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Panthers look to extend win streak against Steelers

Sam Darnold makes pass during matchup against Seattle
Sam Darnold makes pass during matchup against Seattle

The Carolina Panthers and QB Sam Darnold will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium. Sam Darnold spent the better part of this season on the sideline due to injury until the week 13 matchup against the Denver Broncos. Those time off appears to be paying off.

Darnold is 2-0 since taking over as Carolina’s starting quarterback and has helped guide the Panthers to (5-8) in control of their playoff destiny with four games remaining. He has also avoided throwing a single interception - something he was prone to do previously. With the Panthers running the ball so effectively, Darnold’s biggest task has been managing the game and not turning the ball over. Darnold has led 20 drives (excluding those ending in kneel downs) and the Panthers have scored five touchdowns and six field goals in wins over Baltimore and Seattle.

Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said the Panthers have “settled down” with Darnold under center. “He’s doing some things with his feet, getting out of some jams that way with some long runs and scrambles and keeping drives alive,” Austin said. “You can kind of see that’s the way they’re going.

They’re going to run. They’re going to take their shots.”

Speaking of running, The Panthers ran the ball 46 times for 223 yards in last week's 30-24 win over Seattle and have made no secret about their offensive identity running the football. The Panthers called runs on 16 of their final 18 plays over their final two possessions against Seattle to close it out.

The Panthers are not the only ones dealing with issues at quarterback. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters Friday that rookie Kenny Pickett is doubtful to play Sunday and that he would reveal the starter today, which presumably will be Mitchell Trubisky or Mason Rudolph. Pickett left Pittsburgh's Week 14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens due to concussion protocol and has been listed as a limited participant in practice throughout the week.

The Panthers will also look to special teams for a big breakthrough. The Panthers lead the NFL in average drive start on kickoffs, taking over at the 27-yard line. The Steelers are 32nd in the league in average drive start allowed. Returns aren't as prevalent as they used to be, and the margins are small, but the

Panthers have done well when they've had a chance. They found a good replacement on kickoffs in running back Raheem Blackshear, who had 200 yards worth of returns on seven tries in his first shot at the job, and averages 27.2 yards per return on the season. Blackshear also scored his second rushing touchdown last week in Seattle but said he's still hoping for a return score this year.


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