Panthers vs. Rams
By Scouts Inc

Friday, September 7, 2007

Earlier this week, our scouts filed their advance scouting report on this week's matchup between the Panthers and Rams. Now they're back with a second look.

Matchup to watch
St. Louis CB Tye Hill vs. Carolina WR Steve Smith

Second-year man Hill will likely draw the unenviable task of covering Smith. St. Louis will game plan with double coverage and help on Smith, but there will be many times when Hill will have no help and be asked to hold up out on an island. Hill has excellent quickness, burst and speed in coverage along with great instincts for jumping routes as receivers come out of their stems. Smith is explosive off the line of scrimmage and can blow by most corners if they don't keep their cushion. Hill lacks great size and will need to change up his techniques (playing off at times and also jamming Smith off the line of scrimmage). Carolina counts on Smith for a few big plays in every game, so keep an eye on this matchup as Hill will be on his own when Haslett decides to bring all-out pressure.

Did the Rams do enough to upgrade their defense and improve their ability to stop the run?
St. Louis ranked 31st in the league against the run last season, but with after drafting two defensive linemen and making other offseason acquisitions defensive coordinator Jim Haslett hopes to make a huge improvement in this area. Rookie Adam Carriker will play the on the nose most often but Haslett will likely move him around according to down and distance. There wasn't much improvement during the preseason so Haslett will employ mixed eight-man fronts and interior stunts to slow down the potent Panthers ground attack in Week 1. The Rams' linebackers are somewhat undersized so Carriker will need to draw double-teams to keep opposing lineman from getting to the second level. Head coach Scott Linehan would like for his defense to be able to stymie the opponent's ground attack out of its base 4-3 front but it hasn't shown that ability thus far. It appears the Rams haven't done enough to become stout versus the run and against one of the more physical running games in the league, they should find out quickly how far they have to go.
Can the Rams offense be explosive against one of the better defenses in the NFL? The Rams offense should only get better this season after the acquisition of athletic tight end Randy McMichael through free agency and versatile back Brian Leonard in the 2007 draft. Look for Linehan to spread the physical Carolina defense out with formations and attack the coverage at all three levels. Leonard and Steven Jackson will see some screens and dump-offs out of the backfield while Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Dante' Hall will stretch the field on the perimeter. McMichael is excellent as a mid-range crosser and also has enough speed to split the Cover 2 deep down the middle. The Panthers are extremely versatile along the defensive line with two huge bodies in the middle and one of the most explosive defensive ends in the NFL in Julius Peppers. Rams offensive coordinator Greg Olsen will likely chip Peppers with a back or tight end in passing situations and work away from him when establishing the run. St. Louis was susceptible to the sack in 2006 and the Panthers have shown that they can pressure the quarterback out of their base front. If the Rams can shore up their pass protection should look for them to score enough points to win the game.

Can the Rams secondary contain Steve Smith?
The St. Louis secondary was solid against the pass in 2006 (189.7 ypg), and while the Rams held Smith to only four receptions a year ago, one of them was a 62-yard touchdown. Haslett may take a similar approach to last season in his Week 1 game plan, using different players to double-team Smith. Look for the Rams to take some chances mixing in nickel coverages and stunting up front on first down to help on Smith while scheming to disrupt the Panthers' running game. Haslett will likely be aggressive defending both the running game and the Smith factor with a mixture of "robber" coverages (combination man and zone schemes) to make quarterback Jake Delhomme find other targets. St. Louis has enough talent in the secondary to have success against Smith but will need to be creative with blitz packages and exotic coverages.

Scouts' Edge

The Scouts Inc. Position Advantage

This should be a tight contest with Carolina establishing a strong ground attack vs. a Rams defense that is still looking for answers up front. Panthers head coach John Fox favors low-scoring affairs and will try and control the ball to keep Bulger and the Rams offense off the field. St. Louis had its worst offensive output of 2006 against the Panthers but should have enough firepower to put points on the board in the opener. It appears the Rams have more offensive weapons than Carolina can defend, and as in most games the battle in the trenches should be a key to victory. If the Rams can spread the field and protect Bulger in the pocket they should have a good day moving the chains through the air. If the Panthers' solid run defense shows up early it's likely Linehan won't force-feed the ground attack. If Haslett can find a way to keep Smith out of the end zone and still disrupt the Panthers ground assault the Rams should have a chance to win a squeaker late in the forth quarter.

Prediction: Rams 21, Panthers 20