Rams vs. Panthers: 2 Teams In Turmoil Look For A Positive Outcome

Rams are favored heavily against a Panthers team in turmoil. A look at the key matchups in this Week 6 clash.

Ryan Anderson
Rams Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell
Rams Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell

Rams vs The Injury Bug

It’s one thing when interior linemen or parts of the secondary are on the injury report, it’s a whole other thing when Aaron Donald and Cooper Kupp show up on the list. Both are listed as questionable heading into the Los Angeles Rams matchup with Carolina, as is Tyler Higbee. Sean McVay does expect that all will play, but injuries are injuries. The Rams can not afford to lose the players that account for a good chunk of the pass-catching offense and pass rush. Higbee and Kupp make up over 60 percent of Matthew Staffords passing yards thus far and Donald is the only defender getting consistent pressure on quarterbacks.

Les Snead famously ‘thinks in bets,’ one of the bets that he and Rams brass have made is that, through various methods, they can keep their players healthy and on the field. And for the most part, they have won that bet. The Rams have been one of the healthiest teams since McVay took the reigns.

This year that bet isn’t paying off. In part, this proves that bad luck can strike even if a team utilizes the most advanced tracking data, common sense load management, and good quality sports science. There still remains a component to injuries that is just left up to chance.

That said, in some instances, the probability of injury goes up with usage, making the risk of some injuries more predictable. Cooper Kupp’s usage has gone up significantly over the last two seasons. In 2019, Kupp had the most targets of his career until 2021. He was targeted just over eight times a game. In 2021 that was up to almost 11 targets per game. So far this season it’s 12.4 targets per game. That’s an increase of 64 percent from 2019.

He’s on pace to take 79 more hits, pops, whacks, and thuds from defenders over the course of this season than he did in 2019. And after the season he had last year, you know defenses will be trying to lay the wood against him.

This makes finding another pass-catching option all the more important. Getting Allen Robinson and Tutu Atwell integrated into the offense will not only diversify the offense, but it also will help Kupp stay healthy over the long term

Carolina isn’t fairing much better in the injury department. Baker Mayfield is listed as doubtful, so P.J. Walker will be the likely starting quarterback. Rising star cornerback Jaycee Horn is questionable and wide receivers Laviska Shenault and D.J. Moore have struggled with injuries, although Moore’s shoulder injury won’t keep him out of the game on Sunday.

Cam Akers was also listed on the injury report because he missed practice, but the reason given was “Personal.” During Friday’s press conference McVay addressed a question about Akers’ future with the team, by saying, “We’re working through some different things right now.”

Which didn’t clarify much, but it was announced that Akers would miss the game against the Panthers.

The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue reported that ‘The coach said that Akers was physically OK and indicated that the situation was not football-related or performance-related as it pertained to the Rams’ run game as a whole.’

McVay went on to say, “I would say it’s more like we’re dealing with things internally. I don’t know, exactly…these are kind of uncharted territories. Out of respect for the situation, I want to keep it internal.”

The Rams coaching staff has been uncharacteristically openly critical of Akers and of the running backs in general. McVay, who generally prefers to deflect blame away from players and onto himself, said he wanted to see more ‘urgency’ from Akers. Offensive coordinator, Liam Coen, said the running backs lacked creativity.

Joe Noteboom vs Brian Burns

The Panthers are bad. So bad they fired their head coach and defensive coordinator mid-season. The one shining spot for this team is their pass rush and Brian Burns is the tip of the spear. He is fourth in the league with 24 pressures. He also has four sacks and four hits and 16 hurries. The Rams just played against two of the three players ahead of him, Nick Bosa and Micah Parsons and you don’t need to remind you of how that turned out.

Joseph Noteboom had one of his best games of the season going up against Parsons and one of his worst against Bosa. Burns will be a good test for Noteboom to see if he is pointed in the right direction or if last week was a one-off performance.

Another pass rusher for the Rams to keep an eye on is Matthew Ioannidis. Ioannidis plays along the defensive interior and has logged 10 pressures in the last two games. The Rams interior has struggled mightily over the last few games.

The additions of Matt Skura and Oday Aboushi make predicting the interior lineup a tough task. Alaric Jackson, who had been a standout, struggled against the Cowboys. Jeremiah Kolone is proving he is not a starting-level center this season. And Bobby Evans has struggled in both outings he’s played. A’Change is a’coming, but exactly who goes where is up in the air.

Despite the struggles, the Rams are going through right now, they are still favored by 9.5 points to win. The best chance Carolina has is using Burns and Ioannidis to take advantage of this brutalized offensive line

Rams Run Defense vs Christian McCaffrey

Another way Carolina can stay in the game is with a big game from Christian McCaffrey. Outside of McCaffrey, there aren’t many ways this team can move the ball or score points. He accounts for a third of the team’s first downs and nearly 38 percent of the team’s yards on offense. In the two games that McCaffrey surpassed 100 yards rushing the Panthers had their best games. They beat the Saints and lost to the Giants by only three points.

Interestingly, in the two games since he has only rushed the ball 22 times after rushing 25 times against New Orleans. Which may be a fireable offense in and of itself. How the newly installed coach utilizes McCaffrey is anyone’s guess at this moment, but if they want to give themselves a chance, I would opt for somewhere between a lot and a lot more.

For all the gripes about the Rams offense, one thing is true; the Rams run defense is elite. They are the top-ranked PFF run defense and fifth-best by DVOA. They are tied for 7th allowing only 4.1 yards per rush and have allowed only 29 first downs on the ground, 8th in the league.

That said, explosive runs have heavily contributed to the losses over the last two weeks. But that has not been McCaffrey’s strong suit this season, he has six runs of 10 yards or more which is tied for 28th among running backs. The Rams defense has to make sure that trend continues. Both Bobby Wagner and Ernest Jones have played a huge role in limiting those kinds of run plays. They will factor heavily in containing McCaffrey.

McCaffrey is also known for catching the ball out of the backfield, although he has only had one game with more than 10 targets and one game for more than 50 yards. McCaffrey’s best game was against Arizona. They allowed McCaffrey nine catches, 81 yards, and a touchdown in Week 4.

So far he is on pace to hit around 650 yards of receiving this season, which is an admirable number, but nowhere near his amazing pre-injury seasons. Matt Rhule was starting to use him more over the last two weeks, but with the new regime in place, it is again, hard to say how he will be used. But giving a third-string quarterback short high-percentage passes seems like a smart thing to do.

Rams Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell