St. Louis Rams vs. Carolina Panthers: Breaking Down St. Louis' Game Plan

Jamal CollierAnalyst IIIOctober 16, 2013

Sam Bradford is getting protection like he's never had this season.
Sam Bradford is getting protection like he's never had this season.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford’s 117 passing yards in Week 6 marked a career low for the four-year pro. So did his 16 passing attempts. Both of those marks include games that he has limped into and games he has limped out of—but when you contrast them with his productivity, none of that matters.

His passer rating against the Houston Texans on Sunday was a personal-best 134.6. He completed 75 percent of his passes, which was the third highest in his career. He also threw three touchdowns.

His QBR was 93.2, which was another personal record. It was just the second time he’s crossed the 90 QBR plateau in his career.

And the Rams won by 25.

Those numbers make it sound like St. Louis only needs to continue running its offense as is. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Ancillary playmakers like tight ends Cory Harkey and Lance Kendricks provided sparks in the first half against Houston. Then the team poured it on with scores from Brian Quick, Daren Bates and Alec Ogletree—the latter two are linebackers—which changed the way Houston was able to approach St. Louis defensively.

Being up two or three scores gave the Rams more options. Chief among them was the ability to run the ball, which needs to be a focus going forward to balance a young and emerging passing attack. Zac Stacy showed plenty of toughness between the tackles, and the Rams would do well to get Daryl Richardson outside so he can add a few long gains of his own.

Additionally, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer needs to work on getting the rock to Jared Cook and Tavon Austin. Three combined targets for the two explosive playmakers is baffling.

But the most underutilized play in the Rams playbook—now that we have proof that it’s actually there—is the screen pass. Even a front seven as stout as the Carolina Panthers’ can be worked on with screens.

St. Louis converted an unlikely 3rd-and-10 with this halfback slip screen out of the shotgun.

No more than three seconds elapses after the snap before Bradford releases the ball. Also notice that Richardson’s hands are up as soon as the ball is out.

Richardson is about to evade the defender (red arrow), but he has the attention of two of his offensive linemen, just in case.

Harvey Dahl sells out to keep Brian Cushing off his running back, while Scott Wells starts forward after redirecting Cushing.

There’s just grass between Richardson and the first-down marker now, and he takes 18 yards on his only target of the game before Danieal Manning runs him out of bounds.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Arizona Cardinals running back Alfonso Smith had success in the screen game against Carolina. (The guy in the red circle is cornerback Patrick Peterson, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.)

The linebackers square up on the play-action fake.

Then they bail out of the box and into zone coverage. Luke Kuechly does a full about-face, just before Carson Palmer catches the defense with his slipping running back. The guy in the green circle is a defensive back, which shows how convinced Carolina was—if only for a moment—that Arizona was trying to run on 1st-and-10.

That’s the only reason that the Cardinals didn’t record the first down here. Captain Munnerlyn stopped Smith for a gain of nine.

Defensively, the necessary change is simple but dramatic: The Rams have got to abandon their soft-zone schemes earlier if they don’t want to get turned into roadkill. It’s a lot easier for the opposition to get its running backs outside when St. Louis’ corners are 10 yards away from the line of scrimmage and counting.

Carolina would love nothing more than to rack up 200-plus yards rushing on St. Louis. The Panthers average more rushing attempts (32.6 per game) than passing attempts (30.6) on the year.

Despite Steve Smith’s present ranking as third on his own team in receiving yards (224), the Rams cannot overlook the 5’9” veteran. He still leads the squad in targets (42) and receptions (23) and has scored a pair of touchdowns in five games. He totaled four in 16 games last season.

Tight end Greg Olsen currently leads Carolina in yards after the catch (104), so the Rams linebackers will have their work cut out for them.

St. Louis has scored a defensive touchdown in back-to-back games. To extend its streak, it will seek to keep Cam Newton (5.8 rushing attempts per game) in the pocket and beat him up or force him into chucking a few ill-advised passes. Newton has been sacked 16 times, including seven by the Cardinals in Week 5.


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