The Carolina Panthers defensive line has failed to reach opposing quarterbacks twice this season.
Carolina Panthers new defensive coordinator Eric Washington enjoyed a terrific start to the 2018 season as his unit sacked Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott six times. An inspiring performance, setting the bar extremely high from the outset and a failure to duplicate that level of play feels as if the unit is now struggling.
The following week in Atlanta, no Panthers sacked Matt Ryan and against Eli Manning this past Sunday, only linebacker Luke Kuechly reached the quarterback. Through four games, one-fourth of the regular season, Carolina has registered just nine sacks total, seven from the defensive line.
By comparison, in 2017 the Panthers earned 11 total sacks in as many games with nine from their front four. Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers had more sacks (4.5) than games played at that point, jump starting a terrific season. This year he has zero but there is little doubt that he won’t get things going soon.
However, the team is only down two sacks from their prior total overall and there is plenty of football left to play. The Panthers finished with 50 sacks in regular season play a year ago and there is little reason to doubt they won’t be close again in 2018.
Thomas Davis returns to the lineup this week and while he isn’t known for his rushing prowess, he has recorded multiple sacks over each of the last five seasons. Even with a limited schedule, he should grab a few to help increase the team total.
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Up front the linemen have also dealt with opponent adjustments after showing a handful of different looks in the season opener against Dallas. This, coupled with varying responsibilities for different personnel on the field, has led to a dip in production to this point.
A Davis return, knowing Peppers can get it going and the capabilities of fellow defensive ends – Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Efe Obada gives Panthers fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful moving forward.
Assisting in pass defense by creating pressure has been a recent staple of the Panthers defense, to assist in the development of their young secondary. But Washington has also committed to dropping more into coverage by playing a true nickel package more so than in the past. As the season progresses and those on the back end become increasingly familiar with one another, Washington is likely to bring more pressure and leave his guys in one on one situations.
If the secondary proves capable of maintaining coverage when given this responsibility then watch the sack numbers rise dramatically – if not, then Carolina may continue to struggle generating consistent pressure this season.