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Panthers taking Sam Darnold back to basics

Sam Darnold

CHARLOTTE — The Panthers looked back on Monday, at all the problems that led head coach Matt Rhule to bench quarterback Sam Darnold in New York.

Wednesday, they went back further in the season, to show Darnold the things he was doing well.

Rhule said he sat with Darnold Wednesday morning and reviewed the tape of his game against the Saints in Week 2, in hopes of getting back to that kind of performance.

For the record, Darnold was 26-of-38 for 305 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception that day, for a 99.1 passer rating. (Sunday against the Giants, he was 16-of-25 for 112 yards with a pick, and a 57.4 rating)

"You have to see yourself doing it," Rhule said. "There's no doubt he can do it. There's no doubt. I just think you're trying so hard to win, you start trying to do too much, play a little faster, and all of a sudden you look up one day, and you're a little bit harried, you're not quite in rhythm."

That has certainly been the case the last three weeks, leading to the temporary benching in New York. While there are many reasons (the lack of Christian McCaffrey, the lack of continuity on the offensive line, etc.), Darnold has made some of the same errors.

"My reads don't change just because Christian's not in the game," Darnold said when that question came.

But as he's rushed in the games without McCaffrey (for whatever reason), his drops get faster, which throws off the timing of the passing game. That's made the whole operation look out of sync, and Darnold knows it.

"Even in the game, just sensing my feet being too quick," Darnold said. "I feel it sometimes. I've got to continue to do a better job of doing it in practice. That's where it starts is feeling my rhythm, feeling being on time in practice. When I get it right there, I know I can get it right during the game.

"For me, it's slowing it down. Just my feet. Sometimes my feet can be fast in a bad way. Sometimes that's good, but for me, I want everything to be rhythmic and slow. Slower's not a great term, but a little slower and more in rhythm than what I've been doing the last few weeks, or at times the last few weeks. making sure timing and rhythm are on point."

Darnold said he's trying to keep his process the same, and isn't changing his pregame routine, or even his music choices since he wants his mind "to be calm and focused. He laughed and said: "I'm definitely not listening to a ton of bang-my-head-against-the-wall kind of music."

He's also not soliciting advice on how to break out of this slump, or talking to anyone outside the building.

Because quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan preaches footwork first, they're going back to the basics of his mechanics. Rhule compared it to a golfer whose swing gets weird, going back to making sure his stance is correct, so the foundation is solid.

"The way we teach it is, your feet should set the timing and the tempo, and your eyes follow," Rhule said. "I think the biggest thing is that, getting his feet back underneath him, getting at the right tempo, I think when you go back and watch the great quarterbacks who play for a long time, the Aaron Rodgerses, the Tom Bradys they have so many reps and so much experience and they've played their way through good times and bad times, they can kind of self-regulate.

"Sam is working so hard and trying to push ahead to the next week and what's next and the next practice, and I think taking some time today with me, and some time hopefully by himself, and some time hopefully with Sean, to go back and say this is what it looked like when you did it right. I'm hoping that gave him a mental picture of this is what I need to do. We've got to get him back to that."

When Darnold was in the kind of rhythm they wanted against the Saints in Week 2, the entire offense flowed. They also converted 8-of-15 third downs, compared to 2-of-15 against the Giants. That allows the offense to flow and the defense to breathe, which helps the entire system.

And while Rhule wasn't going to comment on reports about the possibility of trading for another quarterback, he said he was convinced that they could get Darnold back to his earlier form.

"I feel really good about Sam," Rhule said. "Obviously, it wasn't a great game this past game. I think at the end of the day, when Sam goes back and watches himself, or our whole team goes back and watches himself against the New Orleans Saints, we see exactly what he is and was an can be, and we've got to get him back to that spot. . . .

"I'm focused on Sam and getting him back to the level he was playing at. That has to be everyone's focus, the O-line, receivers, everyone."

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