Panthers vs. Rams Preview

 

 

Going into this season, I looked at our schedule and saw that we play the Rams on Halloween. I marked it down as a game that the Panthers “should” win. Now that we are 7 weeks into the season, things have changed quite a bit. The Panthers sit at 1-5 while the Rams are 3-4 and are playing a lot better than most expected them to be. Regardless, I’m going to mark this as a game that Carolina can win but it wont be an easy one. It will be even more difficult with DeAngelo Williams listed as doubtful with a foot injury. There will be a lot of pressure on Jonathan Stewart to carry the running game like he did at the end of last season. More on that later.  Last week’s win over the 49ers did give me a lot more confidence int he team, though so I am hoping Matt Moore can build off his strong performance and lead us to a win.

Know Your Enemy

As I said earlier, the Rams have been a bit of a surprise this year at 3-4 since a lot of people saw them winning only 3 games this whole season. All three wins have come at home and against pretty tough opponents in Washington, San Diego and Seattle. While three of their four losses are on the road against teams like Oakland and Detroit. I have to think they have the advantage in this game  since they obviously play better inside the Edward Jones Dome than they do on the road.

The Rams have a fairly balanced offense where they tend to pass more (it’s been about a 55/45 ratio this season) but they have a very strong running game led by  Steven Jackson. He has been a top 5 running back for the past few years and he’s gone over a 100 yards in three games this season. The Rams tend to give him more than 20 touches a game, too. Another key piece to their offense is the No. 1 overall pick, Sam Bradford. His rookie season has been pretty good so far as he’s thrown for 1483 yards and 9 TD’s in  7 games despite having a depleted/young receiving corps. However, he hasn’t had the best protection; Bradford’s been sacked 15 times and thrown 8 INTs this season.

The Rams defense is in the middle of the road in terms of stopping the run and pass. They have allowed only one 100 yard game from a single back this season (Darren McFadden) but they have been giving up about 108 yards per game on the ground. Their passing D is ranked 18th and while they have done well against other teams #1 receivers but have had trouble covering #2 targets and tight ends. The key player here is LB James Laurinitus, who led NFL rookies in tackles last season.

Now that we’ve gotten to know some of the Rams, let’s see how they matchup with the Panthers and vice versa.

Panthers passing game vs. Rams secondary

Matt Moore finally looked like his 2009 form in last week’s game throwing for 308 yards and 2 TD’s. Can he continue to put up these kinds of results is the question. The Rams have been good at limiting success to team’s number one receivers so Steve Smith could have another tough game. However, this situation isn’t as bad as it was earlier in the year since we know that Brandon LaFell and David Gettis are capable of exploiting single coverage and Moore’s been good enough to get the ball to them. Corner Ryan Bartell will be covering Smith and he’s been good, but shaky at time so Smith will definitely have his chances. The slot receivers are the ones that are going to get the most targets, though since the Rams are dead last in coverage to #2 and 3 receivers. This is partially due to having injuries to Bartell, teams using 3-4 WR sets making them use nickel and dime packages with younger corners and a lack of outside linebackers that can play pass coverage. Hey that sounds familiar! Let’s hope our tight ends can take advantage of this matchup. Just hope that Moore doesn’t overthrow any passes because free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe is capable of picking those off. Of course, there’s always the question of whether Moore’s performance was just a one-week thing. Hopefully it wasn’t.

Panthers run game vs. Rams run defense

Jonathan Stewart is going to be starting at running back and this is a good chance for him to break out of this slump he’s in. The Rams defensive line seems to play better against the pass than the run but there’s a good chance they will be stacking the box with 6-7 guys and all will have their eyes on Stewart before he can get anywhere. Stewart is a back that’s better at going in between the tackles so I’m expecting him to be used in short yardage situations and in the red zone. However, him breaking out for a few big runs to the outside isn’t out of the question. The Rams stacking the box is a concern but their linebacking corps is weak outside of Laurinaitus. Laurinaitus is a linebacker similar to Patrick Willis of the 49ers with his combination of speed and size along with his ability to chase down running backs. Larry Grant and Na’il Diggs do not concern me at all so runs to the outside are going to be Carolina’s best friend in Sunday’s game.

Panthers offensive line vs. Rams defensive line

This could be what prevents us from passing the ball. The Rams defense has 20 sacks on the year with 16 of them coming from the defensive line. Garry Williams had a solid game in his debut at right tackle last week but that was against a 3-4 with a lot of pass rush coming from linebackers. How will he fare against James Hall? Hall has 6.5 sacks on the year and I’m expecting him to be double teamed by Williams and Schwartz while Kalil takes care of defensive tackle Gary Gibson. Hall’s success has a lot to do with the presence of Chris Long on the left end, who has drawn a lot of attention from other team’s offensive lines. The Panthers offensive line will need to buckle down like they did last week if we want to have any success in the passing game. It will be tough since the Rams generate a lot of pressure from the front four and screen passes to Stewart and Mike Goodson could be essential to having early success for the offense. If they do leave the backs open on flat and screen routes, it’s up to Moore to see that and take advantage of it.

