Last season was a tale of two seasons for the Panthers. They started off like NFC South contenders, going 6-2 in the first half of the season, only to experience a 1-7 collapse following a slew of injuries.
So which Panthers can the Rams expect to see this Sunday?
QB Cam Newton appears to be good to go, after a foot scare in Week 3 of the preseason. After multiple shoulder surgeries over the last couple years, keep an eye Cam’s cannon to see whether he able to sling the ball deep like he used to. It’s Week 1 though, so wear and tear should be at a minimum for now. Newton’s ability to get out of the pocket and work the field by foot will be an early test for backup-turned-starter ILB Bryce Hager and the other linebackers.
New Panthers C Matt Paradis should be an upgrade for the Panthers up the middle. He was the 2nd ranked center according to Pro Football Focus last season with the Denver Broncos. However, last season the Panthers line mostly stunk. Aaron Donald should be able to flush Newton out the pocket often. Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips’ hybrid safety-backers could come in handy tracking Cam when he decides to leave the pocket. LT Darryl Williams had a strong 2017 season but missed most of 2018 with a knee injury. Williams versus Rams EDGE Dante Fowler, Jr., could be pretty interesting matchup, to help gauge where both players are at in 2019.
RB Christian McCaffrey became a serious work horse for Carolina last season and was second only to Ezekiel Elliot with 337 snaps out of the back field. McCaffrey may have averaged 5.0 yards per carry, but his 107 receptions may be the most terrifying aspect of his game. The Rams seem to have the mobile personnel to match up with McCaffrey, but he’ll command tons of attention. While their eyes on McCaffrey though, TE Greg Olsen (who is actually active for the game!) will be another problem.
At the end of the day, a few forced turnovers may be needed to sway the game in the Rams favor, and that’s going to start with an effective pass rush.
The Panthers are switching to a 3-4 defense for the first time under Head Coach Ron Rivera’s watch. Following former Defensive Coordinator Steve Wilke’s departure to Arizona last season, the Panthers’ defense could not generate any kind of consistent pass rush. This season they are hoping the additions of rookie EDGE Brian Burns and six-time Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy can turn up the heat. Burns had four sacks in three preseason games and has the Panthers pretty excited. The Panthers’ front seven, which also features All-World ILB Luke Kuechly, DE Kawaan Short, and NT Dontari Poe, should be fairly stout this season. EDGE Bruce Irvin is currently dinged up with a hamstring injury but may be able to play Sunday.
The Panthers’ secondary has improved with the additions of safeties Tre Boston and Eric Reid, but their lack of depth could ultimately be their waterloo against a Rams offense that can go three deep and beyond with their receivers. Look for WR Cooper Kupp to do Cooper Kupp things in his first game back since his ACL injury midway through last season. Should the Rams’ offense lay an egg in Charlotte following their Super Bowl stinker, it may be somewhat alarming to Rams fans. Then again, it’s going to be 90 degrees and absolutely miserable in Charlotte, so what means what?
Regardless, there’s plenty of interesting matchups to look forward to this week. Here we go!