One of the Panthers priorities the last two years has been to fix a pass-rush that wasn’t going to be the same after Julius Peppers left town.
While they don’t have big names, they are getting big numbers.
Defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have more sacks (14.0) than any duo in the NFC, and the Panthers are suddenly applying the pressure they need.
The fact both are different kinds of rushers helps, as both Hardy and Johnson can line up inside on third downs, and they’re more strength than speed on passing downs. Three of Hardy’s 6.5 sacks have come when he lined up as a defensive tackle.
“When you look at Greg and Charles combined where they are in the league with their sack numbers, it’s tough to find a better pair of defensive ends,” Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said, via Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer. “And you have the fact that Greg moves inside for us, and he’s very unselfish with how he’s taken that and very professional. And we appreciate that. There aren’t a lot of ends that move inside and Greg, with his build and his mindset, has done a great job.”
But their impact lies beyond simple production. The Panthers lost a leader when linebacker Jon Beason went on injured reserve, and coach Ron Rivera asked Johnson, his highest-paid player, to step up.
“His personality has been great in terms of taking a leadership role,” Rivera said. “When Jon Beason was injured and we put him on IR, I asked Charles Johnson to take over as captain so he puts a C on his chest now.
“He’s been carrying himself like one ever since.”
Along with a suddenly stable middle of defensive tackles Dwan Edwards and Ron Edwards, and a young third-down rusher in Frank Alexander, the Panthers have talent up front they haven’t had in years, and that’s giving them a chance.