INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The Panthers defense could only bend so far, and the limit was pushed in Los Angeles.
The Rams exploited Carolina's rash of defensive injuries, missed tackles, and issues defending third down on their way to a 24-10 win at SoFi Stadium on Sunday. The Panthers fell to 1-5, losing their first game under interim head coach Steve Wilks.
The defense provided the Panthers' lone touchdown, but key players continued to line up at the injury tent. And the unit still hasn't been able to get off the field consistently, either.
By the fourth quarter, the Panthers were down to Keith Taylor Jr. and Tae Hayes, who was elevated from the practice squad for this week's game, as the two available cornerbacks. Starter Jaycee Horn (ribs) didn't make the trip; Donte Jackson was out early in the third quarter with an ankle injury, and CJ Henderson exited as part of the concussion protocol.
Starting safety Jeremy Chinn remains on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, which left veteran Xavier Woods as the lone starter in the secondary. Also, linebacker Frankie Luvu was inactive for the second straight week after starting the year with four strong games.
But as a five-year veteran, Woods said Carolina shouldn't expect a drop-off in production when the starters aren't available. He said his expectations for reserve players aren't any different.
"Those guys are experienced," Woods said. "Those guys prepare during the week. … When they get in, they're our starters, so the message doesn't change. We don't expect any let-down if I'm out or someone else is out."
What happened against the Rams? Veterans on the defense pointed to an inability to get off the field on third down, allowing Los Angeles to convert half of its attempts (6-of-12).
On their first touchdown drive, the Rams converted a third-and-7, a third-and-15, and a third-and-13.
Woods said the Panthers prepared for what they saw from Los Angeles, particularly a high volume of screen plays, but his answer as to why they couldn't find results was simple.
"We didn't tackle well today," Woods said. "That's what hurt us."
Wilks said he expects to learn more about injury statuses Monday, but he is hopeful they "aren't as serious."
Regardless, he said he's looking for the unit to make plays, like Jackson's momentum-shifting pick-six just before halftime.
"I think it comes down to them, somebody making a play and finding a way to get off the field," Wilks said. "As you saw with Jackson coming up with the interception and score on defense. There are some positive things that we did defensively. We've just got to continue to try to build on those and create more opportunities."
Jackson earned his first-career touchdown by intercepting Matthew Stafford on a pass intended for Cooper Kupp. Jackson bounced back for the pick shortly after he was in coverage during Stafford's 5-yard touchdown toss to Allen Robinson.
"He did exactly what I expected him to do," Jackson said of the interception. "He kind of put a little bit too much on it, and it came right to me. (I was) just trying to score, just trying to get points."
The Panthers' growing number of critical injuries to the defense isn't necessarily a new thing (they were banged up last week against the 49ers), but it's easier to understand when you consider how long they've been on the field through the first six games of the season.
Beyond their struggle to keep opponents from converting on third down, Carolina's offense can't stay on the field. That issue was on full display once again Sunday, as the Panthers lost time of possession 37:05-22:55, after they had an 11:05-3:55 edge after the first quarter. The offense totaled just eight first downs and a season-low 203 yards.
Despite the statistics, defensive tackle Derrick Brown said there isn't any frustration building toward the offense.
"It's not our job to worry about that," Brown said. "Our job is to be able to keep playing, regardless of what's going on with the offense, special teams. Our job as a defense is to go out there and keep them from scoring. If we can't do our job, and they get points, that's the problem right there."
"Every guy is frustrated with how this season has been going," Woods said. "Every guy wants to be better for the team in order to win. I think every guy in this locker room is tired of losing."