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Carolina Panthers

Run defense top of list on things that 'have to improve' after Week 1 loss

Josh Jacobs

CHARLOTTE — During the practice week, head coach Matt Rhule said Josh Jacobs and the Raiders' rushing attack would be a good test for the Panthers' run defense.

Las Vegas averaged 4.3 yards per carry in Sunday's season-opener, which is technically an improvement from Carolina's league-worst mark of allowing 5.2 YPC last year. But the defense wasn't good enough at critical points, allowing Jacobs to rush for 93 yards and three touchdowns in the 34-30 loss.

"He is a good back. They have a powerful offensive line," Rhule said. "We obviously have to improve in terms of our run defense."

Jacobs' longest rush of the day was 14 yards. But he proved to be a capable receiver, too, catching four passes for 46 yards for a total of 139 yards from scrimmage.

"He runs with tremendous pad level. He runs through tackles," Rhule said. "(They) kept us off balance with some perimeter runs, some perimeter tosses, and just every time you committed to the inside run, they already got the ball outside."

Jacobs' ability didn't come as a surprise. Linebacker Tahir Whitehead was Jacobs' teammate last year and told his Panthers teammates what it would be like to try to bring him down.

But executing against the second-year back is easier said than done.

"He has great contact balance, so we could hit him in the backfield at times, and he could still get his 2, 3 (yards) and set their offense in motion," cornerback Troy Pride Jr. said.

Jacobs wasn't the only effective Raider on the ground. Backup running back Devonate Booker had four carries for 29 yards, and rookie wideout Henry Ruggs III added a pair of rushes for 11 yards. The combined ground attack kept the Raiders offensive in favorable down-and-distance situations. Eight of Las Vegas' first nine third downs were with 5 or fewer yards to go. Five of those were for 2 yards or fewer.

That's also part of why the Panthers didn't have a sack for the first time since Week 2 of the 2018 season. Their pass-rushing opportunities were few and far between.

The Raiders converted six of their 11 third downs, with another conversion coming on a pass interference penalty.

"They have a lot of different formations they like to run, and just the personnel they have is tricky," Pride said.

It didn't help that cornerback Donte Jackson left the game with an ankle injury in the first quarter. That left the Panthers with the rookie Pride on one side, and Rasul Douglas — whose first practice with the team was on Wednesday — on the other.

Pride was in coverage for two of the Raiders' longest plays of the game. The first was a deep crossing route to Ruggs for 45 yards that set up Jacobs' first score. While safety Tre Boston was the closest player to Ruggs, Rhule said as Pride gains more experience, he'll realize how to aid the safety in that situation.

In the second quarter, Pride was on wide receiver Nelson Agholor when he caught a 23-yard touchdown.

"If I just do small things that would've helped me at the beginning of the route, it would've provided a different outcome," Pride said. "So, those are learning experiences."

Douglas acquitted himself well, recording a pair of passes defensed.

"He was prepared. He's a pro," Whitehead said. "He's been around for quite some time, so I expected nothing less than that."

But when the Panthers' defense had a chance to make a stop to win the game in the fourth quarter, the unit couldn't get it done. Quarterback Derek Carr completed a 29-yard pass to Jacobs on second-and-14 from the Las Vegas 47. Then on third-and-8 from the Carolina 35, Whitehead committed a defensive pass interference penalty that gave the Raiders a first down at Carolina's 16.

"I just misjudged it," Whitehead admitted. "Couldn't see his upfield arm, his inside arm went up, I saw him, he was going for the ball and I just played through his arms a little too early."

A few plays later, Jacobs ran in his third touchdown on third-and-1.

So Week 1 provided a disappointing defensive performance, with Whitehead calling the unit's issues mostly self-inflicted. As the season continues, Carolina's defense must be better against the run to provide a better foundation for stopping everything else.

"You'll see throughout a play-by-play basis, week-to-week basis," Whitehead said, "it's a matter of who makes the least amount of mistakes who ended up winning the down and winning the game."

View game action photos from the Panthers-Raiders game in Week 1.

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