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Strickly Panthers: Dynamite defense


CHARLOTTE - Following the offensive drought the Panthers endured last season, the modest success enjoyed in the rain Saturday night made it feel like the clouds had been lifted.

In that context, it could have been easy to miss how the Panthers defense rained on the New York Giants parade.

Carolina's offense showed signs of progress in a 20-10 victory to open the preseason, but the defense staked its claim as well. While the Giants defense scored on an interception returned for a touchdown, the Giants offense never reached the end zone.

"Guys were flying around," Panthers linebacker James Anderson said. "It was fun to see."

The Giants finished with 298 yards and 13 first downs, converting only three times on third down in 16 chances. Just three of their first downs and 81 of their yards came during quarterback Eli Manning's five drives before he was taken out.

The Panthers' performance came without last year's sack leader - Charles Johnson, last year's tackle leader - Jon Beason, and the team's projected starting cornerbacks - Chris Gamble and Captain Munnerlyn.

The one position group where the Panthers were at full strength was at safety, with starters Charles Godfrey and Sherrod Martin as well as their backups making life difficult for Manning.

"The safeties did a good job," said Manning, who completed 4-of-9 passes for 36 yards. "They brought some good blitzes on third down with the second and third groups that were in there. I thought they played well and had a good plan."

The Panthers and new defensive coordinator Sean McDermott kept the pressure on, with safety Jordan Pugh and linebacker Thomas Williams recording sacks on blitzes.

"I thought Sean called a terrific game," head coach Ron Rivera said. "The thing that Coach McDermott and his staff have been preaching and one of the things that we all believe in is up tempo and getting off on the ball.

"I know you guys hear us yelling it every day: 'Practice fast. Practice tempo. Let's move and get after it.' That's what they did."

The Panthers were a decent defensive team last season. But with the offense averaging 12.2 points per game - nearly five points less than any other NFL team – the defense had to be dominant most Sundays for the Panthers to even have a shot at victory.

The Panthers' offense must improve by leaps and bounds if Carolina is to consistently compete this season, especially in the loaded NFC South. Yet, it's still the defense that will determine just how competitive they are.

Even with all the offensive concerns, the Panthers went after and got a defensive-oriented head coach in Rivera, who has enjoyed successful stints as defensive coordinator in San Diego and Chicago.

Rivera hired McDermott - a protégé of legendary defensive mind Jim Johnson in Philadelphia – as defensive coordinator. And when free agency opened, the Panthers' first target was re-signing Johnson, a budding defensive end.

The offense showed its heading in the right direction Saturday, but the defense – when back at full strength – could be special.

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