The Day After: Offensive line issues lingering

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CHARLOTTE — Panthers head coach Matt Rhule knows there are no immediate solutions for an offensive line that had a rough day Sunday.

But he knows there's an immediate need for improvement.

Rhule made multiple mentions Monday of the difficulties in protecting quarterback Sam Darnold, who was hit 11 times and sacked five times in the loss to the Cowboys.

The Panthers offensive line was an unknown commodity going into the season, as Rhule acknowledged in Spartanburg when he compared it to the construction on Interstate 85 and said: "We're a work in progress."

Monday, Rhule compared it to the issues stopping the run against the Cowboys (allowing 245 yards on the ground).

"Like our run defense, you're always looking first as a coach. Can I do anything schematically better? Can we help somebody when they have a tough matchup?" Rhule said. "Part of it is coming home, when you're on the road and using silent cadences; that's why the home team has an advantage. If it's anything else, it's rushing and protecting the passer when you're going off silent cadences."

Darnold said after the game Sunday the concern is that other teams will view the Cowboys tape as a blueprint, and pressure him to take advantage of what is currently a significant problem.

"I'm sure teams will try to do the same thing, the same games and all that stuff," Darnold said. "We just gotta be ready for it; we've got to watch the tape and grow from it."

The Panthers had two offensive line starters on the injury report last week, with left tackle Cameron Erving (knee) and right guard John Miller (shoulder) starting and playing every snap.

Asked if he'd consider personnel changes, and if that group still represented his "best five," Rhule didn't offer a clear answer but said health would be a factor.

"We look at everything," he said. "In terms of personnel, I don't think we're a quick-fix operation. We'll always say, hey, are the best guys playing? But at the same time, no matter who's playing, are they using the right technique, are they improving, are we giving them all the tools they need to be successful? We made some adjustments in that game that I think helped us, so I'm anxious to see where we are this week.

"I think a lot of it comes down to who's healthy when we get to Wednesday. Those guys, while it's not always perfect, they're playing hard for us while they've been banged up. I appreciate the way they're playing. We'll see what we do moving forward this week, see who's healthy, see who's available, and take full stock of where we are."

— Rhule didn't offer many specifics on injuries from Sunday's game, but mentioned that several players were getting MRIs.

He didn't name them, but linebacker Shaq Thompson left the game briefly and was getting his foot checked before returning.

He also said that running back Christian McCaffrey, who missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, might go out to test himself Wednesday to see where he is in his recovery. The original expectation was that he'd miss a few weeks, but when they didn't put him on IR, it suggested that less than three weeks was still an option.

Outside linebacker Haason Reddick said he suffered a stinger during the game, but he was able to return and said there was no concern about his status for this week against the Eagles.

Zane Gonzalez

— Rhule expressed confidence in kicker Zane Gonzalez, despite the missed 54-yard field goal which triggered the third-quarter avalanche.

He mentioned that the kick may have been tipped at the line of scrimmage, and said he felt good about trying it even though he had opted to punt and play field position in previous settings.

He also said he'd have likely gone for the first down if it was fourth-and-5, (it was fourth-and-7), and that he was impressed with Gonzalez's improved strength on kickoffs. Four of his five kickoffs were touchbacks this week, and the other one landed at the Dallas 5 and was covered after a 14-yard return.

— While running back Chuba Hubbard had some issues with footing earlier this season, his only problem Sunday was when he had a flat tire.

Hubbard said he blew through the side of his cleats on one run early, something that happened two or three times a year when he was in college. He quickly grabbed a new pair of shoes, and had a solid outing.

He finished with 13 carries for 57 yards and a couple of catches for 14 yards. Not a McCaffrey day, but a solid outing.

He also laughed about hurdling a Cowboys player on one run, pointing out that he was purely a sprinter during his track career in Canada.

"I never did hurdles, actually," he said with a laugh. "I was scared. I saw people fall too many times. That wasn't for me, just straightaway stuff.

"It was just instincts, jumping over the guy."

View the best photos from Carolina's loss to Dallas on Sunday.

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