CHARLOTTE – While the Panthers offense showed some improvement last Sunday, the defense suffered through its second straight tough week.
With Carolina's offense decimated by injuries and an underrated Baltimore Ravens offense coming to town, the Panthers know that streak most end if they hope to end their losing streak.
"We've got to get stops," defensive end Charles Johnson said. "That's what we get paid to do."
Tampa Bay piled up 421 yards last Sunday, the most allowed by Carolina's defense this season. Carolina gave up a then-season high 408 yards to New Orleans the previous week.
Both New Orleans and Tampa Bay topped 30 points against the Panthers, who hadn't given up more than 30 points since the season opener.
"I think two weeks ago, that bunch (New Orleans) was a pretty talented offensive group, and this bunch (Tampa Bay)," head coach John Fox said. "The opponent has a little something to do with it."
This week's opponent is no different. While the Ravens defense gets most of the headlines, the offense has its share of headliners.
Baltimore, with quarterback Joe Flacco, a trio of talented receivers led by Anquan Boldin as well as dynamic running back Ray Rice, rank 13th in the NFL with 345 yards per game. That's more yards than the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots average.
"He can throw the ball anywhere, plus it helps when you've got a good offensive line and three good receivers," said Johnson, who leads the Panthers with 3.5 sacks. "If I had three good wide receivers, I'd probably be good, too."
The last three quarterbacks the Panthers have faced – reigning Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees and youngsters Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman – have combined to complete 70.7 percent of their passes against the Panthers. Before that, opposing quarterbacks had hit on 55.5 percent.
Over the last two games, Carolina has slipped from fourth in the league in total defense to 14th. In the same period, they've gone from 18th in points allowed to 25th.
The defense's numbers are shaped somewhat by what the offense has – and hasn't – done. With the offense averaging more than three turnovers a game over the first seven games and yielding favorable field position in the process, opposing offenses didn't have to gain many yards to score. That contributed to the Panthers' positive total defense numbers and also helps explain why they ranked so high in total defense but were in the middle of the pack in scoring defense.
But in the last two games, the Panthers have turned the ball over just three times total, meaning opposing offenses have had to travel farther to score.
The cumulative effect of being backed against the wall so many times appears to be hitting the defense like a brick wall. The defense, however, is accepting responsibility while refusing to accept defeat.
"It's a team thing. When we go on the field, no matter how long we're on the field, we should produce regardless of how long we've been on the field," Johnson said. "We've just got to be consistent with it. We can't have a lot of ups and downs, can't have a lot of mistakes that give up points."