One of my biggest concerns coming into the season was whether the Panthers had upgraded their pass rush. After the first 6 games the jury was still out as honestly the Panther pass rush was anemic at best. Though the Panthers sported an impressive pass defense it was more attributable to the defensive back field then it was to the front four.
More recently though the Panthers have done a better job of getting pressure on the QB. Most recently the Panthers logged 5 sacks against the Raiders in easily their best pass rush performance of the season. The reason for the improvement can be attributed to the Panthers increased creativity in bringing pressure. The Panthers have experimented with a number of different line-ups that feature Julius Peppers lining up in various positions.
Consider this 3rd down and long front four the Panthers put out there at one point in the Raiders game:
LDE: Charles Johnson
DT: Damione Lewis
RDE: Hilee Taylor
You know when the Raiders RG lined up and saw Peppers across from him he had to be thinking WTF? He subsequently gave up one of Peppers sacks as he wasn't prepared for Peppers speed. I don't know about you but I'm ecstatic to finally see the Panther brass running these different line-ups out there designed to confuse the opponent and more importantly...take advantage of specific mismatches. The line-up I've listed above has to be the fastest front four the Panthers could put out there and I hope to see more of it. I also want to see more blitzes from LB Thomas Davis and FS Charles Godfrey. Bring that speed baby and force the QB to throw the ball sooner than they want to.
The Panthers no longer have a static front four that they can line up and get pressure on the QB on a consistent basis. They need to find those mismatches to exploit and they need to continue to bring the heat in the form of new line-ups and disguised blitzes. If the Panther defense continues to rack up the sacks (tied for #14 now) then this defense could carry this team all the way.