Rivera: Defense found its footing

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CHARLOTTE – The Panthers' defense has returned to form recently, surrendering 15.3 points per game over the last three games.

Head coach Ron Rivera said the unit has "found its footing," and a big part of that was accepting the fact that Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy was not going to return this season.

"Once we got past Green Bay, they rallied around one another," Rivera said. "They realized we weren't playing to our potential.

"There was a little bit of closure as far as the defense was concerned. We were waiting, and Greg is not back. Part of it was maybe wondering if Greg was going to come back. Having the closure that he wasn't coming back helped, to a degree."

Rivera also noted the progress the defensive backs have made. The four starters in the secondary didn't start a single game for the Panthers last season, and it has taken time to settle in.

"We forget now the secondary is completely overhauled. That had a lot to do with it, too," Rivera said. "The coverages were different (last year) than what we are doing now. We've had to adapt."

INJURY REPORT: As expected, quarterback Cam Newton (back) and guard Amini Silatolu (knee) are out for Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Running back DeAngelo Williams (hand) is doubtful and will be available only in case of emergency.

"If heaven forbid somebody were to get sick in the morning and we needed him to play, he could play," Rivera said.

Running back Jonathan Stewart, who recorded 155 rushing yards and one touchdown in last week's win at New Orleans, will make his sixth start of the season.

"I like the way Jonathan is running and I like the way we are blocking up front," Rivera said. "(The offensive line) is feeling comfortable with one another."

Quarterback Derek Anderson, who started the season-opening win at Tampa Bay, will make his second start of the year. After observing the week of practice, Rivera feels good about Anderson leading the offense.

"I like the pace of the offense," Rivera said. "I'm real pleased with what (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) has put together."

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