The coach, the players, the mystery: The Carolina Panthers defense so far

After two preseason games, what do we know about this Carolina Panthers defense?
Donte Jackson
Donte Jackson / Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
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Carolina Panthers defensive system

Perhaps the proper launching pad for answering those questions would be to point out what first-year Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero incorporates in his scheme.

The highly regarded coach is a disciple of the Vic Fangio coaching tree. They worked together in the Bay during their tenures with the San Francisco 49ers when Fangio was the defensive coordinator and Evero was employed as an assistant.

The basics of the Fangio philosophy are centered around capping explosive plays from the opponent as much as possible. Most often this involves deploying zone coverage and using deception to confuse the quarterback.

Evero was slightly more aggressive in dialing up blitzes last season with the Denver Broncos than you’d usually see from a Fangio defense. But that may be a tendency that also carries over to this Panthers' defense.

The defense technically operates out of a 3-4 base, though Ejiro has a proclivity to live in sub packages and nickel personnel quite often. Nickel personnel will remove a linebacker and replace them with a defensive back.

Having outlined a general idea of what we should anticipate seeing from this defense – we ask one of the questions again.

Is the defense we’ve seen the past two weeks the one we’ll see in 2023?

The short and accurate answer is no. I mentioned the term ‘vanilla’ earlier. This defense has been the artificially flavored, sugar-free, off-brand version of vanilla.

One more defensive term to explore, for my reasoning behind my enthusiastic answer - shell coverage. The preseason defense has been described using that designation by analysts and broadcasters alike.

For what it’s worth, every defense has a shell. It's essentially just the back level of the defense. However, when you hear a team being referred to as using a shell coverage defense, it’s more so pointing to a most basic form of that back end with no disguises or actions to it.

That’s important to note, since Evero disguised his coverages more than any other NFL defensive coordinator in 2022. While this defense has deployed a two-high safety look with middle-of-field open coverage heavily this preseason and will often initially align the same in regular season action, the element of disguise changes the opposing offense’s comfortability pre-snap.

When a quarterback sees two-high safeties and soft zone coverage like the Panthers have been trotting out, they confidently feel that they can attack the intermediate middle throws and the underneath game such as the flats and check downs.

The New York Jets and New York Giants repeatedly carved the Panthers up by attacking those areas. Not to mention, Brian Daboll's first-team offense only attempted one run play in the opening series that resulted in a touchdown.

They weren’t worried at all about balancing their attack and limiting the effectiveness of the Carolina pass rush. Because they knew Evero wasn't going to bring added pressure.

That feels like a good place to segue into the original question we posed for this article…