The numbers speak for themselves and what they say doesn't reflect well on the Carolina Panthers' run defense.
After surrendering 224 rushing yards in their 34-29 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field, the Panthers rank 31st in the league in defending the run (143.8 yards per game).
The good news is the St. Louis Rams are worse.
While the overall defensive numbers aren't bad - Carolina ranks 14th in the league in total defense - the Panthers' difficulty in containing their opponents' running games is a significant reason why they're 1-3 through the first quarter of the regular season.
It wasn't just Devin Hester's punt and kickoff returns that haunted the Panthers after the Chicago loss. There was the image of Bears' running back Matt Forte piling up yardage the way Walter Payton used to do it on the edge of Lake Michigan.
Of Forte's 205 rushing yards, it was his 40-yard run in the fourth quarter that finally gutted the Panthers. It was a four-point game at the time - the Bears led 27-23 - and 1 minute, 48 seconds remained. With three timeouts in their pocket, the Panthers wanted to force a Chicago punt and give quarterback Cam Newton another chance to mount a game-winning drive.
At that point, the Carolina defense allowed only 13 points and fewer than 270 total yards.
Instead, Forte did what he'd done so well all day, shredded the Panthers' defense, attacked big holes and turned it into big yardage. His 40-yard burst set the touchdown that sealed the Chicago victory and symbolized the Panthers' defensive frustrations.
It was the second straight week a back rushed for more than 100 yards against the Panthers. Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew gained 122 rushing yards the previous week.
"The run game got away from us," Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said. "That tends, if you don't watch it, to rear its ugly head...Throughout a season it will show up every once in a while and that's what happened (at Chicago).
"If you don't stop it early, it's hard because it seems like it just keeps coming, coming, coming. It was a good learning experience for us. We have to learn from it and grow from it because we are young so that this never happens again, particularly the last drive."
With the New Orleans Saints and Darren Sproles headed to Bank of America Stadium Sunday, there is an urgency to fix what hasn't worked as well as needed.
It might have been different had injured linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis been available but they're lost for the season.
Defensive tackles Sione Fua and Terrell McClain are rookies and they're set in a rotation with veteran Ron Fields who has given the front experienced help. The lineup isn't likely to change significantly but its effectiveness must.
"Would you like to have Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Ron Edwards out there? Of course you would. (Cornerback) Chris Gamble, too. But that's not the situation," McDermott said.
"You go to war with what you have and do your best with it. It's allowed young players to get playing time and to see what we have for the future."
Both McDermott and head coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers were guilty Sunday of not always properly executing their defensive assignments. The Bears, of course, had plenty to do with it.
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