Recently, I was running through the Panthers defensive line statistics on Football Outsiders, a website I highly recommend for every football fan who is tired of traditional statistics, and I decided to scroll down and look at the Panthers stats against the run. Although the linebackers are all very good and are stout against the run, especially Dan Connor, the Panthers really struggle on run defense overall. Football Outsiders, as of Week 14, ranks them as the 2nd worst run defense in the league; however, this really is due to the porous line.
The Panthers defensive line allows 4.43 yards per carry based on adjusted line yards, and this total is the 5th worst in the NFL. One big problem is that the Panthers line, aside from Charles Johnson, allows too many offensive linemen to reach the second level. This reflects poorly on a good group of linebackers, and their lives get even more difficult as they try to shed or avoid the offensive linemen who were able to get through to the second level.
On the bright side, the Panthers defensive line actually does a decent job in short-yardage situations, as their “Power Rank” is the 11th best in the league. That’s the only facet of run defense that this line is good at, although they are fairly mediocre- still nothing special- at generating stuffs (dropping the back for negative yards or no gain). However, the line is very poor overall at stopping the run, and nobody needs me to reiterate that.
It is always interesting to look at the advanced stats, just because they are so rare in football. Looking at the break down of how many yards per carry opposing rushers average at different areas in the line tells us a great deal about which players are struggling to stop the run. This is absolutely true in this case, and the stats show that one particular side of the line has been struggling more than the rest.
The Panthers allow a 7th best 3.4 yards per carry (adjusted line yards) when teams run it towards the right end, which means that Charles Johnson is continuing to do excellent work in run defense. Everybody knows that Johnson is one of the best pass rushers in the game, but the man also has ten stuffs to go with ten sacks this season (12 QB hits and 19 tackles for loss as well). The Panthers run defense is about league-average on runs going towards Johnson and the right defensive tackle. Before Sione Fua went down with an injury, he was actually about average as a run blocker- he eats space- but he was poor overall due to his inability to get to the quarterback.
The interior is subpar, as expected, but the real problem- according to Football Outsiders- is on the left side of the defensive line. On runs to the left side of the defensive line, the Panthers are the worst in the NFL in the sections “Right Tackle” and “Right End”. They allow a staggering 5.81 yards per carry to the right tackle, and 5.59 yards per carry to the right end. That’s atrocious, because the next-worst team at runs off the right tackle is the Green Bay Packers who allow a much less 5.15 yards per carry. The Eagles are the next worst towards the right end, as they give up 5.20 yards per carry.
Before he was sidelined for the season with an injury, rookie defensive tackle Terrell McClain was really struggling on the left side. McClain was nothing short of awful in run defense, and he only registered one stuff in ten games while healthy. It all goes beyond counting statistics, because anybody who has watched him play this season will agree that McClain was the worst player on the line in run defense. He was better than Fua as a pass rusher, but he was still poor as a pass rusher and was much worse in run defense. Hopefully he will improve next season, and I am sure he will; he was drafted as one of those “upside” guys.
Greg Hardy was the steal of last year’s draft, because he was a player who was supposed to be a first-rounder after his junior year. However, staying in school caused his draft stock to pummel; but the Panthers benefited from this and picked him up in the sixth round. As a rookie, Hardy impressed me and was primed for a breakout season; he displayed a unique ability to create pressure and had intriguing athleticism. For most defensive ends, gradually turn into sacks; just ask Chris Long.
My overall impression of Hardy on run defense is that he is undisciplined against the run and is thus inconsistent because of this. He’s a good defensive end who is one of the better pass rushers around, and I think the run defense will come. I don’t think Hardy is quite this bad in run defense, but playing in the worst zone in the league in run defense adds fuel for the doubters. On Twitter, there were some guys wondering whether or not Hardy is a capable starter. He’s definitely a starting-caliber defensive end, and those 11 passes defended equal the number of passes defended by cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn and Darius Butler combined. Hardy has rare athleticism at the line and is really coming round as a premier pass rusher, and it’s time for him to take it to the next level and improve on his run defense. I wouldn’t go as far to say it is bad, but it is the biggest hole in his game right now.