Carolina Panthers

Panthers quick scoring might be wearing out defense

CHARLOTTE -- These are strange days for the Carolina Panthers.

First off, John Fox's team is now defined (or should be) by its offense, which is unusual enough on its face.

"The offense has been playing lights out the last few weeks, so we need to get on their level so that we can become a complete team," cornerback Ken Lucas said Wednesday.

That he's right is the shocking part, considering this team's history.

More odd is the fact that offense might be playing too well for its own good, as they're scoring too quickly at times.

Certainly it's a problem many teams would love to have, but the Panthers' quick-strike capability has actually struck too quickly down the stretch, and that has stretched the limits of a banged up defense.

The Panthers rank fourth in the league in rushing (146.9), and eighth in the league in scoring (25.4 points per game). All good things.

But they're just 24th in time of possession, holding the ball for an average of 28 minutes and 58 seconds. To put that in context, the other teams in the top five in rushing all rank ninth or better in time of possession.

That's left a defense that's short on bodies short on rest, a problem that manifests itself late in games. There's no better indication of that than New York's Derrick Ward gaining 88 of his 215 rushing yards in overtime last Sunday.

Of course, Lucas and other defensive players said it can become a energizing factor for them as well.

When linebacker Na'il Diggs was asked about having to get back on the field on short rest, he laughed.

"It's a lot easier than coming off a punt, I tell you that," Diggs said. "It's energizing, when your offensive comes off the field, especially after a long run. Watching these guys is inspiring to a defense.

"To know that the offense showed up, we've got to step up our game now. It kind of challenges you. You don't want to be lagging behind."

Part of the blame, as it were, falls on running back DeAngelo Williams, who has this nasty habit of scoring too quickly.

He leads the NFL in runs of 40 yards or more (six), and has six touchdowns of 30 yards or more this season. That has him tied for second in league history in that unusual category with Jim Brown, who had six such runs in 1963 and seven in 1958. Williams said he was "honored to be in the same sentence," as a legend such as Brown, and has been his custom this year, was quick to spread credit for what they were doing.

"The O-line and (fullback) Brad Hoover gets us those 15 and 20 yard runs, but the wide receivers get those 50 and 60-yard touchdowns," Williams said. "They've been doing a great job all year. It keeps them (opposing defenses) on their toes. It keeps them respecting our running game. My hat's off to Brad and the line and all those guys all year.

"They've given us those holes, even against guys who know that we're going to run. They put eight in the box and our O-line and Brad still prevail in providing those holes for us, giving us a little daylight to run. They've made our job a lot easier for us this year."

And for that kind of production, the defense will take the quick turnarounds.

After all, this has traditionally been a team on which the defense and special teams carried things, and great seasons came when the offense woke up.

With 381 points through 15 games, they're already the third-highest scoring team in franchise history. The 1999 team of George Seifert set that record with 421 points, followed by the 391 they scored in 2005 en route to the NFC Championship game.

This year's club has a real shot to move to second, and could push first with an extraordinary day. They've topped 30 points six times, and 400 yards in games a team-record five times.

"We're making strides," quarterback Jake Delhomme said with a wink when asked about their offense. "We've got a ways to go, but I like the way we're going."

Against a New Orleans team that can run up the score (league-best 28.8 points per game) and might be looking to set a passing record (Drew Brees needs 402 yards for the single-season mark), such firepower might serve them well in the regular season finale.

Then again, a win this weekend and both the offense and defense get two weeks to rest -- which is exactly what the Panthers need.