No one expected much from the Panthers’ defense heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Lions – especially not a shut-out. Carolina hasn’t held a team scoreless in five years.
Heading into the game, the Panthers were ranked 22nd in the league in total defense, 27th in sacks and dead last in 3rd down efficiency. But all that went out the window against Detroit. From kick-off this game seemed different. Defense took the field, gave up just one first down and forced a punt. That would be a recurring theme the entire contest. The Lions wouldn’t string along more than two first downs on an offensive series the entire game and were held to just one (or less) per series until the fourth quarter. Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked five times and held to only 3-14 on third down.
After the game, head coach Matt Rhule attributed the improved defensive play to a good week of practice and game plan by coordinator Phil Snow.
“I thought our defense was the tale of the day. They did a fantastic job of getting to the quarterback, not allowing big plays and getting off the field on third down. After our third down woes, I thought the staff went back, the players went back and they had our best week of practice, the best week of preparation and I think it showed up in the game.”
“I thought Phil had a nice pressure/no pressure all up look,” Rhule continued. “We showed blitz the whole time and then either bailed or came. I think early on we stopped the run. Early on I think we held them to 40 yards rushing. Once we could kind of could move past having the run, the offense got enough of a lead with a 14-point lead that it became a passing game, and we could kind of go back and forth.”
Defensive end Brian Burns has been breathing down the necks of opposing quarterbacks all season – often times coming up just short of bringing them down. His reign or terror continued Sunday – sacking Stafford two times and hurrying him four. He also added one tackle for a loss and one pass defended to his stat sheet.
“The game plan was great,” Burns said when asked about his impressive outing. “They had no idea where we were coming from, they didn’t know if I was dropping, covering the slot, covering the back or if I was rushing off the edge, or going into the B-gap. We were sending guys from all over the place and they messed up their protection a lot. I usually don’t get freebies and they decided not to block me. So me standing off the ball, me moving around and putting me in different areas, along with (Jeremy) Chinn and everybody else, that was just great disguises and great execution by the blitzes.”
With an offense full of weapons, the Panthers youthful defense has always been considered a weaker link of this team. Today, they carried the load – showing their upside is something that Carolina fans should be excited about.