Panthers' rush defense shuts Johnson down

The HeraldOctober 6, 2008 

Kansas City's Larry Johnson is tackled by Maake Kemoeatu during the second quarter of the Panthers' 34-0 win. Johnson, who had rushed for 319 yards in the past two games, had just 2 yards on seven carries against the Panthers.

RICK HAVNER • THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLOTTE -- The goal is to keep the opponent from finishing with a 100-yard rusher. Maybe the Carolina Panthers should take credit for 50 wins.

The rushing defense that has played so well all season had its best performance Sunday, limiting Kansas City's Larry Johnson to exactly 2 rushing yards on seven attempts, or 99 times less than what he posted a week ago against Denver (198).

They didn't just stop the run, the made it extinct, avalanching Johnson every time he touched the ball.

"If you say we held him to 2 yards on 25 carries, that's a different thing," defensive end Julius Peppers said without a trace of sarcasm. "Seven carries? It's still good, ... It's hard to really say anything negative about it. We just don't want to look at the stats too much. We want to keep working on getting better and correcting our techniques and assignments.

"We can get a little bit better. Actually, we can get a whole lot better."

As a team, the Chiefs finished with 35 yards on 17 attempts, the stingiest the Panthers have been for the year.

They were giving up an average of 102.5 per game on the ground, a feat that still shone considering who they were playing against. None among the law firm of Tomlinson, Forte, Peterson and Turner had done enough running to make the Panthers flinch, but what the Panthers did to Johnson was nearly criminal.

"Every week. Every week. Every week," Peppers replied when asked if stopping the run was the first priority. "We want to shut the running game down. Big-name backs, we take pride in trying to limit their yards."

Johnson had little to offer, during or after the game. After calling for the ball more earlier in the year, he might ask for it less.

"As a professional, you knew they were going to gang up on the run after our performance last week," Johnson said.

When asked if he could tell early on it wasn't happening for him, he replied: "No, I didn't. Games like this are going to happen. It's a young team and this is what's going to happen when you rebuild."

The efficacy with which they stopped him was alarming, even to themselves.

"Absolutely not," safety Chris Harris said with a laugh when asked if he could have imagined such a shut-down. "I would have probably laughed at you."

There was a chicken-egg thing going with the offense, as well. Since the Panthers ran so effectively, the defense was able to play with fresh legs, and they looked that way as they flew to the ball throughout the day.

"We knew it was going to be a tough challenge, but we were able to come in and control him, really shut him down," linebacker Thomas Davis said. "It seemed like everything we did worked today. The offense kept us fresh. We're sitting on the sidelines, seven minutes go by and we're still sitting there. So that was good, kept us fresh.

"Everybody's where they're supposed to be. Everybody trusts each other, hits the holes, and stays where they need to be. That's been the biggest key for us this year. Everyone's been exact in their assignments and we did a great job of being where we needed to be today."

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