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Panthers and Rams look to establish the run early ...
Panthers and Rams look to establish run early
By Scouts Inc
Friday, September 7, 2007
Why To Watch
This should be a great matchup between two NFC teams that appear to have opposing strong suits. The Rams have an explosive offense, but their run defense is questionable. The Panthers, when healthy, have been stout on defense but have stumbled on offense when Steve Smith, their outstanding wide receiver, is out of the lineup. Panthers coach John Fox might be on the hot seat if he doesn't get to the postseason, and it's important for him to get his team on track early in the season. There is also an early quarterback controversy in Carolina and Fox has to decide how long he will be patient with Jake Delhomme now that David Carr is second on the depth chart.
When the Panthers have the ball
Rushing: The Panthers have two excellent backs in DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams. Look for new offensive coordinator Jeff Davidson to establish their ground attack early, with Williams primarily working off tackle and on the perimeter while Foster pounds the ball more between the tackles. Fox is known for his hard-nosed philosophy, and Rams defensive coordinator Jim Haslett is facing pressure to improve a run defense that was ranked last in 2006. The Rams drafted defensive tackle Adam Carriker in the first round to shore up the middle of their defense, and Haslett has expanded their package with more eight-man fronts, zone-run blitzes and interior stunts. Carolina will use fullback Brad Hoover, who is a good football player, along with a heavy dose of two-back sets early in the game to challenge the Rams' defense to stop its ground assault. The offensive and defensive lines appear to be somewhat evenly matched, so the difference may be in how well the Rams' linebackers can corral Foster and Williams in their 4-3 base front.
Passing: Davidson, who was the Panthers' line coach, is known for emphasizing the running game but will use multiple sets to create mismatches for the perimeter receivers. The key to Carolina's offensive success has been the play of Smith. When he is healthy, he draws double and triple coverage, which opens up other options for the Panthers signal-callers. Look for Smith to stretch the field and find the soft spots in the mostly two-deep zones of the Rams. With the departure of Keyshawn Johnson, Delhomme will look to Williams and Foster more often as targets. Wide receiver Keary Colbert is solid and has had a good preseason, but we should look for Davidson to try to get the ball to rookie wideout Dwayne Jarrett as he creates matchup problems with his 6-4 frame, strength and athleticism. Delhomme didn't play in the last preseason game because he is somewhat banged-up. His completion percentage was down to 56 percent in the preseason, and though Carr didn't play particularly well last week, he did finish with a completion percentage of 66 in the preseason and Fox might turn to him as early as Week 1 if Delhomme stumbles.
When the Rams have the ball
Rushing: The Rams have one of the most productive all-purpose backs in the league in Steven Jackson. The fourth-year player out of Oregon State has an excellent combination of power, speed and athleticism. Jackson is at his best between the tackles, but has the burst and speed to turn the corner. Offensive coordinator Greg Olson and head coach Scott Linehan like to put the ball in the air after the running game is established with Jackson early in the game. The addition of second-round pick RB/FB Brian Leonard gives even more options in both the ground attack and passing game. Leonard is used as both a lead blocker and a halfback in their one-back sets. Linehan uses Leonard on inside power plays because he has excellent inline vision but doesn't have the burst to get to the perimeter. The Panthers, who will be trying to stop Jackson and Leonard from running, have one of the best defenses versus the run in the league, and defensive coordinator Mike Trgovac rarely uses eight-man fronts or exotic stunts. The St. Louis offensive line has its work cut out for it with the size and power of the Carolina interior defenders Kris Jenkins (6-5, 335) and Ma'ake Kemoeatu (6-4, 350). Plus, defensive end Julius Peppers is excellent at setting the edge and making it tough to gain yards on the perimeter. The Rams' ground attack is set up by their explosive passing attack, and we should look for multiple sets and motions to outmaneuver this stout Panthers defense.
Passing: Rams QB Marc Bulger has been one of the most productive signal-callers the past few seasons and completed 63 percent of his attempts with 24 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2006. Linehan is known for his wide-open passing game and multiple sets to create mismatches in the secondary. Veteran receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt have been one of the top duo combinations in the league. Along with the wide receivers, Jackson caught 90 balls in 2006, and Leonard should be another competent option for Bulger out of the backfield. The Rams' air attack is based primarily on deep quarterback drops with timing routes that attack all three levels of the field. The acquisition of athletic tight end Randy McMichael in the offseason makes this already-potent passing attack even more dangerous. The Panthers use a good mix of three-deep and two-deep zone coverages out of a base 4-3 front, and the key to the Rams' success will be the ability to protect Bulger versus the power rush of Jenkins and using different players (tight end, back, etc.) to chip and double-team Peppers coming off the edge.
Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins has been solid the past few seasons, especially indoors. St. Louis added punter Donnie Jones from Miami in the offseason and acquired a dangerous return specialist in Dante' Hall. The quickness and speed of Hall is even more evident on the indoor carpet, and Carolina will have its hands full containing him. The Panthers have two dangerous returners in Williams and Smith, but it is likely neither will be used in that role. The Panthers are very solid with veteran kicker John Kasay and punter Jason Baker. Kasay is extremely accurate and has great poise under pressure. Baker has a strong leg with great hang time to gain field position on the change of possession.
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