In 2013, the Carolina Panthers set a team record with 60 sacks in a single season.
In 2014, is it possible the Panthers could set the all-time NFL record in the same category?
One member of the Panther defense said so publicly on Tuesday, becoming the first player to verbalize the goal.
"We set the bar pretty high last year, leading the league with 60 sacks," defensive tackle Colin Cole said to reporters. "The goal is to surpass that and see if we can't get up with the big dogs of the past years. We want to set records. We did as a franchise, we want to do it across the league."
I asked Cole then if he knew what the league record was. He didn't know which team had set it, but had a pretty good idea where the target would be. "What I do know is that the overall league record for sacks in a year was somewhere up in the mid-70s," Cole said. "For us as a defensive line, that's where our goal is. And maybe that's just me talking on my behalf, but if you don't shoot for the stars, you'll never reach the moon."
The actual team sack record: 72 sacks in 1984, by the fearsome Chicago Bears. That team didn't win the Super Bowl that year, but did so the next season with basically the same nucleus. Panther coach Ron Rivera was a reserve linebacker on that '84 Bears team but did not have any sacks that season.
It sounds simple in one respect for the Panthers to get to 73. One additional sack per game would do it and in fact get them to 76. But in reality, this is an almost impossible goal. NFL quarterbacks throw the ball on three-step drops so often these days that even an unblocked pass rusher sometimes has trouble getting to the quarterback.
Carolina would need double-digit sack seasons once again from Greg Hardy (15 in 2013) and Charles Johnson (11), but likely with both increasing their totals by at least three apiece. They would almost assuredly need a third double-digit sacker to emerge as well.
And then the Panthers would need some breakout sack performances from young players like rookie Kony Ealy or defensive tackle K.K. Short, as well as enough offense from Cam Newton and company that Carolina was playing with double-digit leads in a lot of fourth quarters and piling up sack numbers that way as teams were forced to throw deep passes that made the quarterbacks hold the ball longer in one-dimensional attacks.
Notice I said "nearly impossible," but not completely. This Panther defense was No.2 in the NFL last season and its front seven returns basically intact. It has loads of potential. It would be foolish to say this is completely out of the question.
But 73 sacks?! That works out to more than 4.5 sacks per game. There's a reason that record has stood for almost 30 years -- 72 is an incredibly high number. Ultimately, I don't think the Panthers will get there or really get anywhere close to it. But it will be a lot of fun to see them try.