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Five things to watch at Cincinnati: Bouncing back on the road

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CHARLOTTE – Carolina had a tough loss to flush out of its system this week, after dropping a thriller in overtime to Atlanta in Week 8.

Interim coach Steve Wilks said he saw the Panthers move forward the way he'd hoped, and now they're onto a second straight road contest.

Carolina heads to Cincinnati (4-4) for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Paycor Stadium this Sunday, facing the defending AFC champions after their blowout loss to division rival Cleveland on Monday Night Football.

Here are five things to watch in Week 9:

RUSHING JOE BURROW

The trade deadline passed, and Brian Burns is still a Panther. 

That's good news for Carolina's pass rush against poor offensive line play for Cincinnati, as quarterback Joe Burrow has been sacked 29 times and hit 55 times this season, both second-most in the NFL.

The Panthers are tied for 30th in the league with 12.0 sacks. Burns paces the team by a wide margin with 5.0 sacks. Damien Wilson, who has 2.0 sacks this year, is the only Panther with more than one sack. Burns also leads the Panthers with eight tackles for loss and nine quarterback hits. 

Though Burrow has dealt with a lot of pressure from opposing defenses, he has found a way to perform at times. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Burrow leads the league with seven pass touchdowns when under pressure in 2022. 

The Panthers are 14th in quarterback pressure percentage (28.3) this season. 

Cincinnati is looking for a bounce-back week of its own offensively, totaling 229 total yards last week against Cleveland, the fewest in a game with Burrow since Week 5 of his rookie season against Baltimore. The Bengals will be without star wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, like they were against Cleveland, while he recovers from a hip injury.

PJ WALKER'S FOURTH CONSECUTIVE START

PJ Walker threw what was potentially the pass of the season when he connected with DJ Moore for a 62-yard touchdown just before the end of regulation, receiving praise from Patrick Mahomes on Twitter.

Wilks will go with Walker again in Cincinnati for his fourth straight start this year, and a healthy Baker Mayfield is ready in a backup role.

Walker has steadily improved since his first start against the Rams, when Carolina opted to play more conservatively and Walker made just 16 attempts. 

He put up a career-high 317 pass yards on 19-of-36 passing against Atlanta, continuing a steady build-up that teammates and coaches have grown to trust. 

"I think anything in life is all about time," Wilks said. "We've seen over the last couple of weeks that with him putting the time in, with us as coaches giving him the opportunity to be able to perform with the game plan, he's shown that he can handle certain things."

THE FOREMAN SHOW

With running back Chuba Hubbard (ankle) out for a second straight week, the Panthers are set to deploy D'Onta Foreman with another potentially heavy workload.

Foreman has performed well in his past two outings, totaling 118 rush yards in consecutive games. He had a career-high three rushing touchdowns in Atlanta.

Foreman will look to become only the second Carolina player in franchise history to have 115 rush yards or more in three consecutive games. In 2003, Stephen Davis tallied three-straight games with 115 rush yards or more in Weeks 2-5.

The matchup between Carolina's rush offense and the Bengals' rush defense is relatively even, as the Panthers' run game ranks 19th in the league, and Cincinnati's run defense is 21st.

ANOTHER CHANCE FOR PIÑEIRO

Kicker Eddy Piñeiro shouldered the blame for the Panthers' heartbreak in Atlanta after a missed extra point sent the game into overtime and a missed field goal led to an eventual Falcons win.

The Panthers stuck with Piñeiro, who came in after original kicker Zane Gonzalez suffered a season-ending groin injury in the preseason.

Wilks said Piñeiro had a good week in practice and that the Panthers worked on a two-minute situation that ended in a field goal attempt, which Piñeiro made.

"I'm more encouraging, but also understand that we get paid to do a job as well," Wilks said after Wednesday's practice. "I thought (Piñeiro) had some good kicks today. We pretty much had our day-to-day operation where we worked on PATs and field goals. He did a good job. I was pleased to see how he bounced back today."

MAKING PLANS AT SAFETY

With safeties Jeremy Chinn (hamstring) remaining on injured reserve and Juston Burris (concussion) ruled out for the Bengals game, Wilks said the Panthers are set to lean on starter Xavier Woods and defensive back Myles Hartsfield in Cincinnati. 

Sean Chandler, who primarily plays a role on special teams, will be the option behind Woods and Hartsfield, Wilks said.

Interim defensive coordinator Al Holcomb mentioned Hartsfield when asked about players who deserve more recognition Thursday. Wilks commended Hartsfield's consistency and versatility. 

"We trust him," Wilks said. "He does a great job when he's in there communicating with the other guys. You can put him at various positions, and you feel like he can get the job done. He's smart and can cover in the slot, can cover the tight end. He's a jack of all trades."

The Panthers are 3-2-1 all-time against the Bengals. Carolina is 3-1 at home and 0-1-1 on the road at Cincinnati. The Bengals are the only team that the Panthers have ever tied in franchise history.

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