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Los Angeles Rams versus Carolina Panthers: Matchups to watch revisited

Let’s run through the matchups to watch, taking a look at how the performances turned out.

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

Although it was a rusty performance, the Los Angeles Rams escaped on the road with a 30-27 win against the Carolina Panthers. Although they never looked quite comfortable, the Rams took the lead early and never relinquished it.

Let’s revisit the matchups to watch:

DT Aaron Donald versus LG Greg Van Roten

Last week’s matchup to watch:

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.

Somehow, someway, the Panthers actually did a marvelous job at limiting the leagues best player in Aaron Donald. Donald was relatively invisible, registering one single tackle and no other statistics. Donald — who was likely doubled and triple teamed often — allowed other players such as edge Dante Fowler Jr. to produce, by way of acquiring all the attention.

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

Last week’s matchup to watch:

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.

Curtis Samuel was only targeted four times, acquiring three receptions for 32 yards. The Panthers looked like the same offense as they did in 2018, allowing Christian McCaffrey to pound the rock play after play and catching dumpoffs everywhere. Samuel is one of the more intriguing players on the team this year, though the Panthers simply couldn’t get anything going offensively outside of their workhorse running back.

ILB Cory Littleton versus RB Christian McCaffrey

Last week’s matchup to watch:

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.

This matchup was easily the best one of the week as both Cory Littleton and Christian McCaffrey had a fair share of wins. Littleton lead the team with 14 tackles, though he also registered an interception (nearly a touchdown), a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Littleton also had a beautiful rep in man coverage against McCaffrey. CMac on the other hand had over 200 yards from scrimmage with two touchdowns to boot. The guy is one of the best running backs (and receivers out of the backfield) in the league, and he’s off to another terrific start.

FS Eric Weddle versus QB Cam Newton

Last week’s matchup to watch:

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.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the game of cat-and-mouse between Eric Weddle and Cam Newton due to injury. Weddle looked incredibly lively while he played, though he was quickly knocked out of the game after being kicked in the head by McCaffrey on a hurdle. The injury left Weddle bloodied and shook. Newton had a game to forget, missing receivers all over the field and throwing an easy interception.

Rams’ interior OL versus Panters’ interior DL

Last week’s matchup to watch:

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.

The Rams’ offensive line started out struggling, though they settled in as the game continued. The offensive line only allowed one sack and running backs Todd Gurley (6.9 yards-per-carry) and Malcolm Brown (4.8 yards-per-carry) were both productive. The Rams also punched in two redzone touchdowns on the ground by way of Brown. The debut for second-year starters Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen were largely positive.

WR Cooper Kupp versus Panthers’ cornerbacks

Last week’s matchup to watch:

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.

Jared Goff got his best friend in Cooper Kupp back, meaning the rest of the NFL’s been put on notice. Kupp was targeted 10 times, registering seven receptions for 46 yards. Goff had Kupp on two massive gains, one of which might’ve gone for a touchdown had he noticed him. It was great to see one of the leagues best slot receivers healthy and producing.