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NFL Preview - Carolina (1-5) at St. Louis (3-4)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - An inability to play a full 60 minutes cost the St. Louis Rams their first road win of the season last weekend. The Carolina Panthers, meanwhile, played until the final whistle and were rewarded with their inaugural victory of 2010.
Carolina will try to put forth another complete effort this Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, where St. Louis will be aiming for a fourth straight victory at home.
Facing a San Francisco club that owned just one victory so far on the season last Sunday, the Panthers trailed by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter before rallying for a 23-20 victory on John Kasay's 37-yard field goal with 39 seconds left.
Carolina had earlier tied the game on a diving 23-yard touchdown catch by rookie wide receiver David Gettis, and cornerback Richard Marshall intercepted a pass in the final minute to help set up Kasay's kick.
The game-tying catch was extra special for Gettis, a sixth-round pick in the 2010 draft out of Baylor, after he dropped a sure-touchdown grab earlier in the game.
"He's shown steady improvement since the day we got him," said Carolina head coach John Fox of Gettis. "He is a guy that wasn't utilized a whole lot in his college playing days as a receiver. He's got a lot of the skill set to be a good receiver as far as size, speed. I've seen him grow a lot."
Gettis may have to make a few more plays in this one, as running back DeAngelo Williams is day-to-day with a foot sprain suffered against San Francisco. Williams missed practice time earlier in the week due to the ailment.
The Panthers, who were coming off their bye week prior to playing the 49ers, snapped a five-game losing streak to start the season and ended their worst beginning since going 0-7 in 1998.
The Rams know a little something about losing streaks. Sunday's 18-17 setback to the Buccaneers was their sixth in a row on the road, including three straight defeats as the guest this year.
St. Louis now returns home, where it has won three straight. At 3-4 overall this year, the Rams trail both front-running Seattle (4-2) and Arizona (3-3) in the NFC West.
Rookie quarterback Sam Bradford and company actually led the Buccaneers by 17-3 at one point and carried an 11-point advantage into halftime, but the Rams were outscored 12-0 in the second half.
"We're going to have to look at the film and find out what we're doing different in the first half that is allowing us to have success that we're not doing in the second half," said Bradford, who threw a pair of touchdown passes. "I've got to make more plays."
Bradford and head coach Steve Spagnuolo hope that running back Steven Jackson will be able to go in this one after he had surgery on his left ring finger on Monday. Spagnuolo said he wasn't sure if his starting back would play this weekend, but Jackson tweeted on Monday that he "shouldn't miss a beat" after the surgery.
St. Louis will honor former wide receiver Isaac Bruce by retiring his No. 80 jersey before the game. Bruce spent the first 14 seasons of his 16-year career with the Rams, playing in 197 games and making 942 catches for 14,109 yards with 84 touchdowns.
Carolina holds a 10-7 advantage in its regular-season series with St. Louis and has won the last three meetings between the teams, the most recent being a 27-13 triumph at the Edward Jones Dome in the 2007 season opener. The Rams last defeated the Panthers in 2001, when they swept a home-and-home with their then-division rival. These two clubs were both members of the NFC West from 1995-2001.
The Panthers and Rams have also met once in the postseason, with Carolina taking a 29-23 double-overtime victory in a 2003 NFC Divisional Playoff en route to a Super Bowl appearance.
Including that playoff win, Fox is 4-0 in his career against the Rams, while Spagnuolo will be opposing both the Panthers and Fox for the first time.
WHEN THE PANTHERS HAVE THE BALL
Scoring hasn't been Carolina's strong suit, whether is has been Matt Moore (650 passing yards, 4 TD, 7 INT) or rookie Jimmy Clausen (454 passing yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) under center. The Panthers rank 32nd in scoring (12.5 points per game), 31st in total offense (259.8 yards per game) and 31st in passing (164.2 ypg). The Panthers' inability to move things through the air has also hindered the running game (95.7 ypg), despite the club possessing two quality backs in Williams (361 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Jonathan Stewart (148 rushing yards, 3 total TD). Williams was limited to just 44 yards on 19 carries last week, while Stewart had 14 run attempts for 29 yards. Still, Moore has won seven of his 11 career starts and threw for a career-high 308 yards last weekend. He was able to click with Gettis (18 receptions), who set career highs with eight catches for 125 yards along with his first two touchdown grabs. Gettis and wide receiver Brandon LaFell (11 receptions), who had six catches for 91 yards, gave Moore options not named Steve Smith (17 receptions, 2 TD), who ended with four catches for 50 yards as Carolina posted 379 yards of total offense last week.
