NFL: Concerns mounting for Panthers
By Mike Cranston
CHARLOTTEó Jon Beason didn’t mince words Saturday night after watching his Carolina teammates bounce off ball carriers, allow two long touchdown drives and add to growing fears that the banged-up Panthers defense isn’t ready for the regular season.
“On the sideline you get that coaches’ point of view. The tackling was horrible,” said Beason, the team’s leading tackler the past two seasons who had to watch the 17-13 exhibition loss to Baltimore because of a sprained knee.
“I think we’ve got to do a better job in our man-to-man coverage. I think we were good against the run, which we hadn’t been the first two games. But we’re still not where we need to be.”
That attitude was prevalent all over the Panthers’ spacious locker room after they fell to 0-3 in the preseason.
Known as a run-first team, the Ravens passed at will. Joe Flacco completed 23 of 28 passes for 247 yards and led touchdown drives of 80 and 90 yards. High-priced defensive end Julius Peppers pressured him only once. And when Flacco was flushed out of the pocket he simply dumped short passes to open running backs.
Receivers were given room to run their routes, and then often weren’t brought down until the second or third try. Cornerback Chris Gamble, fresh off receiving a $54.5 million contract extension late last season, led Carolina’s missed tackle parade.
“It’s disappointing for us to come out and play like this three weeks in a row,” safety Chris Harris said. “The biggest thing is not tackling well. We need to tackle a lot better if we want to be a good defense.”
The Panthers entered training camp with 10 returning defensive starters and a new coordinator intent on emphasizing the speed and quickness on the roster. But run-stuffing defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu ruptured his Achilles’ tendon not 30 minutes into the first practice, and it’s only gotten worse for Ron Meeks.
Beason, Carolina’s middle linebacker and team leader, sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in the second preseason game against Miami and is questionable for the season opener Sept. 13 against Philadelphia.
Outside linebacker Thomas Davis is recovering from his own sprained MCL and missed his third straight game Saturday. Free safety Charles Godfrey hopes to be ready for Week 1 despite a broken hand.
“It hurts not having your horses,” defensive tackle Damione Lewis said.
Against the New York Giants and Dolphins, the run defense was exposed. The Ravens rushed for only 118 yards Saturday, but it was more because they were picking apart Carolina’s secondary.
“Shoddy at times,” coach John Fox said when asked about the pass defense.
Fox wasn’t pleased with the offense, either. The first team failed to score a touchdown and was 0-for-5 on third down as it played without running backs DeAngelo Williams (knee) and Jonathan Stewart (Achilles’ tendon).
“I thought one of the problems offensively was we got third-and-unmanageable,” Fox said. “We had some third-and-very-longs, and those aren’t a high percentage anyway. We need to do a better job on first and second down.”
The defense plans to focus on tackling this week, even though there will be no full-contact work before Thursday’s exhibition finale against Pittsburgh.
“Getting in great football stances when you’re approaching ball carriers in practice. Hitting the dummies, making sure you’re wrapping up. Things of that nature,” Harris said. “It’s something that needs to be fixed and fixed soon.”
Last year the Panthers crushed Washington 47-3 in the third preseason game and Fox didn’t play the starters at all in the final practice game. After an uninspiring performance against the Ravens, the starters are likely to see some work against the Steelers with time running out to correct numerous problems.
“We’re trying to get everybody healthy,” Fox said. “If some healthy guys come back we might try to give them a little shot in there just so Philadelphia in our opener’s not the first time they’re out there.”
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