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Carolina Panthers defense will try to be not terrible in Cleveland

The Carolina Panthers defense looked a little better for parts of Sunday’s game against the Buccaneers, but that’s not saying much. They’ve been among the worst units in the league over the last several weeks. Bill Barnwell of ESPN wrote about teams collapsing out of the playoff race, and he had several stats that illustrate that reality.

When the Panthers didn’t send extra rushers during their 6-2 start, Kawann Short & Co. produced the league’s 13th-highest pressure rate. Over the past month, with the same defensive linemen, Carolina’s defense has posted the league’s worst pressure rate when it doesn’t send extra rushers.

From Week 1 to Week 9,… Carolina allowed a 101.0 passer rating without pressure, which was the 13th-best mark in the league. Since then, though, the Panthers have allowed a brutal passer rating of 135.5 in those same situations, the worst mark in the league. Their 93.7 Total QBR in those same situations also ranks last.

Overall, the Carolina pass defense has allowed a league-high 9.1 yards per attempt over the past month. It ranks only 31st in passer rating and Total QBR allowed, but when you look at deep passes, the Panthers are allowing opposing quarterbacks to post a perfect Total QBR of 100.0.

There’s more to the Panthers than that. Those are just a few highlights on the defensive side of the ball. The group has been horrible, and it led to Ron Rivera shaking up the coaching staff on that side of the ball.

The first test for this newly coached defense is a Cleveland Browns team coming off a brutal loss to the Houston Texans. They fell behind 23-0 in the first half while generating just 74 yards of offense while rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield turned the ball over three times. They piled up yardage and added a couple scores in the second half, but they were never close to being in the game.

In the Browns previous three games, they averaged 386 yards of total offense and 28 points, both of which would rank seventh in the league if maintained for a full season. All of those games were against bad defenses, but the Panthers are a bad defense, so the comparison is apt. Rookies Baker Mayfield and Nick Chubb are making waves, and that brings us to our keys.

  • Keep Nick Chubb bottled up. The scintillating rookie has wowed with his big play ability this season, but he’s been rather inefficient outside of the big plays. Since taking over as the full time starter six games ago, Chubb has averaged over four yards per carry just twice. He’s still managed to find the end zone seven times over that stretch with one of those visits at the end of a 92 yard jaunt against the Falcons. The Panthers need to keep him contained and force him to grind out yards.
  • Force Baker Mayfield into mistakes. Baker is having a fantastic rookie season. He’s averaged over nine yards per pass in each of his last three games and has tossed eight touchdowns in that time. He has all the makings of a future star. But he’s still a rookie. He threw three picks against the Texans last week and still has moments where he tries to make plays that aren’t there. Asking this defense to force a turnover may be asking too much, but we can try.
  • Take away the underneath passes. The appointment of Freddie Kitchens to offensive coordinator has given new life to the Cleveland offense. He’s placed more of an emphasis on quick throws to keep his quarterback clean and make his decisions easier. Running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson Jr. have hauled in 26 passes since Kitchens took over. Wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway and tight end David Njoku all have the ability to turn short passes into big gains as well.

This Browns team is young and full of promise, but they’re not good yet. The Panthers need to win this game, and they should win this game. With Ron Rivera now acting as the de facto defensive coordinator, it’s all on his shoulders now. Let’s see how the team responds.

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