CHARLOTTE — Through three games, the Panthers defense looks a lot like it did last season: Getting gashed against the run, giving up big yards through the air and lacking in big plays.
At least no ones gotten hurt.
The Panthers believed the return of several starters from injury would provide a jolt to a defense that was undermanned and overwhelmed during Ron Riveras first season as head coach.
Instead, linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis have been nicked up with various injuries, a couple of newcomers in the secondary have gotten off to shaky starts and the Panthers again rank among the bottom fourth of NFL defenses.
But Rivera said hes not ready to push the panic button. He is sticking with the same defensive lineup this week when the Panthers travel to Atlanta to face the first-place Falcons.
Were talking about the third game of the season. If this was game 7 or 8 or 9, Id have a little more concern. But this is the third game of the season, Rivera said. Were 1-2 and theres a number of teams in this league that are 1-2. To me the big objective, more so than anything else, is continue to improve and show improvement. ...
I think if we start looking ahead and say, OK, this is what your problems are and start making moves, start pulling people, start changing philosophies instead of sticking to it, then theres concern.
The Panthers have given up more than 400 yards the past two weeks to New Orleans and the New York Giants, both of which rank in the top 10 offensively. Carolina has allowed its first three opponents to drive 80 yards for a touchdown on their opening possession.
And after a preseason in which defensive coaches preached the value of takeaways, the Panthers have just two a pair of interceptions against the Saints. One of those interceptions strong safety Charles Godfreys pick-six of Drew Brees is a big reason why the Panthers arent 0-3.
The Panthers minus-6 turnover ratio is tied with Philadelphia for the second-worst mark in the league.
One of the things that we talked about in the preseason was working on getting takeaways, Rivera said. Weve shown it enough at times. Last week we didnt show it enough. Were inconsistent.
Despite missing three offensive starters in their 36-7 win last week, the Giants scored on their first four possessions to go up 20-0. Journeyman running back Andre Brown rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns, while wideout Ramses Barden caught nine passes for 138 yards, surpassing his previous season high in yardage.
I feel like we took a step back last week, said defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, adding that its too soon to tinker with the lineup.
One game does not make a season. These players came back in here ready to practice, McDermott said. Now, do we analyze and do we evaluate who we are and what weve done and why some of the things happened? Absolutely. If we didnt, we wouldnt be doing our jobs.
Pass rush effective
Though the Panthers have just five sacks, Rivera said the pass rush has been effective. Hes more concerned with the secondary, where Rivera said rookie cornerback Josh Norman played a little bit soft against the Giants and free safety Haruki Nakamura at times aligned too deep.
Norman, a fifth-round pick from Coastal Carolina, was one of the surprises of training camp with a four-interception practice at Wofford. But Giants quarterback Eli Manning shredded Norman throughout the first half.
With Norman giving too much cushion and Nakamura playing a deep middle, the Giants completed 10 of 14 passes for 147 yards on throws of more than 10 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
With some of the throws they were throwing, we probably were a little too deep in those particular situations, McDermott said. We got those things tightened up in the second half.
McDermott liked the way Norman kept fighting, pointing to his pass breakup in the fourth quarter when the Giants had a first-and-goal at the 6.
Said Norman: It was a tough night. Ive never been a part of anything like that before and I really dont want to be a part of anything like that again.
It was a tough night for the entire defense.
Beason missed a key tackle while playing with a shoulder injury, while Davis was held out with a pulled hamstring. Both are expected to play Sunday at Atlanta.
Defensive end Charles Johnson, who has had several pressures and a forced fumble but no sacks, believes the defense is close.
Everybody has to gel and everybody has to be on the same page. And once it clicks, you can see it when its clicking. But it aint clicking right now, Johnson said. I think were seeing sparks of it though.