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.