The St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers meet yet again in this newest incarnation of the old NFC West rivalry, and this one looks to be a good one. Both teams are coming off big wins; the Panthers shutting down Adrian Peterson and the Vikings while the Rams dump-trucked the once great Texans. Both quarterbacks have faced harsh criticism since being drafted first overall, but now both are trending up and beginning to play to their potential. And while both quarterbacks are capable of making plays, this game will come down to a few key matchups:
DeAngelo Williams vs. James Laurinaitis
Williams has had a resurgent year this season after struggling with injuries over the past few seasons, ninth in the NFL in rushing yards despite a 39-yard hiccup against the Cardinals. Laurinaitis on the other hand has been a tackling machine all his career, even when he was at Ohio State, playing like Luke Kuechly before Kuechly was around. Williams and Laurinaitis will meet a number of times on Sunday, an how each performs during those collisions could be the difference between first downs and punts, touchdowns and field goals.
Steve Smith vs. Janoris Jenkins
Smith hasn’t looked quite like himself this season, amassing only 23 catches and 224 yards in five games despite receiving a majority of the targets. One the other side, Jenkins has played very well since being drafted a year ago, somehow managing to shine in a division stuffed with talented defensive backs after being passed over in the first round due to character concerns. Smith desperately needs to bounce back, and he should get more than his share of targets with Robert Quinn and Chris Long bearing down on Cam Newton. Jenkins will have to keep Smith quiet, and his coverage could mean the difference between hits and sacks.
Thomas Davis vs. Jared Cook
Davis will be the first to admit that he isn’t as fast or as quick since incurring those three knee injuries, but he remains one of the league’s best coverage linebackers. Cook has emerged as Sam Bradford’s favorite receivers, just another one of the athletic tight ends that are taking over the league. But while Davis won’t be able to match up with Cook physically, Davis savvy will more than make up for his physical deficiencies. Davis was drafted as a safety out of Georgia, and he continues to show defensive backs skills in coverage in the strongside linebacker spot. If Davis can shut down Cook then the Rams offense will stagnate, and that vaunted front four will wreak some serious havoc.