Rams v. Panthers Preview: Road To Redemption Begins In Carolina

The Los Angeles Rams enter the 2019 NFL season with high expectations as they look to avenge their abysmal loss in Super Bowl LIII. Their path to redemption will begin on the road against a Carolina Panthers team that also has some unfinished business to take care of.

Rams Offense vs. Panthers Defense

The Rams have boasted one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, injuries to running back Todd Gurley and wide receiver Cooper Kupp had clearly hindered their production down the final stretch of the 2018 campaign. Both players are now healthy and ready to resume their integral roles in head coach Sean McVay’s approach moving forward.

Their first test will be coming against a Panthers defense that has undergone some changes this offseason. Head coach Ron Rivera decided to switch up their look from a 4-3 to a hybrid 3-4. As a result, they put an emphasis on shoring up more versatile players that fit their new scheme.

Luckily for Los Angeles, Carolina will be without one of their notable additions in outside linebacker Bruce Irvin. As a result, they will be relying on two unproven backups in Marquis Haynes and Brian Burns to fill in on the edge. Haynes played in just four games as a rookie while Burns is still trying to find his footing after being taken with the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Rams Defense vs. Panthers Offense

The Rams’ defense also experienced some turnover at key positions this offseason with the departure of safety Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Mark Barron, and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Fortunately, they managed to alleviate their losses by bringing in some quality veterans like safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Clay Matthews to help fill the void. Their experience should serve as a stabilizing factor for this otherwise young group.

The biggest question surrounding the Panthers’ offense going into the regular season is the nature of quarterback Cam Newton’s recovery from two shoulder surgeries over the last three years. A healthy Newton could potentially give the Rams’ defense some fits as evidenced by their 6-2 start to last season. Regardless, it remains to be seen if he is at 100 percent. It is safe to say that they will be relying heavily on running back Christian McCaffrey to carry the load on offense while Newton finds his footing early on.

Three Keys To Victory

1. Quality Over Quantity With Todd Gurley’s Touches

There has been plenty of speculation regarding the severity of Gurley’s knee injury this offseason. The Rams have taken a cautious approach with his activity throughout training camp and the preseason. Although all signs point to him taking on a decreased workload moving forward, it remains to be seen just how much it will be.

Regardless, there is no denying that the offense is at its best when Gurley is the featured option. As much credit as McVay gets for his innovative approach, he seems to understand that their success is centered around a strong run game. The onus will now fall on him to ensure that he is maximizing the potential of his All-Pro running back while also having him avoid any unnecessary wear and tear. This could include more touches out in space rather than between the tackles.

The Panthers finished as one of the more consistent rush defenses in the league last season. If anything, Week 1 should provide a solid indication of Gurley’s new role on offense.

2. Contain Christian McCaffrey

Of course, Gurley is not the only notable offensive superstar bouncing back from injury. Newton spent the offseason recovering from a second shoulder surgery and it is safe to assume that the Panthers will be taking a similar approach as the Rams by not having him carry too much of the load on offense.

Fortunately for them, they still have a bonafide workhorse in running back Christian McCaffrey to help alleviate the pressure off Newton. He is coming off a historic season in which he set the single-season record for most receptions by a running back with 107 en route to second-team All-Pro honors.

While trying to limit his production both on the ground and through the air is certainly a tall task, it will be necessary if the Rams hope to avoid too much crowd noise at the Bank of America Stadium.

Establish Protection For Jared Goff

The Rams made some significant changes to their offensive line this offseason with the departure of left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan. They will now leave the protection of quarterback Jared Goff in the hands of a couple of unproven replacements in Joseph Noteboom and Brian Allen.

Both players have not seen the field much since being taken with the third and four-round picks, respectively, in the 2018 NFL Draft. Los Angeles is now hoping to get quite a return on their investment as Noteboom and Allen look to prove themselves as viable starters in an offense with high standards.

They will certainly have their hands full facing a Panthers defensive line that was revamped with the addition of Burns and six-time Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy this offseason.

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