The Carolina Panthers‘ front seven has become one of the best in the league this season, dominating opponents at the line of scrimmage and laying the wood in the gaps and over the middle. In today’s pass-first NFL a defense not only needs a fierce pass rush that can disrupt the timing and rhythm of offensive schemes, but they also need linebackers that can tackle and cover well in space. Carolina has both of those elements, led by dynamic duos at both levels: Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson as the bookends with Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly covering their backs. Together, they create a defensive force that few can overcome.
However, Carolina will be without their highest paid player, Johnson, when they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday and possibly more games after that. While his replacement Mario Addison played well against the Miami Dolphins, posting a sack, Johnson’s absence was felt and Ryan Tannehill was given too much time to throw it downfield. As a result, Carolina’s young and inexperienced secondary was exposed, allowing 310 passing yards and 127 yards to the speedy Mike Wallace. Carolina doesn’t have the athletes or the playmakers to lock down receivers in the back end, but they have been able to rely on the pass rush cover up their weaknesses.
One way or another, if Carolina wants to continue their win streak, maintain their defensive reputation and challenge the New Orleans Saints in the division, they need to find a pass rush. They might be alright against the 3-8 Bucs, but there’s no guarantee that Johnson will be back for the Saints game. Obviously Johnson’s understudies as well as Greg Hardy must step up, but look for the Panthers to use Dwan Edwards and Kawann Short to create an inside pass rush, as well as increased blitzes from Thomas Davis and Captain Munnerlyn. Don’t expect too many blitzes, though, because a failure to pressure will surely result in big plays.