It was a very lackluster performance from the Panthers defensive line. No sacks, no QB hits and only nine total tackles from this group. Mark Sanchez faced very little pressure from this front four and had plenty of time to hold the ball, let the play develop and find the open receiver.
The loss of Greg Hardy hurt this group and was very evident against the Eagles. He was the type of player that offenses had to account for. This would create favorable match-ups for the other player along the line but now without his presence, the rest of the group is not nearly effective enough.
If fans watch just Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, they would think the Panthers have a Top 5 defense. These two are some of the best in the game right now and play well almost every week. They finished the game with a combined 15 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack by Davis.
The fact that the Panthers were able to hold the Eagles to 37 yards rushing on 23 carries is rather surprising. The run defense has been awful for most of the year and Carolina was going up against two of the more elusive backs in the NFL (LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles). The two Panthers linebackers deserve a lot of credit for keeping the Eagles run game in check.
The re-made secondary has been the weak link in this defense all season. The Panthers have a solid cornerback in Josh Norman however they have yet to find someone opposite of him to play the other side of the field. Against the Eagles, Melvin White got the start instead of Antoine Cason, who was the team’s starter for eight of the nine games this year.
The switch to White didn’t help as the Panthers ended up with the same result. Sanchez threw for over 300 yards and rookie Jordan Matthews put on a show to the tune of seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers secondary is hurting right now and the hope would be the return of rookie Bene Benwikere to nickelback might help tighten up the secondary.
It was a tough night for special teams who allowed Darren Sproles to run free for a 65-yard punt return in the first half. Brad Nortman is one of the better punters in the game but kicking to Sproles, one of the best punt returners in the NFL, it is important to kick it to the sidelines and try and trap him.
By him punting right down the middle, it allowed Sproles to find room and take the kick all the way back. This was the play that basically decided the game and put it out of reach for the Panthers.