There was nothing particularly wrong with how the Carolina Panthers defense played in its opener against the Denver Broncos.
They allowed the defending Super Bowl champions 307 total yards and 21 points. But that was 5.4 yards per play, and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott knows this group can do better.
“There were some good moments, as far as the rush and the coverage working together, and there were also some moments when it wasn’t the way it needed to be,” McDermott said Monday.
“There were times when we could have rushed better and times when we could have covered better. Those need to work hand-in-hand and I didn’t think we did that enough the other night. That’s an area we have to improve going forward.”
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Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, in his first NFL start, completed 18 of 26 passes. But he was also intercepted twice. McDermott understands the Broncos’ agenda was not to take major chances in the passing game, leaning heavily on short and intermediate routes, rather than attempting so-called “chunk” plays.
“I thought they were getting the ball out fast at times. So we need to play better complementary football,” McDermott said.
“There was an element of the unknown when you don’t have much tape on him in a real game. Having said that, I thought we adjusted fairly quickly once we got a feel and the players settled in. For me, there are always areas the night of the game and beyond where I say, ‘Ah!’ I wanted to put us in better positions. (But) It’s not where you start, it’s where you go from here.”
On balance, Thursday felt like progress for a defense with a young and highly inexperienced secondary.
“I thought we took the ball away three times and you can win games when you do that,” McDermott said. “Giving the offense the chance to get the ball back at the end of the first half and putting points on the board. And giving ourselves a chance to win at the end of the game, I thought that was important as a defense.”
The next challenge is the San Francisco 49ers, coached by offensive innovator Chip Kelly. This is Kelly’s first season with the 49ers, but McDermott believes he and his defensive assistants have a feel for Kelly’s style based on games when Kelly coached the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Familiarity is important. Having gone against Coach Kelly multiple times, I think that helps us as a staff and helps the players who’ve gone against him before,” McDermott said. “He has a great system. He’s a darn good football coach. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”