One of the most important things the Carolina Panthers defense can do this year – and something it didn’t do last year – is get its pass rush going early in the season.
Obviously, doing so hassles a quarterback looking for receivers downfield. If he is under heavy pressure, he may not be able to easily find those targets – which in turn helps the secondary.
And, the secondary’s coverage of those receivers helps make life that much harder for the quarterback under pressure, and that much easier for the rushers chasing him down.
“They go hand in hand,” said linebacker Luke Kuechly this week. “If you can rush you can cover, and if you can cover you can rush.”
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Against the San Francisco 49ers, one of the most intriguing pass-rush battles to watch will be Panthers defensive end Mario Addison against San Francisco 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who has been battling injury but is expected to play Sunday.
“I always study the guy I’m going against. It’s No. 74 (Staley). He’s a helluva tackle. So I’ve got my work cut out for me,” Addison said this week. “He’s pretty solid. He’s good with his feet, a good run-block and pass-block type of player.
“So I’m about to give him the business.”
With Staley’s 11 years in the league and 6-foot-5, 315-pound frame, what might be most advantageous for Addison against him will be the defensive end’s speed. Addison is 6-3 and 251 pounds, but his burst and quickness around the edge has helped him become one of the more productive rushers in the league, with a team-high 9.5 sacks in 2016.
But Addison also expects Staley to have help on some sets.
“They’re going to do some doubling, on the inside and the outside,” he said. “So whoever is the person is that actually gets the one-on-one ... they’ve got to win.”
Addison will be in a newer role than he’s been in the past several seasons. Once used situationally, he will now be more of an every-down anchor defensive end as veterans Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson rotate opposite him.
Addison said that will be to his advantage.
“I won’t have to only come in on third down anymore, so I’ll be able to feel out the tackle much quicker,” he said. “I’m going (to) start fast. I can only speak for me; that’s my main goal this year is to start fast.”
Move to watch: Addison has a nasty spin move that he uses in one-on-one matchups as a counter-reaction to where a tackle has shifted his weight. Addison sets up the tackle to shift, and then uses his speed to spin and get around him. Against the veteran Staley, this move will be put to a tough test.