Panthers run defense a concern, allowing 10 TDs in 3 games
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Panthers coach Ron Rivera is growing increasingly concerned with his team’s struggles against the run — and with good reason.
The Green Bay Packers ran for 163 yards and Aaron Jones scored three times on the ground in a 24-16 win over Carolina on Sunday, continuing an ugly trend for the Panthers run defense.
Over the past three games, Carolina (5-4) has allowed its opponents to amass 516 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns rushing, while averaging more than 6 yards per carry.
“Basically, what happened was we got gashed on a couple of plays,” Rivera said. “Those are things that you just can’t have happen. It’s happened three weeks in a row now where we have given up a couple of big runs per game — and that really puts a lot of things into perspective, unfortunately.”
Rivera said coaches will be paying extra attention this week to make sure everyone is where they need to be on defense, particularly up front.
“As far as our defensive front is concerned, we are a gap control defense, which means that there is accountability,” Rivera said. “When you look at the gaps and look at the scheme, are the guys where they are supposed to be?”
The Panthers could catch a break this week.
The Falcons have struggled all season maintaining a ground attack and rank 29th in the league in rushing, averaging just 76.8 yards per game with three TDs rushing on the season. In addition, Atlanta could be without top running back Devonta Freeman, who injured his foot in the team’s win over the Saints.
D.J. Moore is developing into the No. 1 wide receiver the Panthers have hoped for when they selected him in the first round in 2018. Moore has had back-to-back 100-yard receiving games. He caught nine of 11 passes thrown his way for 120 yards on Sunday against the Packers, including a clutch catch on fourth down on the team’s final drive.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Ron Rivera’s analytics study. The ninth-year coach decided to go for 2 after the Panthers cut the lead to 24-16, instead of an extra point. Carolina failed to convert, leaving them needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion on the final drive just to get to overtime. Rivera said he went with analytics, which were based off playing on the road, facing a veteran quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and on a field that was becoming increasingly soggy with the snow falling. “I didn’t go to Green Bay to hope to win,” Rivera said. “I went to win.”
Veteran tight end Greg Olsen resurfaced as a potential weapon in the Panthers offense moving forward after catching eight passes for 98 yards against the Packers. Olsen may not be as fast as he once was, but he’s still an excellent route runner and has exceptional hands.
Panthers guard Greg Van Roten has been superb for the Panthers over the past two seasons, but he missed a block on the game’s final play. That allowed the Packers to stop Christian McCaffrey short of the goal line. Rivera said quarterback Kyle Allen had a run-pass option on the play but chose to hand off to McCaffrey. It’s the second time this season the Panthers have lost on the final play when McCaffrey failed to get into the end zone.
Carolina played without cornerback James Bradberry, who is battling a nagging groin injury. The Panthers could certainly use their No. 1 cornerback this week when they host Julio Jones and the Falcons. ... Rookie defensive end Brian Burns continues to struggle with a wrist injury that has limited his ability to use his hand.
4 — Number of games remaining against teams with winning records, including two games against the Saints (7-2) and another vs. the Seahawks.
The Panthers face a Falcons team that may have found new life after upsetting the Saints in a big way on Sunday. Atlanta has won just twice but proved it will never back down to a division foe. The Falcons-Panthers games in the past have been physical affairs, and this week should be no exception.