This chart shows just how much better the defense has been playing from the beginning of the season to now, improving in every one of these categories.
|Statistical Category||Week 1-11||Week 13-15|
|Third Down Conversion||45%||38%|
*All stats are per game
The biggest change has come against the pass and with opposing quarterbacks throwing for almost 100 yards per game the past three weeks. The secondary has been in a state of turmoil for most of the season and the coaching staff has tried to find the right combination. Veterans like Charles Godfrey and Antoine Cason were cut and even benched Thomas Decoud, who they signed in the offseason. They eventually decided to turn to their rookies.
The early returns on the additions of Tre Boston at safety and Bene Benwikere at cornerback to the starting lineup has paid huge dividends. However, the player who has had the most impact has been Josh Norman, who has played like a shutdown cornerback for the second half of this year.
Norman has gone up against some of the best wide receivers in the NFL like Jeremy Maclin, Julio Jones and last week against Mike Evans. He made their days extremely difficult as none of them had more than five receptions or 80 receiving yards and Evans was the only one who caught a touchdown pass.
The improved play of the secondary has had a ripple effect through the whole defense. Now that wide receivers aren’t running free, opposing quarterbacks have to hold the ball a little longer. This is allowing the pass rush to get to the quarterback, generating over a half sack more per game. Defensive ends Mario Addision (two sacks) and Charles Johnson (1.5 sacks) have benefited the most but Luke Kuechly has even benefited with two sacks over the past three games.
The best improvement for this defense though has come on the scoreboard. Opposing teams have scored eight less points per game the past three weeks than the games before the bye week. This number would drop even more if the two blocked punts against Minnesota that were returned for touchdowns were taken out, bringing the total to 14.6 points per game.
If the defense continues to play at this high of a level the rest of 2014, the Carolina Panthers are going to be a tough team to beat.