Execution lacking in Panthers' third-down D

The Carolina Panthers continue to struggle with third-down defense, particularly against quality quarterbacks. The Panthers allowed Drew Brees to convert 12 of 17 third down conversions, including two on a game-winning 89-yard touchdown drive in a 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Carolina Panthers continue to struggle with third-down defense, particularly against quality quarterbacks.

The Panthers allowed Drew Brees to convert 12 of 17 third down conversions, including two on a game-winning 89-yard touchdown drive in a 30-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Often times, it's a matter of the Panthers "taking the cheese," according to coach Ron Rivera.

That means linebackers and safeties jumping the short route instead of the deeper route, resulting in first downs.

"The execution isn't there yet," defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "It's about guys learning their roles in this defense and understanding situational football. If it's third-and-10 we're not jumping a two-yard route. That's really what it came down to.

"I talked to the players and told them we are young but at the same time we have to develop callousness about us so we don't make the same mistakes twice. That is really the thing about becoming better as a defense -- not making the same mistake twice because we can't afford to. The third downs yesterday, that is what it came down to."

McDermott believes part of the problem has been the fluidity at the linebacker position.

Carolina lost Jon Beason and Thomas Davis the first two weeks to season-ending injuries. On Sunday against the Saints Omar Gaither, who was making his first start of the season, went down with a sprained MCL in his knee. He will be out 2-4 weeks.

"I think this biggest impact is the continuity and there's not a rapport that has been felt throughout the week and on a week-to-week basis where the strong safety is used to working with this linebacker and how he will play this route and because we've seen it two or three weeks before, you lose some of that continuity and being able to play off each other and play fast," McDermott said. "That's the biggest thing right now."

When asked if this current group of linebackers is challenged in terms of their ability to cover, McDermott said, "It depends on who we have at linebacker. I think guys stopped the run better and fit the run better and that's a step in that direction.

"We can get better at that position in a lot of areas but I saw some improvement Sunday at that position. I would single out James Anderson and the leader he has been in this defense. He has been a stabilizing force in there right now."


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