CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The Panthers have long prided themselves on being a team able to stop the run.
Those days are gone.
Carolina (5-7) has allowed 137.5 yards rushing per game and a league-worst 22 touchdowns on the ground this season. Those are ugly numbers. And it keeps getting worse.
On Sunday, they allowed 248 yards and three TDs rushing in a disappointing 29-21 loss to the Washington Redskins (3-9), a team that entered the game 28th in the league in rushing.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who makes the team’s defensive calls, points to three issues this season - the loss of defensive tackle Kawann Short to injury in Week 2, poor tackling and a lack of discipline when it comes to players being in the right gaps.
“That is the thing that has to be corrected more so than anything else,” Rivera said of the team’s run gap issues. “These guys have to learn it, understand it and continue to play it.”
With run-stuffing defensive tackle Dontari Poe out for the season with an injury, Rivera felt compelled to run blitz more than he normally would with the Panthers being beat at the point of attack.
But that came back to bite them on two long runs.
Rivera said he doesn’t blame the team’s switch to a three-man front this offseason for the team’s overall struggles against the run.
“For the most part we play a tilt, and when you are playing a tilt you are playing the same gaps,” Rivera said. “It’s just different personnel.”
Inside linebacker Luke Kuechly added: “We just got to do our job, and I think that’s what it comes down to. We were in good position to make plays. We just got to make them.”
The Panthers have been working on onside kicks all year in practice and when presented with a chance Sunday, executed one to perfection.
Michael Palardy, the team’s left-footed punter, laced the ball about 12 yards downfield and Jermaine Carter recovered the kick in stride without the ball even touching a Washington player. That gave the Panthers a chance to tie the game, but the Redskins mounted a late goal-line stand to seal the 29-21 win.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner needs to find some effective play calls in the red zone, as it has become a major problem that has plagued the Panthers all season, particularly in late-game situations.
The Panthers reached the 1-yard line with 41 seconds remaining and had four downs to get into the end zone for a chance to tie (with a 2-point conversion) and send the game into overtime.
Instead, they floundered at the goal line with Christian McCaffrey being stuffed twice on runs and Kyle Allen eventually being sacked and fumbling on fourth down after a loss of 23. The Panthers had similar issues on the goal line this season in late-game situations against Tampa Bay, Green Bay and New Orleans.
“I just felt like we just kept taking turns making mistakes,” Allen said. “And it’s unacceptable. Poor performance all the way through.”
D.J. Moore continues to shine as he develops into the team’s No. 1 wide receiver, getting six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins. Over the past five games, Moore has 36 receptions for 517 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Moore has 74 catches and needs just 20 yards for his first 1,000-yard season.
Carolina’s offensive line allowed seven sacks and Kyle Allen spent most of the game under pressure. The Panthers have allowed 46 sacks this season - fourth most in the NFL - and 75 quarterback hits, leaving offensive line as major area of need next offseason.
Panthers tight end Greg Olsen is in the NFL concussion protocol after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson. Olsen left the game in the second half after Anderson led with his helmet and leveled Olsen, who remained on the ground for about one minute. Olsen was taken to the locker room and did not return. Anderson will almost certainly be fined for the hit.
9 - Number of consecutive drives the Panthers failed to score on (eight punts, one interception) after their first two touchdown drives against the Redskins and taking an early 14-0 lead on Sunday.
The Panthers (5-7) have lost four straight and are likely to miss the postseason. But Rivera said he’ll stick with Allen at quarterback instead of going to rookie third-round draft pick Will Grier. Rivera doesn’t expect that he will be making too many changes to the lineup, figuring he’s already playing many of the team’s younger players he wanted to see in action.
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