Among the fan base wounds cut too deep to give him credit quite yet, but one of the unsung heroes of the Carolina Panthers this season has been defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. A unit he took over in 2011 were the worst in the NFL, however now, with a full season under his belt, and a proper off-season to evaluate talent, he has improved the defense by a large measure.
Despite the defense being on the field for on average four minutes more per game (yes, this is a significant margin) the Panthers are allowing the same amount of yards as last year, but they're allowing less yards per play, and most importantly-- less points per game. Currently the 23rd ranked defense in yards allowed, and 21st in points allowed is a marked improvement for a unit who finished last season 28th and 27th respectively. All this while facing the second-hardest schedule in the NFL.
As much as it's easy (and fair) to malign the secondary, the most refreshing approach to McDermott managing the unit is how he has been tactile, moved players around, and consistently made the most of his personnel. Last year Carolina had 14 team interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, and 31 sacks-- now, the Panthers are on pace to finish with 16 interceptions, 10 forced fumbles, and most importantly 45 sacks. The improvement in the pass rush has been mammoth, and largely in part to moving Greg Hardy and Frank Alexander around to cause mismatches for Charles Johnson, while getting consistent production from Dwan Edwards.
Perhaps this season finishes much like last year's-- another 6-10 record, with one side of the ball letting down the other. However, unlike last year, now it's the defense who are stepping up and playing well. For all the lampooning and mocking, Sean McDermott has improved the defense this year, and it's a sight for sore eyes.