This Sunday at 4:05 PM EST on Fox the 2-5 Carolina Panthers will play the 3-4 Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Two very talented teams trying to find a way to be consistent on game day and generally speaking, not finding it.
The Rams issues are on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line is low on talent and high on “look out” blockers. Fran Tarkenton explained the “type” back in the day as his offensive linemen would miss their blocks then turn and yell “look out!” Mighty thoughtful of them. Tarkenton learned to scramble. Case Keenum has learned to get happy feet and throw interceptions giving up four just last week in their “home” game in London versus the Giants.
RB Todd Gurley is also the recipient of the OL effect as his numbers are pedestrian. Gurly is averaging 3 yards per carry with only three touchdowns total, no runs over 20 yards and no games over 100 yards. No, those stats are not typos. In reality Gurley is getting about 57 yards on 19 carries each game. That’s what happens when the other team can almost ignore your passing game.
The defense is what is keeping the Rams in games and is nasty from top to bottom. DT Aaron Donald and DE Robert Quinn feed off of each other. Alec Oggletree leads the LB corps and TJ McDonald keeps the top on the defense and brings the wood when he can. Trumaine Johnson and Lamarcus Joyner are top-notch corners. You better bring your A game to play ball with these guys. They will hit you often and hurt you when they can.
On paper the Carolina Panthers should be better than last years team. They have 6’5″ Kelvin Benjamin back in the fold and he his playing like a guy who regrets not being on the field during last years Super Bowl run. He’s a handful. TE Greg Olson has picked up where he left off and the talent at the rest of the skill positions is superb. Problem is, they just aren’t playing like it. Dropped balls, penalties and missed assignments have been plaguing this group all season long.
As with the Rams, the Panthers’ offensive line play has been suspect as well with LT Michael Oher regressing from last years performance however he is not alone as line play is down. RB Jonathan Stewart has found the running lanes narrow and only open for a moment having to fight for every yard. Making the line play worse has been the highly inconsistent performance of QB Cam Newton who has not only been inaccurate and indecisive but has also shown poor judgement in his overall decision-making.
Disclaimer – I’m a Cam Newton fan. I love what he can do to a game plan. That being said when you are an NFL QB and you have a legitimate claim (he does) in regards to not getting the same calls/protection as other QB’s (he doesn’t) you DON’T sound off about it in a press conference. You let your coach, GM and Owner handle it. To do otherwise will both indicate those three individuals are not in your corner (they are) and draw a huge target on your chest come game day (he did). Let me explain.
The NFL is filled top to bottom with Alpha males who are taught to look for ways to dominate their opponent. From a defensive perspective almost every one of them ultimately use the same tool. They bring the pain. If you’re a WR and a defense want’s you to think twice about coming across the middle then the safety and/or LB has to lower the boom. You are now in that players head. Same thing for QB’s who want to run isntead of sit in the pocket. You make them pay. It’s been that way since time immemorial. It will be that way tomorrow.
Newton just gave a press conference where he announced how he could be frustrated and that you could possibly take his mind off his game. I feel certain every one of the LA Rams front seven heard his message loud and clear. How much longer are we going to keep saying “well, he’s young….?” Cam needs to think before he acts. He’s the face of a franchise and could be a Super Bowl winning QB. Could be.
Cam Newton and the Panthers offense is not alone in under achieving. Even though the defense lost talented CB Josh Norman they added three talented rookies and returned injured players to the fold. They are incredibly deep along the defensive line and have top shelf talent at LB. Now if they would only play like it.
It starts up front where the interior line is not dominating. After that the dominoes begin to fall. Teams have been able to run and pass on the Panthers and that’s been the story. Last week versus the Cardinals however they looked like a different team, especially in the fist half. For 30 min they looked like a Super Bowl contender and the Cards had zero answer. If that team shows up in LA it will get ugly early as the Panthers defense will give the team great field position and even though the Rams D is good, they won’t be able to hold the talented Panthers offense out of the endzone if the offense starts turning the ball over in Rams territory.
As it often does turnovers will tell the tale on gameday. Keenum tossed four picks last week. I see him gifting up at least a couple more as the Panthers win going away in LA.
What say you Sports Nation?
Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over