The Carolina Panthers defense is all about pressure and aggressiveness in 2018…
When Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Eric Washington speaks about ‘pressure’, he’s not saying that it’s a tougher job than being the Panthers D-line coach since 2011- it’s that he’s determined to put more of it on opposing offenses. Now Washington is looking for the defense to SCORE, and that is not an acronym for anything- Carolina only put one miscue into the end zone in 2017 (Kuechly vs. Jets), Jacksonville did it seven times.
For most of this off-season, the emphasis has been upgrading team speed and offensive weaponry to support Cam Newton and Norv Turner’s system . #1 pick DJ Moore is the poster child for that aspect of improvement, and most fans will recall how GM Marty Hurney picked up a number of free agent receivers—Torrey Smith, Jarius Wright– with the speed to make downfield plays that take advantage of Newton’s strong arm. While there will be some necessary culling of the current mob (15 receivers, including tight ends) before Opening Day in September, saying ‘Mission Accomplished!’ on that front is legitimate.
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Overall, the Carolina Panthers D was ranked seventh in 2017, and that created some strong feedback from Mario Addison regarding ‘best D’ for a snub (‘Which would I want to roll with?’) by Gregg Rosenthal of Around the NFL.com. The fact is, nobody has posted more sacks since 2012 than Carolina’s 219 (by the line) and 280 overall. They have been a top ten run defense four of last six years, so not making it to any top eight- or twelve, since Rosenthal has four also-ran units- will need to get straightened out along the way.
Two Carolina Panthers players who will benefit greatly from Washington’s mantra to increase defensive pressure will be Shaq Thompson and DT Vernon Butler (#1 pick in 2016). Although Thompson’s speed and versatility will be put on display to a greater degree during Thomas Davis’ four game suspension, and it’s doubtful he will used as a safety, he has benefited from putting on a few pounds, and his production has gone up the last two years with regular playing time: 70 tackles with 4 QB pressures, 1 INT/2 fumble recoveries in 2016; 75 tackles, 6 pressures, 2 sacks in 2017. Butler (#1 pick in 2016, 6’3”, 330 lbs.) has physical assets that should make him a tough assignment, but he wasn’t quite as productive as experts considered he should be- only 14 tackles, although 11 QB pressures is getting that part of job done pretty well. Being a regular part of line rotations to keep them fresh should improve both his and the unit’s numbers.
There’s no pressure about always having a “the last two Panther defensive coordinators have become head coaches” caveat attached to Washington’s rise to the position, and that’s a tribute to the Panthers long time habit of promoting from within, Turner’s hiring notwithstanding. The concern for rejuvenating the offense was legitimate- the Panthers scoring has dropped ten points a game over last two years- and the defensive secondary, which ranked 32nd (last) with only 55 passes broken up and 10 interceptions- should be dramatically improved even before Washington amps the pressure.
As for that slighting of the defensive line, watch out NFL, Panthers want a piece of everyone.