Another Look at the Panthers 2009 Run Defense

The consensus on this blog is the Panther run defense is the biggest weakness on the defensive side of the ball going into the 2010 season. A quick look at the 2009 season statistics confirms that.

2009 Total Yards Allowed Rank: 8th

Rushing Yards Allowed Rank:  22nd

Passing Yards Allowed Rank: 4th

Yet the Panther defense finished the season strong giving many of us hope for the 2010 season. But did the run defense really play that much better as the Panthers finished the season with a 4-1 run to finish at 8-8. Could it simply have been the offense playing better and not turning the ball over? Do we really have anything to base the defensive optimism on? Let's start with the first question, whether the run defense actually improved.

Breaking the season into quarters and averaging the results to better detect trends the following chart shows the average rushing yards allowed per quarter. I then averaged the final 2009 rushing offense rank of each team by quarter to compare the result against the quality of the opponents in that quarter. Here's what we got:

2009 Season Quarter

Avg Rush Yds Allowed

Ave Opponent Rush Rank

1st

155

18

2nd

90

17

3rd

155

11

4th

99

12

 

So you can see we started the season poorly against middle-of-the-pack rushing teams on average, including giving up over 200 yards to Dallas. We were missing two players key to the rushing defense, DT Maake Kemoeatu and SS Chris Harris. Kemo's replacement was the inexperienced and too light for the position Nick Hayden. Quinton Teal filled in for Harris until he returned in game 4. Hayden only started one game as the Panthers quickly traded for Louis Leonard to fill the DT spot vacated by Kemo. Unfortunately Leonard lasted only one game before joining Kemo on IR leaving Hayden to start again in games 3 and 4.

Starting with game 5, enter FA DT Hollis Thomas, who would start at Dt the remainder of the season. Against a very comparable line-up of rushing offenses, which I found surprising given the teams, the Panthers reduced the rushing yards allowed by 42%. At this point we were singing the praises of Thomas and Harris and hoping for better results in the second half of the season.

Though game 9 was a victory over ATL the Panthers still gave up 176 yards rushing to the #15 rushing team. That was followed by match-ups with the #4 Dolphins and #1 Jets leading to the poor 3rd quarter showing. Only the #23 ranked Bucs kept the 3rd quarter opponent rank so high (11). We also lost leading tackler LB Thomas Davis in this quarter. Yet in the end the average performance was no worse than the result against the lesser rushing teams in the 1st quarter, a hollow victory at best though.

The 4th quarter schedule contained more top rushing teams with an average rank of 12 yet look at the results. That included a smash-up job against the Vikings and Adrian Petersen (41 yards). So this trend does appear to suggest that as the Panthers solidified the DT spot with the addition of Hollis Thomas and became more familiar with DC Ron Meeks system the rushing defense improved.

Yet we no longer have Hollis Thomas on the team. I find it a reasonable assumption that the Panthers think they already have a comparable talent to Thomas on the team. After all, they did sign Thomas to fill the spot in the first place (though he wasn't their first choice). Here's more food for thought for those questioning our rushing defense. In spite of the release of several defensive veterans the Panthers return their top 4 tacklers from 2009. The players that have left only accounted for 17 percent of Panther tacklers in 2009. So given that stat and the positive trend to end the season I feel we don't have as much to worry about with our rushing defense and many may think.

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