Linebacker Thomas Davis: 'We're not competing hard enough'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott said the Carolina Panthers have to play a better brand of defense. Head coach Ron Rivera summed up the defense as "good at times, sporadic at times."

Then there was linebacker Thomas Davis, who was more raw and truthful than anyone on why a unit that was one of the league's best last season is one of the worst seven games into 2014.

"We aren't playing smart football right now and at the end of the day it's going to boil down to us going out and doing our jobs, and that will be the determining factor of whether we get this thing going in the right direction,” Davis said on Monday.

Each was responding to what went wrong in Sunday's 38-17 loss at Green Bay in which the Panthers (3-3-1) were down 21-0 before the end of the first quarter.

"We're not executing or making plays, and we're not competing hard enough," Davis said bluntly. "From the film we watched we have a lot of guys that on a consistent enough basis are not competing hard enough, and it's showing up."

Asked why, Davis said, "I can't pinpoint what the reason is right now, all I know is it is a problem and it's something that has to be corrected."

One area Davis didn't hesitate to pinpoint was the lack of effort swarming to the ball. The Panthers had a season-high 11 missed tackles against Green Bay. That in part explains that 180 of the Packers' 255 passing yards came after the catch.

On the season, according to ESPN Stats and Information, the Panthers have allowed 978 yards after the catch for an average of 140 a game. They allowed only 1,688 all of last season for 106 yards a game.

The result is more big plays and touchdowns. Opponents already have 15 receiving touchdowns compared to 17 all of last season.

"It's a competitive thing," Davis said. "You have to be willing to go out and compete and give yourself up for this team, for this defense. You have to play like that the whole game. You can't pick your spots and say 'Hey, I'm going to play right now and I'm going to take this play off.'

"That play you take off could cost us the game."

Davis refused to blame a specific group such as the secondary, which has three new starters in cornerback Antoine Cason, strong safety Roman Harper and free safety Thomas DeCoud.

"It ain't just the secondary," Davis said. "It's linebackers, D-line. You go back and watch the film. We had D-linemen downfield making tackles when we didn't make them sometimes last year.

"If I miss a tackle or someone misses a tackle, we had guys flying around and making that play, and it covered up some of the stuff that was going on. Right now, we have a lack of that going on."

The Panthers rank 26th in total defense and 24th or worse in four major categories. They are tied for the seventh-most penalized unit in the league with 16.

Carolina didn't have one broken up pass Sunday against Aaron Rodgers, who completed 19 of 22 attempts for 255 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 154.5.

"We've got to find a way to contest throws," McDermott said.

Less speed in the secondary could be one issue. Rivera said players have to use their technique and abilities better. He also said the coaches have to find a way to get more pressure on the quarterback to help coverage.

Then it comes back to effort.

"Regardless of how fast you are, it's how fast you play," McDermott said. "And it's the effort behind the speed."

There seemed to be little effort from Harper after Nelson got past Cason in the first quarter, turning a relatively short catch into a 59-yard touchdown.

The Panthers have allowed an average of 9.2 missed tackles over the past five games in which they have surrendered 37 or more points four times. They averaged only 6.8 missed tackles a game last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

"When you play fast, and you play physical, you're going to miss some tackles," McDermott said. "As long as somebody else is coming, that's OK. It's when you're missing tackles from technique, and nobody else is there ... ."

Can it be fixed? McDermott reminded that after two games he was being asked if this year's defense was better than last year's that finished No. 2 in the NFL.

"And I said, 'Wait for 16 games,' " McDermott said. "I'm going to tell you wait for 16 games."