By Cedric Williams
On the first play of Sunday’s NFL Week 7 showdown against the Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford threw an interception that was returned 45 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Carolina lead.
That was the first indicator that it was going to be a long day for the Rams.
Later in the first quarter, the Rams were stopped on 4th-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line (although they did force a safety on the next play to make the score 7-2.
But on the ensuing possession, rookie Tavon Austin fumbled in Carolina territory and the Panthers recovered. Then a few plays later, kicker Graham Gano booted a field goal, and the home team was up 10-2.
That was a close as St. Louis would get the rest of the day, in one of their sloppiest performances of the season, which eventually became a 30-15 loss to their former NFC West rivals.
St. Louis had chances to get back into the game throughout the day, but just seemed to flub every one of them. With dropped passes on key third downs to constant grabbing and holding penalties in the defensive secondary to getting into fights after nearly every play—which eventually led to the ejection of defensive team captain Chris Long—the Rams were their own worst enemies Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium in suburban Charlotte, N.C.
Here’s how we graded out the Rams following a thorough beatdown at the hands of the Carolina Panthers:
The Rams outgained the Panthers 317 yards to 282, despite holding the ball for nearly seven minutes less of possession time, and Bradford threw for 255 yards and had a 93.1 passer rating.
But a pair of key drops with second-year receiver Brian Quick (one on a sure touchdown in the end zone and the other on a key third down play that would’ve kept a promising drive alive), and three turnovers to Carolina (and none from St. Louis) drops the final mark by at least one letter grade.
The Rams were also called for three personal foul penalties, including two on right guard Harvey Dahl, which made rallying back against the Panthers nearly impossible.
There was also a tripping penalty (called on left tackle Jake Long) that nullified what would’ve been a 63-yard touchdown catch and run by Austin. That play also happened in the first half, when St. Louis was still close enough to have a chance against Carolina.
Carolina’s offense hadn’t played two good games in a row in nearly a year, but the Panthers were efficient, productive, and at times explosive against a Rams defense that seemed to alternate between giving too much cushion and not giving enough.
On one particular play that summed up St. Louis’ day on defense, a 19-yard catch and run by wideout Steve Smith, Rams corner Janoris Jenkins was beaten off the ball because he seemed to be too aggressive in his coverage technique. Then when Smith caught the ball and broke away from Jenkins, safety Matt Giordano was too far away to do anything other than wave as Smith went by into the end zone for a score that made it 27-12 late in the third quarter.
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton had his second straight brilliant passing day in a row, completing 15-of-17 passes for 204 yards, a touchdown, and 136.3 passer rating.
The Rams did sack Newton twice and were able to contain him a bit when he tried to run, but the failures of the secondary were just too much to overcome for St. Louis on Sunday.
Special Teams: B+
Kicker Greg Zuerlein made two tough field goal kicks outdoors and on the natural grass, proving he can be “Greg the Leg” whenever the Rams need him to be.
And with penalties not nullifying his work, Austin was able to finally show some spark on punt and kick returns, including a 20-yarder in the fourth quarter that gave the Rams one last shot at making a comeback.
Coaching Staff – C-
The Rams seemed to have a clear plan that involved throwing the ball deep against Carolina on Sunday, and at times the plays seemed to be there to be made.
But the first pass of the game was intercepted and returned for a touchdown against them. Receivers dropped other passes that could have gone for big gains (which leads one to wonder why the ball was thrown so much to that particular receiver with shaky hands), and no one seemed able to calm the team down as it was clearing losing its composure in the second half.
Four personal fouls and an ejection of a team captain?
That’s just unacceptable. And the responsibility for it falls on the coaches.
Somebody’s got to be able to reign guys in when they’re clearly starting to lose it. And if designed plays are breaking open but players are making the same mistakes to keep those plays from working, that’s on the coaches to find players that will make plays for them.
Sunday was a tough day for the Rams, but things won’t get any easier with the by-God, all-mighty 6-1 Seattle Seahawks coming to town for a date on Monday Night Football next week.
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 email@example.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.