CHARLOTTE - There were two glaring goose eggs in the Panthers' defensive stats column from their season-opening loss to Las Vegas: sacks and quarterback hits.
"(We) have to get a pass rush," head coach Matt Rhule acknowledged Monday.
According to Rhule, the Panthers pressured Raiders quarterback Derek Carr only five times. On one such play in the third quarter, Carr threw into no man's land and was flagged for intentional grounding.
But those instances were few and far between.
"A little bit of it was kind of the way they played. It was really a run-screen and then play-action game," Rhule said. "But we have a lot of good players on the defensive line, and we have to get pressure."
Matt Rhule outlines strong performers from Sunday's game Snap Counts: Panthers vs. Raiders Run defense top of list on things that 'have to improve' after Week 1 loss
As the cliche goes, defenses need to stop the run first to earn the right to rush the passer. Carolina didn't complete Step 1 well enough, leaving Las Vegas with eight third downs of 5 five yards or fewer. The visitors converted six of those opportunities, plus a seventh third-down with linebacker Tahir Whitehead's pass interference penalty midway through the fourth quarter.
That's why linebacker Shaq Thompson doesn't believe more blitzing is necessarily a solution.
"We have to be more violent and have that willing and want-to attitude on first and second down," Thompson said. "I know my guys have got it. I know our D-line has that in them."
"We were pushing the pocket and had our eyes on the quarterback and playing run too long. ... If we hit pass-rush moves, it'll lead to pressure to lead to sacks. And I thought for the first game, we just didn't quite do a good enough job of that."
Las Vegas running back Josh Jacobs was also a factor. He finished with 139 yards from scrimmage and three rushing touchdowns, consistently putting the Raiders in favorable down-and-distance situations.
"His speed is great, and he can do a lot of things with the ball and out there running routes," Thompson said.
If there's a silver lining, the Panthers' rush defense improved as the game went on. Jacobs recorded only 37 yards rushing on 14 carries in the second half, averaging 2.6 yards per attempt. That led to the Raiders emphasizing short routes on the game-winning drive. Carr did not complete a pass more than 4 yards beyond the line of scrimmage during that possession.
"They weren't able to run up the middle, so if you can't run up the middle, then you have to come up with trick plays to try to get your quarterback settled in, so everything has to come out quick," Thompson said. "They did a good job with that, and as a defensive player, we have to stop that."
There's a lot for Carolina to take away from its season-opening loss, but generating more pressure is a critical issue the club must address.
"The pass rush is everything," Thompson said. "That's what's going to drive how we play the game as a defense."
NO UPDATE ON JACKSON; DOUGLAS COMES THROUGH
Starting cornerback Donte Jackson suffered an ankle injury during Jacobs' first touchdown run and did not return. Rhule did not have an update on the injury or its severity, anticipating he'll have one on Wednesday.
Jackson played only 11 snaps before Rasul Douglas replaced him for the rest of the game. The same Douglas had just been claimed off waivers a week before and didn't begin practicing with Carolina until Wednesday.
Douglas had played 46 games, starting 18, for Philadelphia since 2017, so he had experience. But the corner's performance was still notable, considering the circumstances.
"As we watched the tape on him, you see him making plays, and he's fearless. That's what we're looking for," Rhule said.
Rhule revealed the Panthers had planned to rotate Douglas in at cornerback with rookie Troy Pride Jr. Then the injury forced Douglas into full-time duty.
The former third-round pick was on the field for 81 percent of Carolina's defensive snaps, recording a pair of passes defensed. The second came on a third down in the fourth quarter, forcing the Raiders to punt for the first time since their opening drive. A few plays later, wide receiver Robby Anderson caught a 75-yard touchdown pass that gave the Panthers the lead.
"You could see it in his eyes, he wanted to keep playing," Rhule said of Douglas. "He loves playing man-to-man coverage, he loves playing bump-and-run. He's a tough guy. He's the kind of guy that I like to coach.
"I think all of us feel like, moving forward, he'll play for us."
SHIFTING DEFENSIVE FRONT
While the Panthers' base defense has four down linemen and plays that way in most situations, Sunday proved the club has some versatility.
For Las Vegas' first possession in the fourth quarter, Carolina shifted to using three down linemen. The Panthers used defensive end Brian Burns as a stand-up, off-the-ball linebacker. Burns then had a key tackle on a swing pass to Jacobs for no gain on a second-and-12 play.
Rhule also mentioned defensive end Marquis Haynes as a player who can play off-the-ball.
"That's something that we can always kind of go to just to change up," Rhule said. "We're kind of figuring out our personnel and who was out there on Sunday, so as we move forward, what's the best thing for those guys."
While the Panthers forced a punt the first time they came out in the 3-3-5, the Raiders scored their game-winning touchdown against the three-man front, too. If nothing else, using a different alignment in Week 1 gives teams something more to prepare for throughout the year.