Rams passing offense vs. Panthers passing defense

Sam Bradford’s had a solid rookie season thus far and one of the most impressive things is how he’s made use of a depleted receiving corps. The Rams have seen season-ending injuries to Donnie Avery and Mark Clayton, who were projected to be their top 2 receivers. Their go-to guy now seems to be Danny Amendola, who usually lines up in the slot so he could see a big day against Carolina. Who will get the other targets is a good question. It looked like Danario Alexander would be the #1 receiver after a strong game against San Diego but he is injured and rookie Mardy Gilyard took his place. Brandon Gibson is another possible target and there’s always the threat of Steven Jackson on screens. So, the question here is who are the Panthers corners going to cover? We usually shift Richard Marshall over to the nickel position if the slot guy causes a lot of trouble, leaving Captain Munnerlyn on the #2 receiver. It’s kind of a scary matchup but the Rams passing game’s been a tad inconsistent all year and the Panthers have played well against the pass lately so I think it could be a good game for them.

As I said earlier, Bradford’s been making targets out of a lot of “unknown” guys so there’s always a chance someone else can step up. There isn’t a real “big play” threat with Mark Clayton out for the season so covering Amendola will be key. Safeties Sherrod Martin and Charles Godfrey will need to keep their eyes out for overthrown/bad passes Bradford will likely throw and pick them off.

Rams running game vs. Panthers run defense

Carolina’s given up two 100 yard rushing games in a row and it could be three with how good Steven Jackson is. The Rams are a team that loves to run the middle most of the time, so it’s up to Derek Landri, Ed Johnson and Dan Connor to stop him in his tracks. I would also keep an eye on James Anderson since he has shown the ability to sniff out ball-carriers this season. It’s also up to SS Charles Godfrey to be in the right place keep Jackson from getting any big runs. With how the last few weeks have gone, the Rams have a better chance at beating us through the air than on the ground and we have to limit Jackson’s big plays as much as possible. It’s especially important with the TOP game as well.

Rams offensive line vs. Panthers defensive line

The defensive line’s looked steadily better with each game and the Rams have allowed 15 sacks this year (probably due to a lot of passing attempts). Key matchup here is DE Charles Johnson vs. RT Jason Smith. Johnson’s been the team’s best pass rusher so he’s got the best chance of making Bradford uncomfortable and forcing errant throws. Stopping Jackson will also be up to the defensive line since the weakest link of the Rams o-line is RG Adam Goldberg, a poor run blocker. DT Ed Johnson will have the best chance at getting in the backfield than anyone else. I would like to see some blitzes from Jon Beason and James Anderson, as well. Regardless, the Panthers will have their chance to get to Bradford, but whether or not the front 4 can do it alone is still a mystery.

Things I Want To See From This Game

– A win. (duh)

– No interceptions from Moore. I’m willing to let the one last week slide as awful as it was. Point is, we need to stop turning the damn ball over if we want to win more games.

– Gettis and LaFell to have another big game. Either or the other. I’m not asking for another 100+ receiving performance but I think 5-7 catches and a TD for one of them isn’t terribly out of the question.

– The offensive line to stay stable. They played well last week but the Rams are going to be a tougher challenge than the Niners were.

– Jonathan Stewart to shut up fantasy owners. Seriously, I’m so tired of people asking me “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO JONATHAN STEWART? HE’S KILLIN’ MY FANTASY TEAM MAN!” Yeah, he hasn’t been good but I hardly give a damn about your fantasy team so maybe him having one big game will get people to stop crying.

– Another 20+ point performance. Yeah, I’m raising my expectations a little, haha.

– Better time and clock management.

– Get to Bradford, make him uncomfortable and throw bad passes and turn them into turnovers.

– Moore not to get killed back there. The Rams defensive line kind of scares me with how much Moore’s been getting beat up this year. Hopefully we can limit how many times he gets sacked and pressured this week.

Prediction

With my confidence about this team up right now, I’m going to be a little more cocky with my pick this week. This is assuming everything I typed above goes as planned (which it rarely does). I’m predicting another ugly win like the one against the Niners this week but I don’t think ti will come down to a game winning field goal this time. Hopefully not.

Panthers 24 Rams 19

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