By Cedric Williams
Most NFL experts figured the St. Louis Rams would probably play well and get themselves a win when they faced the Jacksonville Jaguars two weeks ago at the Edward Jones Dome.
And that’s exactly what happened, as the Rams rolled over the Jags in a 34-20 pounding of the team most consider the worst team in the NFL this year.
This past Sunday, hardly anyone thought St. Louis would have a shot (even if it played well) against a reeling Houston Texans team, which had lost three in a row and needed a win as much as any team in the league did.
But much to the surprise of everyone but the 53 men in the Ram locker room, St. Louis played perhaps its best game of the season and tattooed the Texans for a 38-13 victory that evened the Blue & Gold’s record at 3-3.
In Week 7, the Rams will face another club coming off a big win in the Carolina Panthers, who drilled the Minnesota Vikings 35-10.
The Panthers are led by quarterback Cam Newton, the 2010 Heisman Trophy Award winner and 2011 No. 1 overall NFL draft pick.
Last season, Newton experienced a bit of a sophomore slump, after a breakthrough rookie season, which saw him easily take home the NFL Rookie of the Year award as well.
Newton passed for over 4,000 yards and scored a combined 35 touchdowns (21 passing, 14 rushing) as a rookie, but saw his numbers drop to 3,800-plus passing yards and just 27 combined touchdowns (19 passing, 8 rushing), even though the Panthers won one more game in 2012 (7-9) than they did in 2011 (6-10).
Carolina on Offense
This season, Newton has been a middle-of-the-pack passer for the Panthers, with an 89.4 passer rating and nine touchdown throws, which both rank right around 15th- or 16th-best in the league.
One area where Newton has improved is limiting the number of interceptions he throws.
This season, the former Auburn star has just five INTs in Carolina’s five games, which still works out to one pick a game, but it is also tied for 10th fewest among quarterbacks that have played in all their teams games this year.
Last week, Newton had his best game of the season, completing 20-of-26 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for another score and finished the day with a 143.4 passer rating — the highest such number of his career.
Carolina also has a potent 1-2 punch at running back, with starter DeAngelo Williams getting most of the carries, while fullback Mike Tolbert does his damage catching passes out of the backfield.
The weak link to the Panther offense this season has somewhat surprisingly been at wide receiver, where 13th-year veteran Steve Smith and fourth-year man Brandon LaFell have combined for just 444 receiving yards.
The duo does have five combined touchdowns, but Newton’s favorite target seems to be tight end Greg Olsen, who leads Carolina with 23 catches and 292 yards this season.
Carolina on Defense
Defensively, the Panthers run a base 4-3, but often shift into a modified 5-2 look, with speedy linebackers Luke Keuchly and Thomas Davis designed to make most of the plays.
And for the most part this year, those two have done the job.
Kuechly leads the Panthers in total tackles (45) and is tied for second in interceptions (two) and passes defensed (four), while Davis, who had two sacks, two quarterback pressures, and a game-high nine tackles Sunday against Minnesota, is second on his club with 38 total tackles and tied for the team lead with three sacks.
St. Louis will also see a familiar face manning the Carolina strong safety position, as former Ram Quinton Mikell, who signed with the Panthers as a free agent during the offseason, returned from an ankle injury to make five tackles last week.
Carolina leads the all-time series against St. Louis 11-8, but has won just five of the nine games played away from the Edward Jones Dome.
The last meeting between the clubs came in 2010, when the Rams claimed a 20-10 win in St. Louis.
Carolina has won the last two meetings in Charlotte, 20-7 in 2004 and 15-0 in 2006, but the most memorable game between the Panthers and Rams would have to be the 2003 Divisional Playoff game, which Carolina won 29-23 in double overtime.
That victory propelled the Panthers to their first and only trip to the Super Bowl, while also marking the end of the Rams “Greatest Show on Turf” era, as that was the last season in which St. Louis finished the year with a winning record.
For more Rams news and updates, visit Rams Central.
Cedric Williams, a lifelong St. Louisan and proud UMSL alum, has been a freelance reporter/photographer covering St. Louis area sports for nearly two decades. Most recently, he has been working as a credentialed beat writer covering the Rams and small-school college sports for Examiner.com and other outlets from around the area. Please share any comments, questions, or feedback with Cedric at firstname.lastname@example.org. His work can be found on Examiner.com.