CHARLOTTE – It was a sight to see Sunday when the Panthers' pass rush showed more than a glimpse of their potential with eight sacks against Arizona.
But don't let it detract from an incredible day stopping the run.
Carolina's defense held Cardinals running back David Johnson, who currently ranks third in the league with 705 rushing yards, to only 24 yards – his season low and the fewest rushing yards allowed by the Panthers all season. In fact, the Panthers snapped his three-game streak of running for more than 100 yards, holding him to his worst performance since a 21-yard game in Week 12 of last season.
The Panthers' run-stopping efforts were so good that they gave up the fewest rushing yards in Week 8 league-wide. The Panthers' 24 rushing yards allowed is bested this season only by the New York Jets holding the Ravens to 11 yards on the ground in Week 7.
"(The Cardinals) have one of the top three running backs in the league, and their offensive line has been playing aggressive throughout the year," defensive tackle Star Lotulelei said. "But we came out and played a physical game. It was huge for us to force them to have to pass the ball, and that's what gave us opportunities to get there (to the quarterback)."
Of course, the Cardinals were trailing for all but 2:59 of the game after linebacker Thomas Davis' fumble return for a touchdown. And a team trailing 24-0 in the first half is forced to throw the ball to get back in the game. As a result, Johnson only carried the ball 10 times with a 2.4-yard average. His longest rush was 9 yards.
"That's what we talked about coming into the week," Davis said after the victory. "Something that you have to do is make a team one-dimensional. You can't allow them to have balance. I think that we did a good job as a defense executing that game plan."
But the Carolina run defense has had more than one good game. So far this season, the Panthers have allowed 80.1 rushing yards per game, the third-fewest in the NFL. The 3.26 yards per carry average is best in the league.
It's a continuing trend from a 15-1 team last season that allowed only 88.4 rushing yards per game, the fourth-best mark in the NFL. After allowing the Broncos to rush for 148 yards to open this season, Carolina has allowed only one team – the Buccaneers – to run for more than 90 yards.
As might be expected, one of Carolina's other great run-stopping performances was in Week 2 against the 49ers in their first victory of the season. Led by running back Carlos Hyde, San Francisco is home to the fourth-best rushing attack in the NFL, averaging 128.6 yards per game. When the 49ers came to Carolina, the Panthers held them to 65 yards on the ground, by far the Niners' worst showing in a season where they've rushed for 106 or more yards in the rest of their games.
"We've practically been doing the same thing each game we've been playing," defensive end Kony Ealy said of this season's run defense. "It's not like we've been getting ran on. Our pass rush has picked up a lot more and it's overshadowed our run defense, which we're still top-10 or top-five in the league. That tells you that's what we've been doing, but we had a good game and our pass rush really picked up. It should keep going that way, and we expect it to go that way."
For the Panthers to earn their third victory, that stout run defense will need to neutralize another talented NFC West running back. Todd Gurley, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year a season ago, has racked up 403 yards in seven games played, the eighth-highest total in the NFC. While he has not yet found the success he had a season ago, the centerpiece of the Rams offense certainly remains a threat to any defense.
"We definitely have to respect the guy that was the rookie of the year," Ealy said. "He has vision, he has size and he can find a hole and hit it. We have to continue to go out there and do what we've been doing. Get off the ball and setting the edges and getting downhill."
View photos of Carolina's week of practice leading up to their game against Los Angeles.