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Notebook: Pass-rushers have a different test this week

Brian Burns, Shaq Thompson

CHARLOTTE — So far this season, the Panthers have excelled at making opposing quarterbacks hurry.

But they know that this week, they don't have nearly as much time.

Despite the fact they lead the NFL with 14 sacks, the Panthers are going to have to pressure differently this week.

Defensive coordinator Phil Snow pointed out how quickly Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott gets rid of the ball, among the other factors that make him a different challenge.

Asked if this week's pass rush is more complicated, Snow replied: "It really is. He's getting rid of the football, most times in under 2.4 seconds.

"It's hard to sack the guy. You're just not going to sack him very often," Snow continued. "But you can try to get him off-rhythm a little bit. But that's hard to do too, because he recognizes what you're in and what you're doing too, and he gets rid of the football really quickly.

"Plus their passing game, there's not a type of pass they don't use. They sprint out, they dash, they boot, they three-step, they drop-back, they screen you, they do everything. Dak has a lot of tools he can utilize, and he does. He's very well-schooled at what he does."

Prescott was sacked four times last week against the Eagles, but just three times in the first two games. The Cowboys still have a talented offensive line (if not quite to their previous standard), but they have plenty of offensive skill-position talent. And Snow said that, along with Prescott's ability to diagnose at the line, makes things more difficult.

"If he can get rid of the football without people on bodies, that's what he does," Snow said. "He's not trying to beat you deep. Now he will. But he's taking what you give him, and the ball's out.

"We've got to be really effective in our coverages. And if we can take away the easy throws and make him hold the ball a little longer, we can play him a little better. But we'll wait and see."

— Whatever you expected from Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold this year, you probably didn't expect his wheels.

And yet, Darnold's tied for the NFL lead with three rushing touchdowns.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott and Titans running back Derrick Henry are more like the guys you expect atop that list. But Darnold's right there alongside those two, Seahawks running back Chris Carson, Browns running back Nick Chubb, and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

"Is that right?" Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady said. "Good. Any time there's touchdowns going around.

"I'm sure that's what everyone would have thought going into the season. Any time we're getting in the end zone, it doesn't matter who it is. It's a good thing. Excited for him. Touchdowns are always good."

Brady wasn't getting into many specifics when asked about Darnold's game and the way he's played so far, leaning back on the one thing that's most important to them when asked what the quarterback has done (other than running) that's impressive.

"The fact we've been going 1-0 each week," Brady said.

"Without getting into anything in particular with Sam, when I come out of a game, that's all I really care about."

He did say he sees Darnold "getting more confident, in an understanding and a feel of what we're expecting. It's not really a risk-management thing; it's more just playing confidently. That's something he will, and I hope he'll continue to build on."

Darnold has 14 carries for 17 yards on the season, which isn't much of an average (1.2 yards per carry) but had a 32-yard scramble in Houston called back by a holding penalty, so he can move.

— The Panthers have had to share a stadium this week, as preparations for tonight's Rolling Stones concert began Monday. Thursday during practice, they shared a bit of a playlist.

"Gimme Shelter" was blaring on the speakers as the Panthers warmed up Thursday, but demographics probably kept it from catching on. Because the team skews young anyway, the roster may not be as familiar with their work as the coaching staff and front office.

"Who's that?" defensive Brian Burns, 23, joked.

(In his defense, the Stones had released 24 albums before he was born.)

And while the 65-year-old Snow is closer to a contemporary, he said he was passing on the show, though a number of coaches and staffers will be in attendance.

View photos from Thursday's practice as the Panthers prepare to take on the Cowboys on Sunday.

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