It would be an understatement to say that Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks was “disappointed” at the poor tackling by his defense in a 31-21 loss to New Orleans on Sunday night.
But it would also be an understatement to say that the team only missed a few tackles.
Carolina’s defense, which entered the game second in the NFL in yards allowed per game, missed a season-high 12 tackles (according to Pro Football Focus and confirmed Monday afternoon by Wilks).
Those whiffs helped the Saints rack up 400 yards of offense, including 148 rushing yards. Carolina had previously ranked third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game.
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So it might be more accurate to say that Wilks was “furious.”
“When I say I take ‘full responsibility,’ when you see so many guys across the board missing tackles, not just one guy, I’m not saying we weren’t prepared but evidently we need to have a little bit more consistency in most important details,” he said. “And that starts with me.
“I always say this: There are three reasons why a player is not doing what you want him to do. One, he doesn’t know. And if he doesn’t know, it’s our fault, my fault, as coaches. No. 2, it doesn’t mean anything to him. He doesn’t take pride in the details. And then No. 3, he can’t do it. Lack of talent, lost his step, not strong enough.
“Well, we all know it’s not No. 3. And it’s not No. 2 because guys don’t go out there to miss tackles. So therefore, I’m putting the focus back on myself and the coaches.”
Head coach Ron Rivera summed up his evaluation of the defense’s tackling succinctly.
“Bad,” he said. “There’s no other word for it.”
Rivera added that not only were players failing to wrap up, but they weren’t aligning their bodies well and allowing gaps to widen where they should have been restricted.
That gives an offensive player more room to operate, which exacerbates problems with tackling against shifty, slippery players such as Saints rookie running back Alvin Kamara. He was the runner on six of the Panthers’ 12 misses, according to Pro Football Focus.
Kamara scored two touchdowns against Carolina Sunday, and rushed for 60 yards on nine carries. He also caught five passes for 66 yards. And running back Mark Ingram broke a 72-yard run to set up a touchdown in the second quarter. It was the longest run allowed by Carolina this season.
“You see a lot of guys stopping their feet, creating that separation,” Wilks said. “And you can’t do that with guys who are very shifty out in space, particularly the receivers and the running backs that the Saints have.
“We just have to do a much better job, once again, of ... understanding where our help is coming from, making sure we’re on the right side and trying to force it back to our other defenders. That’s the most important thing.”
The Panthers emphasize tackling on Wednesdays. Wilks said that it will be a heavier focus this week.
“(That’s) one of the things we have to make sure we correct, and we will this week,” he said. “The biggest thing moving forward is really just emphasizing once again our run fits, fundamentals and technique.
“Like I’ve said before, this time of the year is when it really shows up. I take full responsibility for this and once again, we’ll get it corrected, starting with me.”