When the St. Louis Rams offense takes the field Sunday, they'll be lining up against a Carolina Panthers' defense that is among the league's best. For the second straight week, the Rams are taking on a top five defensive unit in yardage allowed. Last week, the Rams got some help from the Houston Texans in putting up 38 points. The Panthers aren't likely to be that generous.
Carolina is a mirror image in many ways of the Rams. They're led by a defensive-minded head coach in Ron Rivera and run a 4-3 defense that values getting after the quarterback and dominating the line of scrimmage with their front seven.
The Panthers boast a young, deep, and extremely athletic front four. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are outstanding rush ends while a pair of stout rookies, Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei plug the middle. The engine that drives the Carolina defense, however, is second year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.
Kuechly is everything Rams fans hope James Laurinaitis can become. He's a sure tackler who can make plays in space sideline to sideline. He's also very instinctive in pass defense. He's already equaled his two interceptions from last season and has eight passes defensed in the first five games.
Carolina won't be as likely to gift-wrap extra yardage and first downs like the Texans did last week. They're a very disciplined bunch, tied for fifth in the NFL in fewest penalties. They also get a lot of help from their run-heavy offense who helps keep opposing offenses off the field by moving the chains. Carolina leads the NFL in opposing time of possession.
One area that can be had is in the defensive backfield. Carolina's DBs are quick, but quite small. Both Captain Munnerlyn and Josh Thomas measure less than six feet tall, making them susceptible to the routes against longer receivers. Look for the Rams to try to get Austin Pettis (6'3") and Brian Quick (6'4") in single coverage situations against these two.
Sam Bradford will have to do something we've not seen him do thus far this season, however: put the ball in the air in tight coverage and trust the receivers to make plays. If Bradford plays the check-down game, Carolina is quick to close and doesn't allow much in RAC yards.
The Panthers possess a prolific defense. But they're also 2-3 and can be had. The question is whether the Rams have the personnel and the patience to get it done.
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