Is Panthers Top 10 Defense for Real?

CHARLOTTE NC - SEPTEMBER 26: Brian Leonard #40 of the Cincinnati Bengals is tackled by teammates Jon Beason #52 and Derek Landri #61 of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 26 2010 in Charlotte North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Using Football Outsiders statistics the Panthers defense moved up from 16th to 10th in overall defense after last weeks loss. So is the ranking a mirage? FO uses a calculation they call DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).

Let's look at the numbers:

Panther defensive rankings:

  • 10th in defensive DVOA at -7.2% (negative is better)
  • 23rd against the pass
  • 6th against the run
  • 9th in yards per drive allowed at 25.86.

So can we draw anything positive from this? It's interesting that the run defense is better than the pass defense since that was our primary concern exiting the offseason. The Panthers are 0-3 and have played from behind most of the season resulting in the second highest run plays against (94). Though the defense is defending run plays more than anyone they are playing lights out against the run, a tribute to the play of the front seven against the run.

The counter argument could be that given the lack of a pass rush teams have simply found it easier to throw on the Panthers. If passing works then why run? So lets look a little deeper at the type of receivers that are hurting the Panthers:
  • 8th against #1 WRs
  • 13th against #2 WRs
  • 24th against Other WRs (slot)
  • 31st against TEs
  • 8th against running backs

So clearly the Panthers struggle covering slot receivers and TE's, not a huge surprise for most of you I bet. If you consider who is typically covering these players the weak link in the secondary becomes a little more clear. Though I think our LBers have been lights out against the run they are struggling to cover TE's. Players like Kellen Winslow and Jermaine Gresham have killed us.This is some thing we miss from LB Thomas Davis who has the size and speed to cover elite TE's.

The slot receiver is usually covered by the nickel or dime CB. One thing I noticed from attending the Bengals game is in most cases the Panthers use Marshall over the slot receiver and Hudson at the dime in their pass prevent defense.

Now the defensive line stats:

  • 2nd against the run
  • 32nd in sack rate
  • 9th against runs to the left end (C. Johnson)
  • 6th against runs over LDT (E. Johnson)
  • 2nd on runs up middle or off guard (Johnson/Landri)
  • 7th on runs over RDT (Landri)
  • 23rd on runs at RDE (Brayton/Brown)

Again, the weak link becomes clear, at least against the run. Its not unusual for the RDE to be more of a pass rush specialist being on the QBs blind side and less of a run stopper but we aren't getting the pass rush either. 

All of these stats match up with my perception of what I have seen on the field, giving credence to FO's calculations.

Thoughts?

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