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Los Angeles Rams at Carolina Panthers: What we learned

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Some good, some bad, some ugly. What to takeaway from Week 1’s victory on the road.

Los Angeles Rams v Carolina Panthers Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

In Week 1, Los Angeles Rams Head Coach Sean McVay looked to set up the ground game with the pass against an average Carolina Panthers secondary.

Here were my big takeaways from the game.

The backfield

Carries will apparently be increasingly distributed throughout the Rams running back stable, but it seems Todd Gurley is still capable of being a contributor within the Rams offense. While Gurley’s burst and general mojo didn’t seem quite on par with guys like Christian McCaffrey, Marlon Mack and Saquon Barkley in the opening week, he remains a smart running back who knows where to be within one of the best offensive schemes around. As far as burst and mojo go, I’d imagine that will change on a week-to-week basis with Gurley.

As far as the other carries go, it was interesting to see familiar face Malcolm Brown get far more shine than the team’s much ballyhooed rookie running back Darrell Henderson, Jr. Brown had 11 carries, while Henderson only had 1 following a generally underwhelming preseason for Henderson although that may have been mostly attributable to the vanilla playbook and backup line that was used.

It seems like this sort of distribution of carries could be common this season. What we don’t know is whether it will be enough to help Gurley to feel fresh in December and January.

Only time will tell.

What about Cooper Kupp and the new offensive line?

Kupp was back, and he quickly reminded us of why he’s so valuable to the Rams’ offense. While tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett remain occasional targets for Goff, Kupp always seems to find space on intermediate routes.

The Rams’ offensive line mostly got the job done and should improve throughout the first half of the season. They didn’t play during the preseason, and that matters for an offensive line. RT Rob Havenstein wasn’t quite himself, occasionally surrendering pressure off the right side. New C Brian Allen wasn’t perfect, but his spunk was evident. And new LG Joseph Noteboom clearly isn’t a mauler yet, but he is quite mobile and can get out in front on zone run schemes outside the hash marks. It would be nice to see him crush a few DBs while he’s out there.

On defense

It was interesting to see DT Aaron Donald and EDGE Dante Fowler, Jr., apply the smash-and-dash repeatedly, where Donald would absorb a couple Panther linemen and Fowler would reap the rewards of space. If Fowler can continue to find his way into the backfield, he may command a bit more attention which could send some benefits back Donald’s way.

As far a Clay Matthews debut, he was gifted a sack on Panthers miscue, but didn’t provide a lot of pressure otherwise. It will be interesting to see if the team decides to activate EDGE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo this week to help bother QB Drew Brees as the Rams host the New Orleans Saints.

Overall, the defense had a decent outing despite all of running back McCaffrey’s yardage. He had a big day, but things didn’t generally feel too out of control. The secondary played well, and big plays by LB Cory Littleton and EDGE Samson Ebukam came in handy. This is the Rams’ defense. They’ll give up some yardage, but often come up with enough game changing plays to help McVay’s offense out.

And the Saints come marching in...

All in all, if the special teams clean up their act, and QB Jared Goff can settle into rhythm, things should look a bit better for the Rams in Week 2. Despite the Saints’ reputation as a bonafide contender, hosting them after a regular season tune-up almost feels preferable to a humid slugfest in Charlotte coming off no preseason action for the starters. We’ll see what that means on the scoreboard.