Last season, the Carolina Panthers were among the leaders in almost every defensive category. Luke Kuechly and company ranked sixth in sacks with 44 trailing the No. 1 team in that department (the Denver Broncos) by eight.
Fast forward and now the Panthers are a measly 16th with 12 total sacks through six games this season. Interestingly enough, safety Tre Boston is the top sack man for Carolina with two.
Kuechly and linebacker mate Thomas Davis each have one while defensive ends Mario Addison (1.5), Lavar Edwards (1.0) and Charles Johnson (0.5) have shown up at times. Defensive tackles Kawann Short, Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler each have one sack.
Short led the team with 11 a year ago in his breakout year, so it is rather disappointing that he has been so quiet thus far.
One player without a sack that comes as a surprise is Kony Ealy. He is second on the team behind Johnson with seven quarterback hurries. However, he had five sacks in the 2015 regular season and three sacks and an interception in the 24-10 Super Bowl loss.
The Panthers need Ealy to rise to the occasion more often than not. Johnson has been the most consistent contributor in terms of getting after the quarterback. Short and Addison are third on the team with four hurries each.
In Sunday’s 41-38 loss to New Orleans, Johnson and Addison split a sack while Johnson had three hurries, Addison had two and Short had one.
Ealy finished with three tackles and not much else. 28-year-old cornerback Teddy Williams forced the only turnover on the day, an interception as the Panthers lost the turnover battle 2-1.
Carolina knows they need to get after the quarterback. This defense is built on that and with a young and unproven secondary, it has to be done to help the cause.
“We’ve got too good of a front to not be generating sacks and pressures. We just have to do a better job each and every week,” Ealy told Panthers.com. “Obviously, we’re grinding every week and we just have to apply it to situations in the game. And we will. We’re going to keep working, that’s the only thing we can do. Try to get better and try to get this whole thing alive.”
Sitting at 1-5, the Panthers’ bye comes at a much needed time. After Week 7, they’ll play three of their next four games at home, hosting Arizona, Kansas City and New Orleans.
A Super Bowl hangover is settling in right now for Ron Rivera’s group, but with Cam Newton back and Jonathan Stewart returning to full health, the offense is going to be able to function at a high level.
It’s up to the defense to get after the quarterback and make plays. Carolina has always been a team that is predicated on forcing turnovers and giving the ball back to its offense. Newton and Stewart want to pound the rock.
Young cornerbacks that are learning on the job doesn’t help the defense, but getting Short, Ealy and Johnson going week in and week out certainly will.