The Carolina Panthers‘ defense had already achieved elite status before they strolled into Candlestick Park on Sunday, but they seem ever more fearsome now that they’ve walked out. The Panthers held a powerful San Francisco 49ers‘ offense to only 151 total yards, including a season-low 46 yards passing.
The secondary played spectacularly, even though were helped a bit with the loss of Vernon Davis, but the biggest reason was a ferocious pass rush. The Panthers front seven sacked Colin Kaepernick six times for a combined loss of 45 yards, with two big sacks coming from the newly returned veteran Dwan Edwards.
Edwards’ return comes at a pivotal time for the Panthers, and his presence could swing momentum in the Panthers’ favor. Defense is clearly the strength of the Panthers, and with the offense lacking the explosive element necessary to consistently put up points, they will have to lean on the defense to contend for the division lead or advance in the playoffs. But though the Panthers’ defense has been dominant this season, ranking in the top 10 in almost every category, including second in both total defense and scoring defense, they haven’t yet been considered as the best in the league.
Edwards changes all that. The Panthers front seven has been at the top of the league all year, possibly the best in the league aside from the Kansas City Chiefs, but Edwards gives them the rotational aspect that they have been lacking on the defensive line. The Panthers front four has to apply pressure consistently to mask the issues in the secondary, and they certainly can do that, but Edwards, when healthy, is the Panthers’ best interior rusher.
While rookies Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short are very strong against the run and have the ability to consistently shrink the pocket, Edwards puts up sacks instead of pressures, posting two on Sunday and six last year. Having three dominant players on the interior transforms the Panthers’ defense from fearsome to terrifying, not only giving them options in terms of personnel, but also allowing them to have fresher legs in the fourth quarter.