Though the Rams' defense was unable to prevent Tampa Bay's one-yard touchdown pass by Josh Freeman to Carnell Williams with 10 seconds left last weekend, the unit still put together an effort that kept St. Louis in the game. The Bucs managed just 189 yards through the air against the Rams' 18th-ranked pass defense (221.9 YPG), and teams are scoring just an average of 18.7 points per game (eighth overall) against St. Louis. The Rams did fail to record a turnover against the Buccaneers, but got three sacks. Defensive end Chris Long (14 tackles, 4 sacks) got to the quarterback for third time in two games last week, while fellow end James Hall (24 tackles, 7 sacks) has 4 1/2 sacks in his last four games. Linebacker James Laurinaitis (46 tackles, 1 sack) led St. Louis with eight tackles last weekend, while Bryan Kehl (14 tackles) notched six. With a number of players in the secondary dealing with injuries, including starting corners Ron Bartell (23 tackles) and Bradley Fletcher (35 tackles, 2 INT), the Rams signed safety Michael Lewis and cornerback Quincy Butler this week. St. Louis also put nose tackle Clifton Ryan on injured reserve due to recurring migraine headaches, while Bartell is dealing with shoulder and thigh injuries and Fletcher a hamstring issue. Safety James Butler (20 tackles, 1 INT) is also doubtful due to a sprained MCL.
WHEN THE RAMS HAVE THE BALL
The Rams appeared to be rolling to a victory last weekend before their offense went cold in the second half. Bradford (1483 passing yards, 9 TD, 8 INT) threw for just 126 yards on 13-of-26 passing, but did complete short touchdown throws to wide receiver Danny Amendola (39 receptions, 1 TD) and rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (4 receptions, 1 TD). Bradford posted his third career multi-touchdown passing game last week, and his 89.6 passer rating was a career high thanks to zero interceptions. Overall, the Rams rank 27th in scoring (17.1 ppg) and are 13th in rushing with an average of 112.4 yards per game on the ground. Jackson (617 rushing yards, 2 TD) totaled 110 yards on 22 carries against the Bucs and seeks a fourth straight game of surpassing the century mark. His total last week also put him past Marshall Faulk for the most rushing yards in team history with 7,324. Jackson also made two catches for team-leading 35 yards versus Tampa Bay, while Amendola led the club with three receptions in the game. Wideouts Brandon Gibson (12 receptions, 1 TD) and Laurent Robinson (7 receptions, 1 TD) both had disappointing games, as they combined for three catches for 20 yards.
While they have struggled against the run, allowing 128.5 yards per game for the year, the Panthers have done very well in shutting down the opposition's passing game. San Francisco managed just 183 passing yards last weekend and Carolina ranks fourth in the NFL with an average of 182.5 yards per game allowed through the air. Defensive end Charles Johnson (19 tackles, 3 sacks) had a sack last week that knocked Niners quarterback Alex Smith out of the game, while tackle Derek Landri (21 tackles, 1 sack) also got the quarterback for his first sack as a Panther. Marshall (28 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) totaled six tackles in addition to his game-changing interception, while linebacker James Anderson (60 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) led the club with seven tackles to give him 29 stops, 1 1/2 sacks and two fumble recoveries in his past three games. Strong safety Charles Godfrey (35 tackles), who is tied for second in the NFL with a career-best four interceptions, and corner Chris Gamble (25 tackles) will be aiming to capitalize on Bradford's inexperience. Linebacker Jon Beason is second on Carolina with 49 tackles.
Jackson is probably the best fantasy option even with his injured finger and is looking at a good matchup this weekend. If he can't go, owners should look to Kenneth Darby as the likely replacement starter. Bradford has been playing mistake-free football over the last few games, but is facing a tough secondary and is a risk. None of St. Louis' receivers are options at this time. The Rams' defense is a great start, given Carolina's struggles to score and move the ball, while kicker Josh Brown is 12-for-15 on field goals with just two made from 40 yards or beyond.
The Panthers' offense is a statistical mess, and even Steve Smith owners can't count on solid production each week. Players in deep or keeper leagues may want to keep an eye on Gettis, though. Stewart's value goes up if Williams can't play, as he should get the majority of the carries. Carolina's defense also faces a struggling offense and is a sleeper candidate, while Kasay is 8- for-9 on field goal tries and has hit three from 50 yards or longer.
While the Rams have been rolling at home, the Panthers will have the momentum of their first season win and should enter this game on even ground with St. Louis. The Rams' defense is no pushover and can create pressure, which should give Moore and company some problems. Carolina was expected to thrive running the football again this year, but little-to-no help in the passing game has made that tough. While neither team can blow up the scoreboard on offense, Bradford has been showing the progress that Moore has been lacking and should keep his team streaking at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rams 17, Panthers 10
10/28 16:45:22 ET