The Carolina Panthers have always had an identity as a team ever since coming into the league. All teams create an identity at some point or another, but the Panthers made one right from the get-go. Just as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been known for dominant defenses, and the St. Louis Rams and San Diego Chargers are known for high-flying offenses. The Panthers have always been known as a traditional running team with a stout defense, an identity than Carolina is beginning to get back. The defense has been consistently solid this season, but the running game has been up and down, and the Panthers will need it to be strong against St. Louis.
The Rams have built up a surprisingly vicious defensive unit, one built more on athleticism and speed than on size and strength. The Rams not only have the speedy pass-rushing duo of Chris Long and Robert Quinn, but they also have talented young linebackers in Alec Ogletree and James Lauranitis, and a ballhawk in the secondary in Janoris Jenkins. The Panthers don’t have the speed on offense to challenge the Rams’ defense with the deep ball or with outside runs, so they will have to focus on the power run game.
DeAngelo Williams will obviously be the focus of attack, but he will surely not be the only ballcarrier on Sunday. The Panthers will primarily run Williams between the tackles in the I and Ace formations, as well as occasionally in the shotgun formation through draws and read-option plays. Williams should see 20-25 carries in this game, but the Panthers will also pound the inside with Mike Tolbert and Cam Newton, and all three of those player should soften up the interior of the Rams’ line and keep Quinn and Long from pinning their ears back.
The Panthers will and also keep the Rams’ defense on their heels through the screen game. The Panthers haven’t looked to Steve Smith much in the screen game lately, instead turning to Ted Ginn Jr. and Brandon Lafell, and the combination should find success against the Rams. Once the Panthers establish the inside run game, then the Rams’ D-line and linebackers will have their eyes in the backfield. A quick fake to Williams will draw the defense in and distract them from oncoming blocks, while Ginn or Lafell set up. The back and forth pulling on the defense cause by the run-screen game, which will cause mistakes and lead to big plays in the fourth quarter. Just you wait and see.