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Wilks: Must shore up run defense and create takeaways

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CHARLOTTE – It was easy to predict the first words that were going to come from defensive coordinator Steve Wilks when he met the media following Carolina's 34-13 loss to New Orleans.

"The most disappointing thing was not stopping the run," Wilks said Monday. "We pride ourselves on stopping the run, and they had 149 yards rushing. It starts with me. That is something we are definitely going to correct and make sure we do a much better job this week."

The Panthers limited the 49ers and Bills to just 120 combined rushing yards in the first two weeks of the season. The Saints, who had been struggling to run the ball, surpassed that and then some.

Carolina looked uncharacteristically out of sorts defensively for much of the day. A defense known for "getting vertical" and disrupting plays at the line of scrimmage was having trouble getting any penetration or setting the edge.

"We played sideways," head coach Ron Rivera said. "We didn't play downfield. We didn't play to our creases."

And once the Saints started having some success on the ground, Wilks felt his defense tried to overcompensate.

"One of the words that I used today – just finished up meeting with the guys – is trust," Wilks said. "We have to trust in the defense, meaning the scheme. We have to trust the teammates beside us and know that everybody is going to do their job. That's the most important thing."

Improved run defense is the first priority for the Carolina defense entering Week 4 against the New England Patriots, but a close second is creating takeaways.

The Panthers have gone two weeks without forcing a turnover. That hasn't happened since early in the 2014 season.

"We have to find ways to take the ball away on defense and give the ball back to our offense," Wilks said. "The No. 1 element of our DNA is violence and effort. If we play with that, we'll find ourselves causing fumbles, guys running to the ball in great position.

"The emphasis is to make sure we are playing according to our DNA."

Fail to do that, and everyone knows it could be a long day against Tom Brady, who is fresh off a five-touchdown performance against the Texans.

"I'm going to make sure the guys have a clean game plan, where there is not a lot of thinking and they can play fast," Wilks said. "That's when we are at our best."

View the top photos from Panthers vs. Saints by team photographer Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez.

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