Look at the stat sheet, and you’d think the Panthers won Sunday.
But while Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott got a little testy at the criticism of his defense, the bigger problems remain.
The Panthers held the Bears to 210 yards, forcing three turnovers and six sacks. After reciting those stats, McDermott seemed confused about the criticism.
“In my history in the NFL you win those games,” McDermott said, via Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. “And that’s why it’s gut-wrenching to see the performance defensively that those guys put on the field. To not come away with a win is tough for the third week in a row.”
The Panthers have lost five in a row, each of the last four by five points or fewer.
Of course, the way McDermott (or head coach Ron Rivera) called defense down the stretch has even drawn questions from Panthers players, who wondered why they stayed in the same soft coverage while Bears quarterback Jay Cutler picked them apart with a series of quick slants to Brandon Marshall.
“Obviously, we need to tighten up the coverage there and win that situation the next time it comes up,” McDermott said.
The Panthers defense has improved in recent weeks (up to 15th overall), with a few tangible reasons why. They’re better with a healthy Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker than they were with a half-healthy Jon Beason. And the interior presence of defensive tackles Ron Edwards and Dwan Edwards has legitimized a long-time sore spot, allowing their young pass-rushers to show themselves.
They’re thin in the secondary, which helps explain why they don’t play-call more aggressively in late-game situations.
McDermott’s frustration is understandable. The defense which was the reason they lost so often last year is the reason they’ve been close enough to win a few lately.
But when your side is on the field when the other guys score the late game-winners week after week, it’s probably not the best time to beat your chest over statistical improvements.