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Matchup to Watch: Interior OL vs. DT Short

Posted Dec 23, 2016

Carolina's Kawann Short is one of the best defensive tackles in football. Containing him on Saturday will go a long way toward moving the ball downfield.

While the Panthers’ defense has undergone a lot of changes this year, their front seven, which has propelled Carolina to a league-best 40 sacks through 15 weeks, remains a strength. And the dominant play of DT Kawann Short is a big reason why.

Short boasts five sacks in 2016 to go along with 42 pressures – the sixth-most among interior linemen, according to Pro Football Focus – and four pass breakups. He’s been strong on rushing downs, as well, earning a forced fumble and 28 tackles against the run – more than all but nine players at his position.

“Right down the middle of their defense, not only are they good pass rushers – I think they lead the league in sacks – at defensive tackle, (they have) the size … When you’re going right down the middle of it, they’ve got some really talented guys,” head coach Dan Quinn said. “Well, we do too on the same stretch with Alex Mack, Andy Levitre, Chris Chester and the running backs, so that matchup inside is a factor.”

Based on where Short lines up in Carolina’s defense, Mack, who just received his fourth Pro Bowl nomination and Levitre should see a lot of the 6-foot-3, 315-pounder on Saturday.

Mack has proven to be one of the league’s best free agent acquisitions by displaying consistency in all situations. And although he hasn’t been in the spotlight like his center, Levitre is turning in a solid campaign, too.

At left guard, the eight-year pro has established himself as a strong fit in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. He's given up just 17 pressures, more than only 10 other guards, and, per PFF, has earned a positive run blocking grade in 10 straight appearances. 

Levitre's improved play can be explained in large part by his experience in the scheme: Thrust into a starting job mere days before the 2015 campaign, the former Titan had little time to learn Atlanta's system before opening day.

Now, he’s benefiting from a full offseason at Flowery Branch, where he could immerse himself in the playbook, build chemistry with his teammates and take an adequate number of reps.

“The fact that he went through the entire offseason with us and came into the offseason healthy that was a huge factor,” Quinn said. “Just the familiarity with it, the communication and the bond that he now has with Alex and the other guys in terms of the communication it takes, all of the combination blocks that he has now with Jake Matthews and Alex.

“Those are reps and reps and reps that we didn’t have as a group, so (it’s important) for those guys to have thousands of reps of certain techniques we try to keep getting better at it and better at it. The more you do it, the better you get, so for him, going through the whole process and now into over 100 practices together it’s totally a factor. He’s been a really good addition for us.”