For the first time in nearly a decade, the Panthers are on the verge of having a fierce pass rushing corp anchored by two disruptive defensive ends. It's hard to believe that going into this season we thought our only pass rusher was going to come from Charles Johnson, but it turns out he might not even end the season with the team leading sack count.
It's sure been a while, hasn't it? Does anyone really recall just how long? If most people had to guess, they would probably site the 2003 Superbowl season as the last time we had two players with 10+ sacks on the year. They would actually be wrong. In 2003, we certainly had a prolific tandem... but it was actually 2002 when Mike Rucker and Julius Peppers combined 22 sacks with the rookie Julius Peppers racking up 12 sacks and Mike Rucker adding 10 of his own.
After signing Charles "Big Money" Johnson to a mega contract, the Panthers were chided and snickered at. Most people thought we were paying far too much for a defensive end that was playing in the shadow of Julius Peppers. However, Johnson immediately proved that he was worth every penny. Over the last few years, Charles Johnson has really been the only source of consistent pressure that we've been able to generate on opposing quarterbacks. We spent several draft picks trying to address, even as recently as adding Frank Alexander to the mix by trading a 3rd round pick next year. Well... Maybe I should have said Charles Johnson was the only source of pressure...
Former 6th round draft pick Greg Hardy has been absolutely dynamite in recent weeks. He started off the season quietly enough, notching up only 2 sacks through the first 6 games. However, since a monster 3 sack performance in Chicago, Hardy has tapped into his inner beast mode, going on a rampage of 7 sacks in 7 games.
Release the Kraken! Hardy now leads the team in sacks with 9 total on the year.
Big Money has been equally impressive though. A 3.5 sack performance by Johnson kick-started a streak of 8.5 sacks in 6 games. Suffice to say, he's definitely gotten opponents attention and respect, much like a former pass rusher for the Panthers once did. In light of that, Johnson has been quiet the last 4 games, at least sack wise, as opponents have started to scheme away from him. However, it's become a choice of which poison you wish to take as while they have managed to limit Johnson, Hardy has flourished as a result.
So, will Hardy and Johnson (insert immature innuendo) both be able to hit the double digit mark this season? It seems likely. The Raiders offensive line has only given up 26 sacks to Carson Palmer this season, which puts them squarely middle of the road at 15th in the league. However, the Chargers are giving up a whopping 37 sacks, surpassed only by the Green Bay Packers. If I were Philip Rivers, I'd be very concerned. We close out the season against Drew Brees who is notorious for his pocket presence and sense of when to get rid of the football, but the next two weeks certainly look promising.
In spite of all this, perhaps the most amazing fact is that both Hardy and Johnson are able to pull this feat off with a really deficient secondary. Coverage sacks are few and far between for our boys, but yet these two have persevered and managed to make the most of their opportunities. With only 2.5 more sacks to go, this could very well be the first year since 2002 that the Panthers have that double digit sack duo we've been yearning for.