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The Carolina Panthers defense might be the NFC South’s worst in 2020

Under Ron Rivera playing good defense was always the priority of the Panthers. Has that now changed?

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NFL Combine - Day 2

Saying the Carolina Panthers have the worst defense in their division is not a bold statement unless you are a Panthers fan. We have prided ourselves on our defense the last eight seasons or so. We assume last seasons No. 32 finish against the run was an aberration due to injury to key players. Then Luke Kuechly retired and the sky fell down.

The Panthers franchise has entered a new era, and one of the big changes appears to be which side of the ball gets the focus. Ron Rivera was a defensive coach and therefore focused his energy on the defense. New Panthers head coach Matt Rhule has a similar background to Rivera as a player. He played linebacker at Penn State under Joe Paterno. Yet when he went into coaching he quickly moved to the offensive side of the ball. Since then his teams have been known for putting points on the board versus stingy defense. His hiring of Joe Brady as offensive coordinator meshes well with his previous offensive-minded philosophy.

That said, Rhule’s first offseason has been an obvious focus on fortifying the offense. The change at quarterback was a huge decision he took part in. Yet they also improved the offensive line and gave new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater another target in wide receiver Robbie Anderson. Great, I love it I cannot wait to see this unit play. However, they are going to need to be efficient AND score a lot of points based on the Panthers’ current starting lineup on defense. Teams will obviously focus on running the ball down our throats.

Here’s our current defensive starters lined up against the New Orleans Saints offense. One change is at defensive tackle where you can replace Woodrow Hamilton with Zach Kerr, our free agent signing. Kerr posted a 69.5 grade from Pro Football Focus last season, which is now the highest grade on our defensive line. There is still lots of time to signs more free agents, and the draft could fill a couple of holes I know, blah blah blah... this is what we have to work with at the moment.

Panthers defense vs Saints offense (From PFF.com)

The Saints look just as good if not better than last year’s squad does. This does not bode well for the Panthers’ 2020 defense. We have a huge hole at cornerback to fill. So at the moment Donte Jackson will be covering the likes of Michael Thomas, Julio Jones and Mike Evans. While I expect a rebound year from D-Jack that is still a tough assignment for any corner. Especially if the run defense is not doing its job.

With the Panthers defense in disarray for most of 2019 and into the offseason, who has the best defense in the NFC South? Here’s a look at the Panthers offense lined up against the division’s other three defenses.

Panthers offense vs Saints defense

I selected the three-wide receiver set for this match up because I think that could be the Panthers base offense in 2020. (Against the Saints I bet it is anyway.) On paper the Saints win this match up all day. The X-factor though is Bridgewater and his intimate knowledge of the Saints defense. Add in the newness of the Panthers offense and we have a chance to score points on this very talented defense. Even so, I will argue the Saints have the best defense in the South.

Panthers offense vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense

The Panthers offense should match up well with the Bucs defense given their strength is against the run. Against the pass, not so much. I think the Panthers short passing game will be able to exploit the Bucs’ secondary; the pass will set up the run. Even so I see the Bucs’ defense as the second best in the division. They are very stout in the front seven and will be able to get after the quarterback in third-and-long situations. The Panthers defense, on the other hand, lost two of its best pass rushers in Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin. Where will the pass rush come from other than Brian Burns?

Panthers offense vs Atlanta Falcons defense

Here’s the Panthers lined up in a traditional two-back set. Will we see this much in 2020 outside of goal line situations? I digress...I see the Falcons defense as the one defense that could be worse than the Panthers, if the Panthers add talent at cornerback, defensive tackle and defensive end. Those are some big ‘ifs’. Right now, both depth charts are suspect in multiple areas. As a Panthers homer I have every hope the Panthers defense will be better than the Falcons defense at this point in the offseason but all it is is hope. We are in uncharted territory with a new head coach with zero NFL head coaching experience. New Panthers owner David Tepper is rolling the dice like a big dog. Things could be ugly in 2020, but no worries for me, I’m already setting the bar low...for a season. Patience is a virtue I don’t have time for :)

Be sure to check out the poll below and place your vote!

Poll

What rank do you give the Panthers defense in the NFC South for 2020 based on today’s roster?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    1st
    (25 votes)
  • 4%
    2nd
    (36 votes)
  • 23%
    3rd
    (186 votes)
  • 69%
    4th
    (558 votes)
805 votes total Vote Now