Rams D Diary 1/16 - Carolina Panthers (09 Sept.) *UPDATED: One less CB...*

 Well, this is my first diary on the site.  I've been reading for a while, since about right after the draft to keep up with news and get some fans' perspective.  I gotta say, this season has no easy predictions, except that we will score points by the boatload.
 I've decided to start a diary series focusing on what will determine the success of our season: defense.  For each diary, I will sum up some overall concerns and then look at some specific matchups.  I'm most looking forward to comments from whoever is reading this (yeah, that's you, dummy) and getting some real conversations started among other real Ramheads.  So without further adieu, the week one matchup at home against the Carolina Panthers.

Panthers' O: I haven't been big on this offense for a long time.  They have been very inconsistent and have a lot of holes.  That speaks well for us, and I hope we can get the year off to a good start with this game.  The focal points:
  - QB - Delhomme (and even Carr at backup) brings enough talent to warrant attention.  I still think he has the ability to win games when his head makes decision instead of his balls.  I think keeping him under pressure is going to be key to forcing Carolina to run.
  - RB - Without question, their deepest position.  Without question (also), their most injury prone position.  Foster and Williams are gonna be a serious tandem this year if (big if) Foster stays healthy.  Both should be playing with passion: Foster to prove he can bang and survive, Williams to show he's their RB of the future.  With such a gimpy passing attack outside of Smith, these two determine the Panthers' offensive success.  This is gonna be a great test for us as a season opener.
  - WR/TE - Outside of Steve Smith (who is absolutely incredible), the WR corps for the Panthers is, well, corny.  Keary Colbert and Drew Carter provide the #2 and 3 spots, presumably, but Dwayne Jarrett will be in the mix if he isn't already by week 1.  They have some other younger receivers with size (Justin McCullum is 6'4", 220 lbs., & Kevin Youngblood is an inch taller and a tad lighter at 6'5"/215), but I don't expect them to achieve anything consistent especially with a healthy Jarrett in the mix.  
 Quick name a Panthers TE.  If you did, you bested me.  Right now Mike Gaines and Jeff King are filling the gap....barely.  Gaines is pushing 300 and is not much of an aerial threat.  King, who I thought was overrated at Va. Tech, could be a decent #2 TE.  I said "could be", as in 3 years from now.  Smith is the threat, and he's almost good enough to plat all 3 WR positions by himself.  Ok, the Steve Smith lovefest is over.

 - OL - Not impressive.  They have a lot to work on, and a new o-coordinator brings a new scheme which brings a new slew of potential failures for this crew.  The inside is better than the outside.  Expect the running game to be more vertical, especially if they try to run to the sidelines early in the season.

Key matchups:

1.) Steve Smith(WR) v. Fakhir Brown/Tye Hill (CB) - How does Linehan want to play this?  Focus on keeping Smith as contained as possible, or let him do his thing and shut down all other receiving option?  I don't have a preference.  I think the Panthers' running game is more important.

Update [2007-7-13 20:8:24 by 3k]:Ugh. ESPN has a report here that Fakhir Brown has been suspended for the first 4 games of the season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He should be back after the Sep. 30th game against the Cowboys game meaning he should be able to play in our first game against Arizona which will be at home. Does this open up a door for ex-Tennessee Volunteer rookie Jonathan Wade to go up against ex-USC rook Dwayne Jarrett? That would be a fun matchup to watch, but one that probably favors Jarrett. In any case, not good news as Brown was our most experienced CB. Again, ugh.

2.) Jake Delhomme(QB) v. Leonard Little(DE) et al - If the Rams take advantage of the Panthers' inferior OTs, expect Delhomme to be on his back checkin out the clouds more than once.  It's hard for Delhomme to throw passes to Smith when he's in the prone position.  Good pressure in the first half should force Carolina to run hard and often leading to the key matchup for the Rams in Week 1...

3.) Panthers' ground game v. Rams' run stopping ability - I already noted the tandem of Foster & Williams.  I think if the Rams are going to win, they have to contain these two.  We'll get a nice early assesment of Carriker against the run and how he teams up with Wroten or ol' man La'Roi Glover in this one.  P-Tino should see more protection from the Panthers' O than Chillar, so expect the action to move to Carolina's right when they have the ball.  Will Witherspoon (WWII, as I call him) has to improve his vertical run tackling this year, and this will be the first step.

Whew.  Well, I look forward to seeing the poll results and having you guys tell me I have no idea what I'm talking about.  Go Rams!