Last week the Carolina Panthers gained some confidence after picking up a 35-10 win against the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was a complete one-sided affair in favor of the Cats in black and blue.
I think it's safe to assume that Carolina wants to repeat that performance this week when St. Louis comes to town. Here are five keys for a victory this Sunday against the Rams that will help them get back to .500 for the first time since Week Two of last season.
Protect Cam Newton
We could probably put this as a key to victory every week, because it's no coincidence that the team's success will depend on whether or not the Panthers' offensive line can give Newton the protection he needs to make plays and move the football down the field consistently.
It's really simple: if the Rams' defensive line is able to get to Newton and disrupt his rhythm with regularity, it's going to be a really long day. St. Louis has playmakers on defense -- Chris Long, Michael Brockers and James Laurinaitis to name a few -- so the Panthers will have to keep Newton upright if they want to leave this game with a victory.
Score real touchdowns instead of Mike Shula Touchdowns
Scoring touchdowns worked last week, and it's just as important this week. While the Rams have playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, they are prone to give up points. Last week's game against the Texans was the first time this season they didn't surrender at least 20 points. The Panthers should take advantage of the defense's charity and put touchdowns on the board instead of settling for field goals. It could be the difference in a win and a loss on Sunday.
Don't let Tavon Austin take over
It's been said that the Rams aren't taking advantage of Austin's abilities in open space enough so far this season, and the Panthers need to make sure they're not the first team to allow Austin to do what he did best at West Virginia. With the questions the Panthers have in the secondary it's important that the front seven get enough pressure to prevent Sam Bradford from getting the ball to Austin in space, because if the Rams are able to do that it could be a long day for the Panthers' defense.
Win the turnover battle
It's no secret that games are won and lost because of turnovers. The Panthers need to ensure that they win the turnover battle on Sunday. Currently, the Rams are 5th in the league with a +6 turnover margin, and the Panthers are 12th with a +2 turnover margin. Most of the time when two teams are pretty evenly matched the game comes down to who forces their opponent into making the most mistakes. That's probably going to be the case this Sunday, so the Panthers need to ensure they limit their miscues while taking advantage of any errors by the Rams.
Don't fall apart in the second half
The Panthers have a tendency to play well in the first half of the game and then completely shut down in the second half. We saw it two weeks ago against Arizona. The Panthers led 6-3 at halftime and then looked like a completely different team when they came back out on the field for the second half. They simply cannot afford to do this if they want to win games, and this week against the Rams is no different. If Carolina plays the second half of this game the way they did two weeks ago they will be 2-4 when the clock hits zero, but if they can have another consistent four quarters of good football like they did last week in Minnesota, they will accomplish their goal of making it to .500 on the season.
That's it for this week's Friday Five. If Carolina can follow this road map against the Rams on Sunday they should be able to claim their third victory of the season and get to that elusive .500 record they've been chasing since Week 2 of last season.