CHARLOTTE -- There was one thing Carolina Panthers coach John Fox was careful to clear up.
Even though his team has generated next to no pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year, the fault was not simply with the defensive line in general or end Julius Peppers in particular.
Peppers has yet to record a sack, and the team has just two in three games, leaving them 30th in the league in a category they usually count on. Since Fox has been around, the Panthers have finished lower than seventh one time.
"We've got a lot of areas to improve at," Fox said. "Our pass rush is one of them. It's something we'll work very hard on this week. And that's not just the D-line. There's ways to bring people, bring other people than just the D-line. Like every week, we're going to be looking hard at everything, and we need to get more productive in our pass rush. And that's not just singling out our D-line, I want to make that clear."
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The quiet start is unusual for Peppers, who can break out with three-sack games at any time. But he's barely dented the stat sheet this year and said last week he thought he was "playing decent, pretty good."
Fox defended his highest-profile defensive player, saying, "To say just one guy, if you look at the numbers and the production and all that you'd question, but sometimes guys doing their jobs isn't a bad thing."
Still, he hasn't looked the same this year, leading to questions as to whether he was well. He missed parts of two weeks of training camp with separate stomach ailments, but Fox said that wasn't a lingering problem.
"He missed some time, he did lose some weight during that time, but that's what I know," Fox said. "He's gained some of it back, yeah. He hasn't lost an amount of weight that I think would affect his performance."
Peppers isn't alone in slow starts for the Panthers stop-side.
The Panthers rank 23rd in the league in yards allowed (342.0 per game), having played teams that rank 21st (Atlanta), 24th (Houston) and 25th (St. Louis) in total offense.
The Panthers rank 20th in scoring defense, while Houston's ninth on points per game, St. Louis is 29th and Atlanta's 30th.
But the guy who coined the phrase "stats are for losers," said Monday he was pleased with the way his defense responded in the second half of Sunday's 27-20 win at Atlanta. He cited the fact they held Atlanta to one touchdown in four trips to the red zone (inside the 20-yard line) as evidence of progress.
"We were much better in the second half than we were the first," Fox said. "And we gave up too many big plays from a yardage standpoint, but at the end of the day, yards don't win games. Points do.
"We played good in the red area. To me, that's the difference in the game."
Of course, the Panthers have other problems to address on defense. They're 20th in the league in third-down efficiency, struggling to get off the field.
They also have injury concerns. Middle linebacker Dan Morgan left Sunday's game twice, the hamstring and heel problems late being the bigger issues. They used backup outside linebacker James Anderson there, and might continue to do so since regular backup Adam Seward has been bothered by a calf injury.
They also changed their safety rotation because of injuries. After free safety Deke Cooper missed the bulk of last week with a groin strain, they plugged Marquand Manuel in there against the Falcons. That didn't last the day, however, as they put Cooper back in the second half.
"Deke's our starting safety," Fox said. "He didn't practice last week until right at the end on Friday. That was a team decision to start Marquand, and as the game wore on, we moved back, which we do sometimes. We just felt like we needed to make a change at that time."
It's hard to imagine many more personnel changes, though something obviously needs to be done.
But Fox didn't seem interested in singling out any area, when asked if there were other particulars he was concerned with regarding his defense.
"It's too early to tell," he said. "We've got a lot of areas to work on, I don't know if disappoint's the right word. We're 2-1. Could be better, Could be worse. That's about where we are."
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