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Los Angeles Rams versus Carolina Panthers: Matchups to watch

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Who will be the key to winning week one? Which players will the Rams target as weak links? Let’s find out.

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Los Angeles Rams v New Orleans Saints

As we prepare to kickoff the 2019 season properly, we’ll prepare a weekly article based on which matchups to focus on between the Los Angeles Rams and their opponents. This weeks opponent will be the Carolina Panthers.

With the season only beginning, it could be harder to predict where certain guys might play/line up, though I’ll project the best I can as to who will face off in the little battles within the major war.

With that out of the way, let’s have a look at the matchups to watch for the week one matchup:

DT Aaron Donald versus LG Greg Van Roten

The two-time back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year award winner Aaron Donald, gets to face off against the weakest link on the Panthers’ offensive line for majority of their week one contest. Even though he’s not likely to see many one-on-one situations, Donald is sure to wreak havoc against Greg Van Roten and newly acquired free agent center Matt Paradis. Van Roten has only started 16 games in his NFL career, ending 2018 with a PFF grade of 59.8. Donald went sack-less through the first three weeks of the 2018 season and still ended up with 20.5 for the year. With the mobility of quarterback Cam Newton and the dangerous ability of running back Christian McCaffrey, it’ll be paramount for Donald to create as much havoc as he can in the backfield.

CB’s Marcus Peters/Aqib Talib versus WR Curtis Samuel

The talk of the town all throughout the offseason was the development of wide receiver Curtis Samuel. Samuel has reportedly been the star of Panthers camp, making him (or D.J. Moore) the defacto #1 receiver on the roster. The Rams’ star-studded duo at cornerback — which consists of Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib — are going to have the first crack at the small, speedy, and vertical weapon in Samuel. Samuel was used sparingly last year, though he impressed when given his chance (similar to tight end Gerald Everett). Look for Newton and the Panthers to try and get Samuel the ball often.

ILB Cory Littleton versus RB Christian McCaffrey

Running back Christian McCaffrey proved to be the ultimate weapon in 2018, as he compiled 1,965 yards from scrimmage and 13 total touchdowns. McCaffrey is every bit as good of a runner as he is receiver, making it of the utmost importance that the Rams are prepared for his work in both areas. Generally speaking, the dangers McCaffrey offers a receiver are more threatening than McCaffrey as a runner. Luckily for the Rams, inside linebacker Cory Littleton is one of the better coverage linebackers in the league. Although a mix of defenders is likely to be used against McCaffrey (safety Taylor Rapp, etc), Littleton is likely to receive the bulk of the work. Stopping McCaffrey probably wont be done, though containing him should be priority #1.

FS Eric Weddle versus QB Cam Newton

You may be confused at the matchup here, but let me explain. Quarterback Cam Newton is obviously going to be the leader and the guy who receives the play calls/adjusts them, as is newly acquired free agent safety Eric Weddle. The Rams elected to give the “green sticker” to Weddle due to his elaborate football IQ, meaning he’s now the guy who’ll get everybody lined up defensively. The game of cat-and-mouse these two play will be very interesting. Also, the mobility and big-play potential from Newton needs to be something the Rams focus on.

Rams’ interior OL versus Panters’ interior DL

Left guard Joseph Noteboom and center Brian Allen are set to register their first starts in their NFL careers, and right guard Austin Blythe will only be making his 19th NFL start. The cohesion and chemistry between the three is a big unknown as none of the trio played in the preseason. Defensively, the Panthers field one of the better interior defensive lines in the league, containing defensive tackles Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, and Kawann Short. The trio combined for 10 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, and 31 quarterback hits in 2018. That trio of interior defensive lineman is going to be as good as any unit the Rams’ offensive line will oppose, meaning they’ll need to be prepared for a long game if the Rams plan on having offensive success.

WR Cooper Kupp versus Panthers’ cornerbacks

The Panthers’ cornerback group are not great, outside of second-year stud Donte Jackson. The remaining names are certainly going to struggle if quarterback Jared Goff has enough time to operate, simply because James Bradberry isn’t very good, and Ross Cockrell and Javien Elliott aren’t either. The biggest mismatch is for whichever cornerback the Panthers plan on sliding into the nickel spot, because Cooper Kupp seems to be 100% recovered from a torn ACL that knocked him out for half of the season in 2018. The potential for Goff to get Kupp involved early and often is something to look out for.