The Los Angeles Rams head into Week 1 on the road against the Carolina Panthers after cutting their roster down to 53 and then adding 10 players to their practice squad.
The biggest news of impact is that five of the players the Rams’ waived were picked up by other teams. This says a lot about the Rams’ scouting department under Rams General Manager Les Snead and coaching under Head Coach Sean McVay in developing young players.
Gone are DT Johnathan Franklin-Myers, WR KhaDarel Hodge and backup QB Brian Allen. Making the 53-man roster were LB Natrez Patrick and WR Nsimba Webster both of whom were standouts during the preseason. The Rams retained LB Dakota Allen and AAF star QB John Wolford on the practice squad.
It’s a numbers game. I can quibble around the edges as to who should stay and who should go, but right now it is what is.
So it’s time to put aside the roster talk and move on to the most important item on the agenda this week.
Beating the Carolina Panthers.
What the Rams need to do on offense
For all of us Rams’ fans who are concerned about RB Todd Gurley, we will finally see whether all the talk about him being “just fine” was merely smoke and mirrors. Of course, no running back can succeed in the NFL without a hole to run through.
So rather then focus on Gurley, the Rams biggest issue is their offensive line. OL Joseph Noteboom fills in for LG Rodger Saffold, and C Brian Allen steps into John Sullivan’s spot. It’s important that the young guys start by creating chemistry and that it gets better with each game ahead. Gurley must have confidence that the hole will be there. If all goes as the Rams have planned it, the offense isn’t going to miss a beat. Once through the hole, Ram fans will be able to judge for themselves just how explosive Gurley is or isn’t.
QB Jared Goff needs to continue to grow at his position. I’m looking for big things from Goff this year. Now that he’s got the big contract, he has to play like he deserves it. That means jumping from outside the group of elite quarterbacks into the elite group. Goff has grown every year under the tutelage of McVay. If the past is a prelude to the future, there’s no reason for me to doubt that greatness awaits our leader. I’ll be counting the amount of money each bad pass cost the Rams. Interceptions are double.
Our wide receivers are one of the best receiving corps in the game. If you have just one really good wideout, like WR Amari Cooper for the Dallas Cowboys, you can double him up and take your chances with the others. The Rams have three really good wide receivers in Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Any one of them can burn a defense.
Keeping in mind that this will be Kupp’s first game after suffering a season-ending ACL tear in Week 10 last season, so he’s bound to be anxious as well as cautious. Look for the Rams to get him the ball early so he can knock out any doubts in his mind that he’s back and ready to play. Kupp was really missed in the Super Bowl for his blocking ability, so I’m excited to have him back.
The Panthers have a great front seven led by perennial All-Pro MLB Luke Kuechly—a throwback to the good old days of Dick Butkus. The Rams have to find a way to use his aggressiveness against him. I would expect the Rams to run a lot of counter plays getting Luke to pursue to one side and the Rams coming back the other way. If he makes a mistake, then Gurley can take it to the house, opening it up for playaction.
It won’t be easy, but I like to the Rams to score more than 25 points in this game.
What the Rams need to do on defense
I will say it now and unless proven otherwise, this defense is going to be a monster.
I love having DT Michael Brockers next to the best defensive player in the game DT Aaron Donald, and I shed no tears with the Rams letting go of Ndamukong Suh. The Rams will be better run stoppers with Brockers. Add into the mix Cory Littleton and Bryce Hager replacing Mark Barron at inside linebacker and the Rams finally have the beef to stuff at the line of scrimmage.
Unlike some others, I was very impressed with OLB Dante Fowler, Jr., after acquiring his services midseason last year from the Jacksonville Jaguars. It helps to have Donald being such a force, but pairing him with Clay Matthews, if he has anything left in the tank, has got to be scary thought. These guys will get after the quarterback.
A healthy Aqib Talib matched with Marcus Peters were a force at cornerback in the Rams’ incredible playoff run leading the Super Bowl last year. S Eric Weddle is an upgrade at the position. He may not be as quick given his age as former S Lamarcus Joyner, but he hits harder.
Going side-to-side is very important in the Rams defense. Under Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, the Rams play a lot of single safety. You can’t coach speed, so it will be important for Weddle to be at the top of his game. The benefit of his acumen is that even when he’s a fraction of second off, unlike Joyner, he’ll make the receiver pay the price. That’s football.
In Super Bowl L, Phillips found a way to do the remarkable by completely ruining Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. Since then, Cam has never been the same. Coming off of offseason shoulder surgery and a sprained foot he got in the preseason, he could be very vulnerable.
As long as the Rams shut down RB Christian McCaffrey, who just happens to be like seventy percent of the Panthers offense, the Rams should be able to get after Newton leading to either sacks or interceptions.
The Rams need to hold the Panthers to 10 points or less.
What the Rams need to do on special teams
Ho hum. The best in the league. Just do their job. Stay away from the penalties, especially the new rule prohibiting double teams on kickoff returns. Avoid the muff or fumbles (are you listening KR JoJo Natson), and the Rams will be fine.
The Rams head into the 2019 as reigning NFC Champions. No team in the league is going to take them lightly. The Rams have a big “X” on their backs this year.
So nothing would please Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera more than beating the Rams out of the gate at home. Everyone is hyped for the first game of the season. However, the Rams must win this game as their schedule doesn’t get easier in the next four games. It’s much easier to be chased, then being the chaser.
Chasers can’t afford mistakes.
The McVay era has included the new maxim to sit the starters for the entire preseason. Last year, the Rams showed a little rust in the first game. It wasn’t until the second half that they were able to shake the cobwebs off in route to their victory against the Oakland Raiders though the offense really needed until the next game to get going.
I don’t expect that to be the case this year. The Rams’ starters now have the experience from Week 1 last year. I’ll give both the offense and defense one series before I start yelling and screaming. If the Rams sputter after that, I’ll be a basket case. Of course, going berserk about Rams football is a natural practice with me, but I put a lot of importance on winning the first game of the season especially this year with the tougher schedule ahead.
I don’t want to look back and say that the game against the Panthers cost us a playoff spot, the division or the best record in the league and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
This is the first step in “Let’s finish this.”
I remember when the Carolina Panthers came into the league in 1995. They were placed in the NFC West (yes...the team from North Carolina was in the “West”...) with the Rams. I used to judge the Rams’ season by whether they would beat the New Orleans Saints. Then it was the Panthers. The Rams lost way too many games to an inferior Panthers’ team in those days. I would cringe. It was inexplicable.
I know that time have changed, but those Panthers are a pesky bunch. History between the clubs tells me that this is not going to be a walk in park as many Rams fans may feel.
Even if the Rams stumble and bumble, they’re still too talented to lose on both sides of the ball. McVay will have them ready. I’m confident of that and that Phillips will unleash the monster of a defense I envision.
The time for talking, dreaming and hope are over—its time for Rams football. Let’s finish this.