Tale Of The Tape: St. Louis Rams At Carolina Panthers
- QuarterbackAny time Sam Bradford has a substandard game, critics are quick to write him off because he lacks impressive physical characteristics. But Bradford usually bounces back with one or two very strong games. He is an intelligent leader who finds the soft spots in the defense and he exploits them with his accurate passing and gutsy playmaking.Cam Newton is one of the most physically gifted quarterbacks in the league, but his performance regularly alternates from high to low to high. Newton was on his game as the Panthers dismantled the Vikings on the road, so it’s fair to expect that he will struggle at home against the Rams since he doesn’t put good performances together back to back.
- OffenseThe Rams have an underrated running game, and Zac Stacy is likely to remain under the radar. Stacy rushed for 79 yards against the Texans, and that was just enough to make life easier for Bradford. Chris Givens has the quickness to get open and Bradford will look for him regularly. Tight end Lance Kendricks is a decent red zone target.The Panthers have the talent to be a dominant offensive team, but they don’t regularly play that way. DeAngelo Williams is an explosive runner who can make big plays when he gets to the secondary. Even when he can’t, he can push the pile. Steve Smith is small in stature, but he plays like a big man who regularly shows courage under pressure. Fellow WR Brandon LaFell is capable of explosive plays.
- DefenseThe Rams don’t get a lot of respect for their defense, but they are improving and capable of shutting down solid offensive teams. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are a pair of solid pass rushers, while middle linebacker James Laurinaitis simply does not miss any tackles. Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree had 10 tackles and a 98-yard interception return for a TD vs. the Texans.The Panthers have a somewhat strange persona on defense. When they start a game well, they can dominate for four quarters. However, when they struggle early, they rarely find the answer. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly brings it every week for four quarters, but you can’t say that about many of his teammates.
- Special TeamsThe Rams stay in their lanes and do a solid job in kickoff coverage. Placekicker Greg Zuerlein has impressive leg strength and gives the Rams a threat when they get inside midfield. Johnny Hekker averaged 45.0 yards on three punts against Houston.The Panthers have some shortcomings in their coverage teams, but they have one of the game’s fastest return men in Ted Ginn. Graham Gano is a dependable placekicker, but he is not elite. Brad Nortman is an excellent directional punter who can drop the ball inside the 20.
The Panthers are an up-and-down team that rarely plays at a peak level two weeks in a row. Cam Newton is just too undependable. Look for the Rams to play a solid road game and press the Panthers for 60 minutes. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor