The Carolina Panthers pass rush got a huge boost when they took the field Sunday with the return of Charles Johnson. The former Georgia Bulldog missed the entire preseason with a calf injury and was expected to return for the final preseason game before suffering an upper back injury.
It didn’t look like Johnson needed those warm up games and was already in midseason form with a sack on Jaguars’ Blake Bortles. However, he wasn’t the leader among defensive ends in sacks on the Panthers. That honor belongs to Mario Addison who came away with two sacks on Sunday.
Addison is coming off a career year in sacks with 6.5 a year ago and looks well on his way to break that total in 2015. The Panthers pass rush has been a concern for the past year and this was a good start to erase some of those concerns.
The Panthers knew they were going to be without Star Lotulelei as he continues to battle a foot injury but Kyle Love stepped in and played well in his place. Love was signed towards the end of 2014 but did start for Lotulelei in the Panthers’ playoff game against the Seahawks.
While he is not on the same level of Lotulelei, the combination of Love and Kawann Short did a good job holding down the middle of the line. The Jaguars strength of their offensive line is in the middle and this was a fun battle to watch between two strengths. It is hard to say the Panthers won this battle but I also don’t think they lost it either.
The Panthers suffered a major blow when Luke Kuechly was forced to miss the second half due to a concussion. He is one of the best in the league and those are big shoes to fill. Luckily for the Panthers, they were facing a Jaguars offense that was struggling and the team was able to get by.
The coaching staff decided to go with A.J. Klein in the middle to replace Kuechly and he played well enough to get the job done. Klein finished the game with six tackles and one for a loss.
Thomas Davis though was the star of this group finishing the game with seven tackles, one sack, one interception and two tackles for a loss. If Kuechly is out for an extended period of time, Davis will be the player the team will look to step up for this defense.
The Panthers were certainly happy that Josh Norman was cleared to play in this game as he had the deciding play in the game when he intercepted Bortles and returned it for a touchdown. This play extended the Panthers lead to 17-9 and secured the victory.
Norman also had a forced fumble and two passes defended to go with his five tackles. The fourth year player played incredibly well down the stretch last year and looks to have picked up right where he left off.
Norman wasn’t the only player in the secondary to play well as Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere also had strong games. Benwikere may have had the hardest hit thrown all day near the end of the fourth when he jarred the ball loose and forced an incomplete pass.
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