There were three things I knew about the Rams before I started researching for this post; they have Steven Jackson (who apparently overcomes injuries like wolverine), are starting the #1 overall pick QB Sam Bradford, and Na'il Diggs is their starting SLB.
The Rams have a 3-4 record with wins against Washington, Seattle and San Diego; and losses to Arizona, Oakland, Detroit, and Tampa Bay.. The Rams haven't been afraid to put the pall in the air this season with 260 attempts, 4th most in the NFL, which I find surprising given they are staring a rookie quarterback. Bradford been decent during his short career (he's outplayed either of our QB, at least before this past week) with a QB rating of 71.4, a completion percentage of 56.2, thrown 9 TD against 8 interceptions, and has been sacked 15 times this season; about average for team total sacks in the NFL. He's throwing for an average of 198.3 yard/game (21st) gaining with an average of 5.7 yard/throw (31st).
Bradford had developed an excellent rapport with WR Mark Clayton before he had a season ending knee injury. In his place the leading receiver is now Danny Amendola with 39 catches with 351 yards for a 9.0 yrd/rec average; second on the list is Steven Jackson with 16 receptions. After Clayton when down the in week 4, rookie WR Danario Alexander put up great stats two week later with 4 receptions for 72 yards and 1 TD and many thought he might take Clayton's place as a go to target. However, he disappeared the next week, losing snaps to Mardy Gilyard.
However, even though they have taken to the air their offensive strength lies in their running game ranked 13th (112.4 yards/game) on 205 attempts (8th in the NFL). Of course their lead rusher is Steven Jackson (who had surgery on his ring finger this past Monday but will be play). The Rams have a team average of 3.8 y/c but Jackson's is slightly higher at 4.1 y/c. His career average is 8.3 y/c. Football outsiders ranks the Rams offensive line rushing game in Adjusted Line Yards at 19th in the NFL, behind Dallas and ahead of Arizona, but move to the passing game and they are ranked 8th, between the Giants and the Saints. When FO divides ALY between attempts at LE, LT, G/C, RT, RE, the Rams rank 7, 23, 23, 13, and 1 respectively. Yet surprisingly they attempt most of their runs up the middle with 58% of the attempts, 5% LE, 15% LT, 58% G/C, 16% RT, and 6% RE. With their success off the RE, I would have thought their attempts in that direction would have been much higher.
Finally, the Rams also have the 2nd most plays from scrimmage with 480 (only behind the Falcons) but only hold a TOP advantage of 31:17 against their opponents.
So what will we see from our defense and how do we stop the Rams? Here are my three keys to our defensive this week.
Panthers MLB Dan Connor vs Rams RB Steven Jackson
With most of their rushing attempts up the middle, it will be up to Connor to close any running lanes. While it could be a pure numbers game, the Rams have lost more yardage on rushing attempt up the middle. If Connor can bottle up Jackson and force Bradford to beat us through the air (although he's not shy on doing so), I like our chances even better this week.
Panthers DE Charles Johnson vs Rams QB Sam Bradford
The defensive line was a force during preseason; how long ago that was. Yet as we are well aware pressure on rookie QB's can be highly effective. While their offensive line has only given up 15 sacks, it's time for our DE to return to their dominance once again. I'm expecting at least two sacks (not necessarily both from C. Johnson) this week and plenty of pressure otherwise.
Panthers SS Charles Godfrey vs QB Sam Bradford and RB Steven Jackson
A strong safety primary role is run support, so if Connor isn't able to take down Jackson, Godfrey needs to be in position. In addition, he will also need to be in position to grab any errant passes our active defensive line might cause. We gone from week 4 not allowing a rusher to gain over 80 yards, to two weeks in a row allow over 100. Godfrey will need to do his part in limiting the amount of time the Rams are on the field.
Let me know if I'm totally off base with my defensive keys and what would you say our defense must do to keep us in the game.