Last week I took a look at the offensive side of the ball for the Panthers. Outside of the offensive line and a possible major health issue at QB, the offense is in pretty solid shape. The defense however, is a completely different story.
You can make an argument that the defense ranked as a bottom five defense during the last half of the year I think most would agree with you. They looked poorly coached, old, slow, and like the game had just passed them by. Let’s start with the most disappointing unit of all.
Had you asked me prior to the season beginning where I would’ve ranked all of the teams units, the defensive line would have been either first or second behind Quarterback.
I was completely wrong.
For a unit who as a whole, takes up nearly a quarter of the teams cap space, and had two of the four highest cap hits, this season was abysmal. The team ranked 27th in sacks, and 31st (only ahead of the Oakland Raiders) in QB hits.
Kawaan Short still performed well on the year and we all know it’s difficult to succeed when those around you aren’t up to par, but he still wasn’t quite the elite player that many of us had expected him to be.
Dontari Poe was the big signing many of us were excited for and he turned out to be a complete flop this season. I heard his name called on penalties and that’s about it. Neither Julius Peppers nor Mario Addison are capable of being “number 1” guys on the EDGE right now, and Vernon Butler is one of the teams biggest draft busts in recent memory.
Efe Obada had his one great game and outside of that it’s still difficult to tell whether or not he will be anything more than just a guy.
Outside of Short, who still fell a little short (ha ha) of expectations, the only guy on the line I was overly impressed with was Kyle Love. Yes, he still just a backup tackle and probably nothing more, but he had 1.5 sacks, 3 FF, and 2 Fumble Recoveries which is pretty good production from a backup DT.
A player I failed to mention was Marquise Haynes who was just a complete swing and miss in last years draft,. This years draft, defensive line has to be the highest priority on the defensive side.
Just like their offensive counterparts, games are won and lost in the trenches, and the Panthers are in dire need of some help there.
Final Grade: D
When your line was as bad as the Panthers was it’s hard to not look bad yourselves at times, and occasionally our LB’s fell victim to just that. Overall though, I thought they were solid given the circumstances.
Luke Kuechly of course is on another level. He was selected to his FIFTH All-Pro 1st team, finishing the year 6th in solo tackles with 93 (130 combined) and tied for 3rd in TFL with 20. Oh yeah, by the way, he was the only non-defensive lineman in the league that was top 10 for TFL.
Thomas Davis missed the first four games due to suspension and came back and had some impactful plays in certain games, had more combined tackles than he did last season in three less games, but is still nearly 36. The future with TD is in doubt, I don’t want to ever see him wear another uniform, but we just cannot afford to keep putting too much money into old vets.
Shaq Thompson is an enigma. Sometimes he will make a great play that makes you think “Wow! I know why we drafted this guy in the first round”, and then sometimes you could watch and entire game and not be sure if he played or not. Could this be inconsistency on his part? Thomas Davis still being considered above him? Probably a mix of a few things.
With him randomly being placed on IR towards the end of December and his rookie contract expiring it’s hard to tell what the team will do with Shaq. Funchess is almost definitely gone but I feel Shaq will be re-signed unless he just commands too much money.
We know David Mayo and the rest of the backups will never be anything except for backups, and it wouldn’t hurt to add another decent LB somehow with TD either gone or just too old, but Shaq’s play if he comes back will really be the determining factor on how this unit performs going forward. We know that Kuechly is a 1st ballot Hall of Famer.
Final Grade: B
I think a lot of people initially looked at how bad this team was against the pass and just assumed the secondary was the biggest problem, it wasn’t. When a team cannot generate a pass rush without blitzing, or just get to the QB at all, the secondary will always be the ones that get stuck looking bad.
Granted the secondary wasn’t elite, and maybe they weren’t even “good” this season, but I don’t believe they were anything worse than average.
Donte Jackson occasionally gets too aggressive, but the sky is clearly the limit for this guy, and Bradberry may never be the number 1 CB we had all hoped but he showed up in all the divisional games this season, now he just needs to show up a little more in the others.
Private Munnerlyn, yeah he got demoted, was a disaster this season and should not take the field for this team again, meaning there’s still a gaping hole at nickel to be filled and I don’t think that answer is on this roster. At some point in the draft a CB or nickel will need to be selected, and a safety when the opportunity arises as well.
Picking up Eric Reid early in the season was a good decision and I hope the Panthers are able to re-sign. He’s much better than Colin Jones (clearly) and said he’d like to be back. I’m sure as long as he’s not asking for elite money we will get it done to try to stabilize the revolving door at safety for the past decade.
Mike Adams probably will be headed to the retirement home with Munnerlyn and I’d like to see what Rashaan Gaulden can do, but that doesn’t mean we should be comfortable with him just yet.
If we draft or sign some younger guys and they still end up not being productive then so be it, but anything is better than watching some old veterans running around and not being able to keep up.
We need a hungry defense and I like that Action Jackson brings that energy. If he can slowly begin proving to be a CB1, I like where our CB situation is headed, safety is still pretty shaky.
Final Grade: C
I didn’t mention this for any of the 3 units specifically, but the defense as a whole was awful at forcing turnovers over the back half of the season, and while turnovers aren’t sustainable, it’s what made the defense great in ‘15 so they must find a way to get back to that.
I hope you enjoyed reading about this defense and didn’t get too upset thinking back on the season, special teams was also slightly above average on the year as well, let me know if you guys agree (or don’t) with these grades.