A pick-six on the first offensive play of the day put the Rams in an early hole, one they could never quite climb out of, turning the ball over three times en route to a 30-15 loss. Despite the score, the game was competitive most of the way, as St. Louis had success moving the ball, but squandered several scoring opportunities. Credit the strong Panther defense, which got another great day out of its standout front-seven, as well as some good showings on the back-end.
Ultimately, the story of the game will likely be the Rams and the loss of their starting QB for the season. With a 3-4 record and a tough slate of games ahead, St. Louis’ playoff hopes were likely dim anyway, and they can probably start looking towards the draft at this point. As for the Panthers, they head to Tampa Bay on a short week for a Thursday night game, as they continue to look stronger than their 3-3 record would suggest. Going forward, they’ll have to continue to close games out as they’ve done the last two weeks, but failed to do in the first two.
In a game with a number of strong performances, let’s take a look at some of the interesting ones.
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
Perhaps lost in the Rams’ defeat and the loss of Sam Bradford in the fourth quarter to an ACL injury is the fact that their quarterback put together the highest graded game of his three-plus year career. Where Bradford shined in his +5.5 rated performance was the deep ball, throwing three strikes on go-routes (13:25 Q2, 6:46 Q3, and 9:19 Q4). Unfortunately as his numbers bear out, only one of those three passes actually counted; the first, a 63-yard TD to Tavon Austin, was called back because of a tripping penalty, while the third, a would-be 24-yard touchdown, was dropped by Brian Quick. Of course his first pass of the day – another attempted deep ball to what looked to be an open Quick – went the other way for six, but the play was little fault of Bradford’s as his arm was hit as he threw and that was about his worst on the day, until the unfortunate injury.
Janoris Jenkins (-4.5) and Trumaine Johnson (-4.0) were targeted in coverage a combined 11 times. All but one of those throws found its mark, and that one was a drop, as the two struggled to contain the Panther receivers on the relatively rare occasions the Panthers passed the ball. For Jenkins, the opposing tormentor was Steve Smith, who beat him for four catches, sixty yards, and a TD. The corner also missed two tackles, one of which led to the aforementioned touchdown.
Unlike Jenkins, Johnson was beaten six times for 84 yards by three different Panther receivers, none of which was Smith. While he also missed a tackle, his two worst plays in coverage were when he attempted to undercut a post route and missed (4:50 Q2) and when he was beaten deep by Greg Olsen in the third, though on the latter play he was bailed out by a hit from his safety. Each added a defensive holding penalty to his stat line to round out a forgettable day for the CB duo.
Wells Plays Well
After a rough start, beaten for an early TFL by Kawann Short and a few plays later stood up by Greg Hardy, Scott Wells (+ 3.6) had a solid, if unspectacular game. Once he got those two negative plays out of his system, the rest of the game was all positive as he made several good blocks in the run game, sealing both Colin Cole and Luke Kuechly on multiple plays, and providing a bright spot on what was an overall poor run blocking performance by the St. Louis OL. On the other hand the group was very strong in pass protection, allowing pressure on just 30% of Bradford’s dropbacks, led by the clean sheet of Wells.
Carolina – Three Performances of Note
Push for DROY
Star Lotulelei (+3.6) vaulted himself right back to the head of the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year with a dominating performance in run defense, leading the way to hold the Rams to 3.0 YPC rushing. Predominantly lining up at DRT (27-of-43 snaps), the rookie gained a stop on 33% of his snaps in run defense, including two TFLs and two more tackles for short gain. That ridiculous number could’ve been even higher if not for a missed tackle in pursuit of a Zac Stacy run. Whether it was his quickness, as at 0:33 in the second, or his power, like at 0:19 in the third, the St. Louis OL simply couldn’t handle Lotulelei in the run game. He proved tough to handle as a pass rusher too, notching up two hurries and a hit on the day.
Down Week for Kuechly
While he made a few of his usual plays, Luke Kuechly didn’t make quite the number we’re accustomed to seeing. One such play was at 6:58 in the second quarter, when he knifed inside of Harvey Dahl to pick up a tackle for no gain, while another was a pass-defense late in the fourth when he ripped the ball out of Jared Cook’s hands. Outside of those two plays however, not a lot stood out. Missed tackles, though neither of his two on the day was extremely egregious, continue to be a snag for the second-year player; his Combined Tackle Efficiency is now half of his rookie year rate, with six MTs through six games. Despite the PD, Kuechly was also lost in coverage on a few occasions, and allowed himself to be sealed on a few more in run defense.
While he only dropped back to pass 22 times on the day, Cam Newton was as good as he’s been all year, completing 15-of-17 passes for 204 yards and a TD, with only a Steve Smith drop keeping him under the 90% completion percentage mark. As you’d probably expected, Newton was at his best on the move, comfortably handing pressure – he posted a perfect 158.3 QB rating passing on such plays, adding 26 rushing yards and forcing two missed tackles on three scrambles. Newton didn’t find quite as much room on designed runs and had one poor pitch that hit the ground, but did help spring several DeAngelo Williams runs when the defense keyed in on the QB on options.
– Bradford’s likely replacement didn’t exactly show out in his six snaps, as Kellen Clemens fumbled twice on the team’s final drive.
– Though he only averaged 3.1 YPC on 17 carries Zac Stacy forced five missed tackles on those plays and now comes in at seventh in our Elusive Rating among backs with at least 35 rushing attempts.
– After a fast start with two first-quarter tackles for loss, Kawann Short did little the rest of the way to finish with a –0.3 rating, producing zero pressure in 24 snaps rushing the passer.
PFF Game Ball
A close one between Cam Newton and Star Lotulelei, but the vet gets the nod over the rookie with his smooth performance completing 88% of his passes including five-of-six for 74 yards when blitzed.
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