The first quarter of the season was a forgettable experience, but the second quarter of the season is a different story. We maybe on the verge of a winning streak having found some sort of offensive identity. That identity has allowed our defense to play to the level we expected to see all year. Sunday is a very important road matchup versus the Panthers before we head home to take on the Seahawks. With a successful road trip we will be positioned in a great place at the halfway mark of the season.
We have established a running game, we have inserted rookie running back Zac Stacy and as he is not taking the league by storm, the threat and pressure any semblance of running attack allows for Sam to be even more deadly with his arm. Play action passing requires the defense to minimally respect the threat of a running play and that is exactly what Zac Stacy provides us.
Defensively this week we could have our hands full, Deangelo WIlliams still has enough in his tank to give us fits and we haven't exactly been stout versus the run lately. As we key on the run we become vulnerable to being attacked at our seems and Gregg Olson is more then capable of keeping drives alive on third downs. Steve Smith is a whole other issue, he hasn't been himself too much this year, but has been coming on as of late. We do have a history of players remembering who they are when they play us. That now brings us to Cam, and at the start of the season we had this game penciled in as a franchise qb that runs the read option and well with Mike Shula being hired, they have yet to establish that identity. They are not a spread offense, they are not showing as much read option looks, and Cam is playing from the pocket more and more. The only team in the league that maybe more unhappy about their offensive coaching staff then the Rams is the Panthers, i recently took a look at their fans comments on their official NFL webpage and it was eerily similar to the debates we have from we need to fire this moron, Mike Shula puts Cam into a position to fail, but the difference is that Cam has no one to dump the ball off to when there is pressure. Cam has something like 8% of his passes dropped by his receivers, his receivers being bunched up and not allowing them to work in space. It is really funny to see these complaints from their fans, they echo a lot of the comments we see around here about our system.
Defensively the Panthers are young and strong at the point of attack and that puts a lot of pressure on an offense. they are a top 5 defense only giving up a tick under 14 points a game. This maybe deceptive since they have not really played any real powerful offenses outside of the Seahawks and the Hawks had over 320 yards through the air. They have 2 first round rookie defensive tackles that are coming into their own and starting to dominate the trenches, this is important because their best player is Luke Kuechly. Their front seven is comparable to the front seven we possess, and as bad as our secondary has played theirs is probably a notch below our talent level. They have been plagued with injuries forcing them to sign and immediately start Quintin Mikell.
On paper, sitting on my couch this looks like an evenly matched game, we are very similar in many ways. I give our coaching staff the nod and we will be prepared for this game on Sunday. They played Seattle real tough, but they did give up a monster day to Russell Wilson and Sam will have his chances. They were able to hold Beast Mode to less then 70 yards rushing so yards on the ground may not be easy to come by especially since we are just now getting into a rhythm on the ground. We are a healthier team, we have more explosive players on offense, our defense has something to prove, but we do not travel real well. I am going to say this is a must win game for us, but its a MUST WIN. We have come off of 2 victories, we have established an identity and we have a huge divisional home game next week. We cannot do what we have done soo many times in recent years and look passed this game and not show up. This is a winnable game, it will not be easy, but we have the chance to hit the half way mark at .500 or better and carry some huge momentum into the second half of the season.
We must stay within ourselves, We must win some very important matchups I feel will be key. We must give Stacy 20 carries the yards will not mean as much as the pressure the amount of quality carries Stacy gets. We must encourage Sam to attack downfield, we must capitalize on all our chances, we can beat their safeties over the top. There will be plays to be made on the defensive side of the ball and I see Brockers coming out and continuing his hot streak, but he draws Ryan Kalil and that will be a fun battle to watch. Tree has done an admirable job in recent weeks learning to play his position in the NFL and this week will be a great test for the young man. He will have to contend with a very mobile qb and a solid TE in Gregg Olson. Olson is not 100% so that will help the young man out, but by no means will it be an easy match up. JJ can and should blanket Steve Smith, and our edge rushers will have favorable match ups, CLong draws an undrafted free agent Byron Bell, he is a 2 year starter and a huge human being, and CLong should have an athletic edge, Quinn may have his hands full with Jordan Gross, its been a few years since he was dominant and he is no spring chicken. Our athletism on the edges are a big advantage and its important that we maintain gap control and our fundamentals. On the other side of the ball Hardy and Johnson have the ability to give Long and Barksdale/Saffold fits all day. Wells, Smith and Dahl will have their hands full with their rookie DTs. This game will be decided in the trenches and it will be a low scoring affair. I do not see either qb having the time and liberty to toss the rock around. This game has the feeling of being decided by a special teams play or a one of the defenses scoring. Rams get the victory 13-6.