For the second week in a row, the St. Louis Rams have journeyed to a far off land. Passports? Check! Hawaiian shirts? Got 'em! Yes, I know it's only 700ish miles away from the Edward Jones Dome, but why not be prepared...
Today, the Rams face yet another top notch defensive unit. In three of the past four weeks, they've faced San Francisco, Houston, and now Carolina. Led by second year linebacker phenom Luke Kuechly, this unit has turned into a run stuffing machine. Currently ranked #3 in overall defense - #4 against the run - they've stymied their opponents attempts to get any kind of ground game together.
Enter the St. Louis Rams - who've just started to find a run game - and rookie Zac Stacy giving them a glimmer of hope as a running back. Throwing the ball might be an option for St. Louis today, but Carolina's pass defense is ranked #7, so it won't be an easy task.
What I find kind of interesting, is how much both these teams resemble one another in a few ways. Cam Newton and Sam Bradford are searching for respect - and consistency - in the eyes of their fans and NFL media. Their offensive lines have both been sporadic at times, rising and falling to different occasions. Carolina has suffered at tight end, while the Rams have excelled at the position. The Panthers aging Steve Smith is reliable, if not borderline dangerous as their #1 wide receiver. The Rams' are still waiting for one of their stable of young, talented pass catchers to step into the spotlight. Could this be the game where we see Tavon Austin shine? Stop groaning! I know we've all been wondering about Jeff Fisher's and Brian Schottenheimer's long term vision for the talented former West Virginia star. Yet, as I consider the Panther's defensive secondary, their skill sets and coverage schemes to date look appetizingly matched to what Austin can exploit.
But let's not kid ourselves, this game will turn on how well the Rams' defense steps up to stopping the Carolina run game, and the scrambling ability of Cam Newton. As talented as the Panther's quarterback is, I don't see him having a good day through the air. What's more, the Rams have shown their inability to stop the run, so look for DeAngelo Williams - currently the #9 running back statistically in the NFL - to top his season high of 23 carries, and be the key to this game's outcome for Carolina. Cam Newton is a versatile, and talented, young quarterback. The book on him is getting pressure in his face early and often up the middle. Michael Brockers is coming off a 2 sack performance against Houston, and his left side cohort Kendall Langford has helped stem the rushing tide to his side. Opposing teams have been running straight at Chris Long and rookie Alec Ogletree all season. If Langford can push into the backfield and help seal the DT/DE gap Newton seems fond of exploiting, the Rams will come away with a win.
The outcome of this game is downright difficult to prognosticate. In my experience, when two teams look similar on paper, they really aren't. Crumple up those similarity scribbles, and sit back and watch. The contest between the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers has the potential to be a shoot out, or it could settle into a regression to the penalty and miscue plagued games both teams have evidenced earlier this season. The only thing I'm sure of, is one player - ONE - is going to have a stellar game. It's what often happens when similar teams devolve into chess moves, and that one guy who they've forgotten to account for until it's too late. So who will it be? Give me your choice in the poll below, and let's see if you're right!
Here's to a great, injury free game!