CHARLOTTE – The Panthers need to keep winning to maintain playoff hopes in the NFC South, and they have the chance to extend their win streak to three this weekend.
Pittsburgh comes to town following a loss to Baltimore in Week 14 and needs to win out for the rest of the season to avoid their first losing record since 2003.
Here are five things to watch in Week 15:
DJ MOORE QUESTIONABLE, PANTHERS LOOK FOR RECEIVERS TO STEP UP
The Panthers are notably healthy for mid-December, but they have a few questions around the wide receiver position – and a key uncertainty around their top target.
DJ Moore landed on the report after suffering an ankle injury against Seattle. He underwent an MRI early in the week and participated in full at Wednesday and Thursday practice. Still, he was ruled questionable for Sunday's game after he was limited on Friday.
"It's not so much of a setback; it's really just trying to see whether or not he's going to be able to sustain and be efficient in what we're asking him to do," Wilks said. "We'll see exactly how he is."
Moore didn't log a catch in Seattle, leaving room for other wideouts to get some receptions. Terrace Marshall Jr. added 18 yards on a high-effort grab between his legs and is the healthiest consistent pass catcher heading into the Steelers game. Shi Smith is also healthy one week after scoring his first career touchdown against the Seahawks.
Laviska Shenault Jr. was limited in practice throughout the week with a shoulder injury and is also questionable for Pittsburgh. He added 38 all-purpose yards against Seattle, including 31 receiving yards on four catches.
ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY FOR THE RUN GAME
Carolina's pass game hasn't been where the offense finds its bread and butter, though, and the NFL's 13th-ranked rushing offense will face the Steelers' 15th-ranked rushing defense.
The Panthers controlled time of possession with long, run-heavy drives against the Seahawks. The ground game worked efficiently last week, as Carolina logged 46 rushing attempts with only one run – a 26-yard Sam Darnold scramble – going for longer than 16 yards.
Pittsburgh's run defense will be more formidable than the one the Panthers saw in Seattle, though they've been leaky lately. The Steelers were undone physically last week, allowing the Ravens 215 rush yards last week, the most they've allowed all season. Their opponents rush 115.8 yards per game this season on average.
Pittsburgh is 2-4 in games where the defense has allowed 120 rush yards or more, defeating only the Bengals in a Week 1 overtime decision and the Falcons in Week 13 when the rush defense hasn't played up to its average.
PITTSBURGH'S QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS
The Steelers have questions surrounding the quarterback position, as rookie Kenny Pickett is doubtful for Sunday's game with a concussion suffered early against Baltimore. Pickett was limited in practice throughout the week.
Mitch Trubisky took over in Pickett's absence and threw for 276 yards on 22-of-30 passing with one touchdown and three interceptions, all of which came in the red zone.
Trubisky's underwhelming performance leaves the potential for Mason Rudolph's first appearance of 2022. Rudolph, who started in 10 of the last 17 games he played in the previous three seasons, hasn't played a snap this year, but he told the team's website Monday that he's prepared if his number is called.
Wilks said the Panthers have prepared for the Steelers' offense overall with the uncertainty around their signal caller.
"I think it's really more of the offense," Wilks said when asked how the Panthers have watched Pittsburgh's tape. "You may have a few tendencies, what they may do with one guy; it's really more the offensive scheme. That's what we're going to focus on."
PROTECTING THE FOOTBALL
While the Steelers struggled with turnovers in their loss to Baltimore, the Panthers have continued to protect the football on their two-game win streak.
Carolina won the turnover battle, 2-0, at Seattle, and the Panthers have not turned the ball over in four of their five wins.
Darnold hasn't thrown an interception in two games and found a way to scoop up his own fumble for a roll into the end zone against Denver in Week 12. The Panthers haven't thrown an interception in any of their five wins, but they've thrown 10 interceptions in their eight losses.
Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has to protect the ball to win this season. The Steelers are 0-7 when the offense turns the ball over and 5-1 when it doesn't.
SHAQ CLOSING IN ON 100 – AGAIN
Linebacker Shaq Thompson is just two tackles away from his fourth consecutive season with at least 100 tackles.
The milestone would tie Jon Beason for third-most behind Thomas Davis (five straight) and Luke Kuechly (eight straight).
The Panthers' defense, ranked 16th in the league in total defense and 13th in scoring defense, boasts multiple players on the cusp of statistical milestones.
Defensive end Brian Burns, the only player in 2022 with more than 50 quarterback pressures and more than 10 run stuffs, needs five sacks to pass Kevin Greene and Greg Hardy's 2013 franchise record for most sacks in a season at 15.0. Burns has already surpassed his career-best mark with 10.5 sacks on the year, and he is on a streak of coming up with at least 0.5 sacks in five straight games.
Defensive tackle Derrick Brown needs five more tackles to pass Kawann Short for the most by a Panthers DT in a single season. He currently stands with 51 tackles on the year.
The Steelers lead the all-time series against the Panthers, 6-1.