carolina is allowing 5.2 yards per rush – most in the NFL – and has surrendered 17 rushing touchdowns – also most in the NFL.

The Packers rushed 27 times for 163 yards on Sunday – a 6.0-yard average – with emerging star Aaron Jones accounting for 93 yards and all three touchdowns on the ground.

"We have to be better if we want to make the playoffs," safety Eric Reid said.

So how do the Panthers go about making that happen?

Here's what Rivera said on Monday.

"The biggest thing we're looking for, really, is everybody is where they need to be," Rivera said. "As far as our front is concerned, we are a gap control defense. There is accountability. When you look at the gaps, when you look at the scheme – are the guys where they are supposed to be? The other thing that could help, too, are we as coaches giving them opportunities to be successful? In other words, what other things can we do? We changed the front a little and created a little movement up front."

The Panthers have typically been strong against the run over the years with Rivera at the helm, as you can see in the chart below.

Table inside Article
Year Run Defense Rank (YPG)
2019 29th
2018 12th
2017 3rd
2016 6th
2015 4th
2014 16th
2013 2nd
2012 14th
2011 25th

Defensive lineman Gerald McCoy wholeheartedly believes all the pieces are in place for this unit to defend the run effectively.

"This defense is built to stop the run," he said matter-of-factly after the loss in Green Bay.

Carolina implemented more 3-4 looks this season, and Rivera said the players and coaches are working to find the right formula as the second half of the season unfolds. Clearly, more penetration at the line of scrimmage and more sure-tackling at the next level is where it must start.

"It's just not a magic fix," Rivera said. "We've got to collaborate as a group – coaches and players – and just go out and do our jobs."

The Panthers' pass rush has been outstanding this season, with 36 sacks to lead the league. It's an obvious strength. But that strength can't be fully utilized if teams are averaging five yards a carry and staying out of obvious passing situations.

"Yeah, we can rush the passer, but before you can do that you have to stop the run first," edge rusher Mario Addison said.

The sooner the better as teams fight for playoff positioning with seven weeks left.

"Later in the year, playoff implications. As November and December hits, it's going to be a lot of runs," McCoy said. "We have to man up and be ready to stop the run. We have to."