Carolina Panthers

Panthers defense uses extra day to pinpoint problems

CHARLOTTE -- They know they have problems. So the Carolina Panthers' defense is glad to have an extra day to get things fixed.

The Panthers stop-side hasn't stopped anyone recently, allowing 32.7 points per game the last three outings. That's particularly alarming because they were giving up 14.8 points per game in the first nine, and they've fallen from second to seventh in scoring defense.

So even though they won the last time out, the 31 points they allowed Green Bay (including 18 straight in the second half to cough up an 11-point lead) still galls them.

"Yeah, it's been frustrating, it's something we've got to correct," safety Chris Harris said Wednesday. "Playing in December, giving up 31 points is going to get you beat. So it is something we're definitely focusing on this week. We've got to get that total down, and we've got to get back to playing like we were playing the first eight weeks of the season.

"We've just got to go back and refocus and revisit the little things we were doing right that we aren't doing now."

Middle linebacker Jon Beason said while watching film, he's noticed many mistakes, "things we didn't do the beginning of the season."

"Just got to go out and communicate more, just focus a little more on small attention-to-detail things and we'll be fine," he said.

Of particular interest to them is getting off the field in a timely manner. They've allowed 44.4 percent on third down conversions the past three weeks, dropping from fourth to eight in the league in three weeks. They were allowing 33.1 percent conversions through the first nine weeks.

"Yeah, to get a team to third down is good," Beason said. "But when it's third-and-4, third-and-5, it's manageable, easier to pick it up, they have the option to run and throw. If we can force Tampa into some third-and-longs, we can get off the field."

• JONES RECOGNIZED: Return specialist Mark Jones was named NFC special teams player of the week after another superb showing last week at Green Bay.

Jones had 201 combined return yards (third-best single-game total in franchise history), but his 51- and 45-yard kickoff returns in the fourth quarter set up the comeback win.

He's been a find since being signed just before the regular season opener. He's now sixth in the NFC (12th overall) with a 26.0-yard kickoff return average and fourth in the NFC (seventh overall) with an 11.8-yard punt return average.

That might not sound like much, but the Panthers have basically had two decent return men in franchise history. Michael Bates, the Pro Bowl staple, was one. Steve Smith was the other before he became too valuable to risk there.

Jones won't touch Bates' single-season kickoff return average record (30.24 in 1996), but he's on pace to top Winslow Oliver's punt return record (11.50 in 1996).

• EXTRA POINTS: Wednesday was a light practice, as they used the extra day of preparation to introduce part of the Bucs game plan. But the heavy lifting's coming the next few days, as they're treating the next two as a normal Wednesday and Thursday, doing the majority of the installation then.

"It's a fine line whatever we do," coach John Fox said. "You could use the whole day for extra preparation. The risk you take there is they get stale by the end of the week. We didn't do a whole lot today, a little bit but not much. We'll attack tomorrow like it's a Wednesday." ...

There was no injury report issued Wednesday, since they aren't required by the league to give one until this afternoon.

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