Carolina middle linebacker Luke Kuechly summed up the Panthers’ defense fairly succinctly Sunday after their 38-10 loss to Baltimore.
“We didn’t play very well,” Kuechly said. “It’s pretty obvious. The team scores 38 points, you didn’t play very well.”
For the second consecutive week, Carolina’s vaunted defense allowed a team to run and throw all over it while losing the physicality battle all day. First it was an embarrassing 37-19 loss at home in prime time against Pittsburgh. Sunday, it was another AFC North team that took the game to Carolina.
Coach Ron Rivera, a former linebacker and defensive coordinator, called the defense’s effort in the past two games “disturbing.”
“Looking at what we saw last week, I’d like to believe that we understand what we can and can’t do. Apparently we don’t understand it well enough,” Rivera said. “As coaches we’ll go back, look at the tape and find those answers. Changes that will be made will be changes that are necessary for us going forward. It’s going to start with us as coaches. It’ll start with me as the head coach.”
The Panthers weren’t nearly as bad against the rush as they were against the Steelers, when they allowed two 100-yard rushers. But Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro still were able to combine for 124 yards on 29 rushes, including one rush each of more than 20 yards.
The story was the same for Carolina. The defenders didn’t stay in their gaps, which allowed the Ravens running backs to hit holes and gash the Panthers.
“It’s simple. If you’re not in your gaps, they’re going to rush you. If you are, they can’t run the ball,” Kuechly said. “As cliché and as easy as it sounds, that’s what it comes down to.”
Meanwhile, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco looked as good as he has all season. He passed for 327 yards on 22-for-31 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
And for the first time all season, Carolina did not record a sack.
Rivera agreed the pass rush was nonexistent “to a degree.” Since sacking Detroit’s Matthew Stafford four times during Week 2, the Panthers have one sack in two games.
“We know a lot of teams are going to quick throw against us,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “And that’s just a sign of respect. We know they’re not going to hold the ball. We’ve got to rush. If it’s 60 plays we have to rush 60 times. It does get frustrating from here to there.”
Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott rarely dials up blitzes, instead relying on his front four for pressure on the quarterback. But the pressure didn’t come, and Flacco handled the blitzes well.
Late in the second quarter at midfield, Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 29-yard gain on a quick throw against a blitz from Kuechly and nickel corner Bené Benwikere.
Benwikere came again on a blitz early in the fourth quarter but couldn’t reach Flacco, who found Marlon Brown for an 11-yard completion.
Veteran linebacker Thomas Davis could only watch from the sideline. He was inactive for the game with a hamstring injury and played coach on the sideline.
“We made too many mistakes,” Davis said. “It’s frustrating, but we know what kind of team we have and we know what we’re capable of. We just have to go out there and do it, man.”