Panthers travel to L.A. in search of first road win
The Carolina Panthers make their first trip to the West Coast this season when they oppose the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX).
The Panthers (2-5) are winless on the road in 2016. The good news is both of their victories came against NFC West teams, the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals.
The Rams (3-4) are coming off a Week 8 bye, and they hope the break will get the team back on the winning track. Los Angeles lost its past three games.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher isn't focusing on the Panthers' disappointing record, instead looking at Carolina's 30-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals last week.
“We got a challenge,” he said. “This is a good football team. It's hard to look at the tape and see that they only won two games, but it's a good football team. We get a sense for watching them match up against Arizona, because we know Arizona very well, and it's a dominating game. It was a great effort by them, and a much needed win for them.”
Both teams enter the game with issues at the quarterback position. The Rams drafted Jared Goff as the No. 1 overall selection in the 2016 draft to be the franchise quarterback. The rookie has yet to see the field despite starter Case Keenum's recent struggles.
The national media and local Los Angeles pundits are calling for Goff to start playing, but Fisher continues to start and defend Keenum even though Keenum is second in the NFL with 10 interceptions.
The Panthers do not have issues with the play of quarterback Cam Newton, but they do have problems with how the NFL and referees treat the reigning NFL MVP. Newton is constantly taking hits to the head and legs this season that should have resulted in penalties but did not. Coach Ron Rivera did not mince words when discussing his frustrations.
“It's more about making sure he is getting the equal treatment and the protection he deserves as a quarterback in the pocket,” Rivera said. “I have reached out to the league, and the league has responded. And most recently I have reached out to the commissioner, and he has responded, and we'll continue to work through this and see how it goes. This is something I work on every week, quite frankly.”
The defending NFC champions need to get tight end Greg Olsen involved against a Rams secondary struggles at times matching up with quality tight ends.
Olsen is coming off one of the worst pass-catching performances of his career. He had only one catch against the Cardinals, so the Pro Bowler will be looking to get untracked.
He and the Panthers' offense will go after a Los Angeles pass defense that has been poor in the red zone. The Rams have allowed 11 passing touchdowns this season.
“Yeah, our efficiency in the red zone is not good,” Fisher said. “We're giving up too many touchdowns. Last year, we might've been second, and this year, we're not there. Granted, I don't like to say we've been without with three or four starters, we don't have (cornerback) Trumaine (Johnson) and stuff like that, but we have to get back to, if they get down there, No. 1, we got to get back to holding them to field goals, to give us a chance.”
The Panthers' rushing attack is ranked in the top five of the NFL. The return of running back Jonathan Stewart last week after he missed three games with a hamstring injury should continue to bolster the ground game.
The Rams' defensive front, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, only allows opponents 3.9 yards an attempt. If the Rams' front seven defenders can stop Stewart early, Los Angeles can make the Panthers' offense one-dimensional.
The Rams' ground game was supposed to be a strength this season, but running back Todd Gurley has looked pedestrian. Some of that falls on Gurley, who is averaging only 3 yards a carry, but a large part of the blame belongs to the offensive line. Against a Carolina defense that is ranked third in the NFL, things so not look any brighter.
“We're protecting a lot better in the pass game, but in the run game, we're lacking,” Rams left tackle Greg Robinson said. “We need to get that going. I feel like Todd is at the line and the holes just close. I can't really explain it.”