A strength for the Carolina Panthers in 2012 has been their defensive front four. On Sunday at Bank of America Stadium, Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera will look for a continued push on the inside of the defensive line, hoping to be the first team to sack quarterback Peyton Manning in more than a month.
“Last year we didn’t have that inside push,” Rivera said in a conference call Wednesday. “This year, we do. I think the guys that are rushing for us on the inside have been outstanding. I think (DT) Dwan Edwards and (DT) Ron Edwards give us two stout bodies that can push the pocket and not allow the quarterback to step up. If the quarterback can’t step up, he can’t avoid that hard outside rush we’re getting on the edge.”
The outside rush that Rivera speaks of mainly consists of defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, who have combined for 14 sacks in 2012. As a team, the Panthers’ 24 sacks — one more than Cincinnati had coming into last week’s game — puts them in a tie for seventh in the NFL.
Behind the defensive line is rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly, one of the front-runners for the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. The former Boston College Eagle and ninth overall draft pick ranks third in the NFL with 77 tackles, and leads all Panthers in that category by 25.
Rivera said Kuechly has been “tremendous” and is “emerging as a leader” of the Carolina defense.
In terms of coverage, Rivera knows it won’t be easy to keep Manning from lighting up the scoreboard.
“Hope he has a bad day,” Rivera said of how to beat the four-time NFL MVP.
Other than that, the Panthers defense will try to make it as difficult as possible for Manning to identify the defensive scheme, so that the quarterback is unable to adjust to what he sees.
“One thing that Peyton does is he tries to see what you’re in, and once he knows it and has a good feel for it, he’ll put his team in the best position to have success,” Rivera said. “What you have to be able to do is you have to prevent that. You have to do the best you can in terms of moving around, disguising that and not giving him the same look or a true look.”
Another aspect that presents a challenge for the Panthers to prepare for is the Denver return game. With wide receiver and return man Trindon Holliday making his impact felt last week against Cincinnati, Rivera will try to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to his club. He knows Holliday’s abilities well because Carolina once considered adding him.
“I know he is a guy that we liked and looked at one time, too, but when he was on the waiver wire, we didn’t have room,” Rivera said. “I think Denver did a nice job. He has shown it. He was explosive last week. Now I’ve got an upset stomach having to worry about him as well.”