KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
TV: CBS (Dick Stockton, Charles Davis)
PREDICTION: Rams 23-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Panthers must stop RB Steven Jackson (finger), who is expected to play and by far the Rams best weapon. He has topped 100 rushing yards in three straight games, averaging 111.7 yards of the Rams 310.7 per-game average this season.
The Rams don't have a great lockdown option to assign to Steve Smith. If Panthers QB Matt Moore gets more from a fruitless rushing attack -- more doubtful if DeAngelo Williams' foot injury keeps him out -- he is capable of getting hot. Moore hit 68.3 percent of his passes and threw for 308 yards in Carolina's first win of the season last week.
FAST FACTS: Jackson has had at least 18 carries in 18 of his past 20 games. ... The Panthers have 13 TD catches from players other than Smith in the past 27 games.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
increasing the likelihood Jonathan Stewart will start Sunday at running back against the St. Louis Rams.
Williams injured his foot in the closing minutes of Carolina's 23-20 win over the San Francisco 49ers last week.
Stewart has made the most of his three career starts, averaging 150.3 yards per game with three rushing touchdowns. Included in that was a franchise-record 206-yard performance against the New York Giants last December.
However, Stewart is off to a rough start this season.
Through six games Stewart has just 148 yards and one rushing touchdown and is averaging 4 yards per carry. That's a dramatic drop from last season when Stewart led the team with 1,133 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns while averaging 5.1 yards per carry.
In his final three games last year, Stewart ran for 109, 206 and 125 yards.
This year, he's not rushed for more than 43 yards in a game.
When asked for the reason in the drop in production, Stewart said, "I don't know, many things," but wouldn't elaborate.
Stewart said injuries aren't a problem.
He hasn't missed a practice since the regular season began after missing numerous practices the previous two seasons and said he feels healthier this year than he did in 2009.
Of course, Stewart and Williams have had added pressure facing eight- and nine-man fronts throughout the season. The Panthers also have a new fullback in Tony Fiammetta, who replaced Brad Hoover.
"Instead of building up frustrations I have to believe in the guys in front of us that things will eventually start opening up," Stewart said. "And that's not just the guys up front but the entire offense doing their job. It's a collective deal."
Stewart said he's optimistic that last Sunday's win over San Francisco will force teams to honor Carolina's passing game, thus preventing defenses from putting extra men in the box.
Recently, DeAngelo Williams joked that he'd be "offended" if a defense only put seven men in the box against him.
Stewart not so much.
"You try to take advantage of it so I don't mind seeing seven in the box. I don't mind being offended," Stewart said with a laugh.
Once again, running back Steven Jackson will be playing with an injury. Jackson had gotten to the point where he had recovered from the groin injury he suffered in Week 3 against Washington, only to suffer a fractured finger Sunday against Tampa Bay.
He hasn't practiced this week, but when ask Thursday, after his teammates worked, whether he would play this week against Carolina, Jackson said, "Absolutely. I will definitely be out there Sunday. It's unfortunate that it had to happen, but it's on the left hand, so it's not as big a deal as if it was on my right hand."
When he discovered the bone was broken Monday, Jackson said he wanted to have the surgery as soon as possible with the thought of playing on his mind.
"Go in, go out," he said. "It was a quick 20-minute surgery as well, too. It wasn't one that was long and strenuous. It was just yank the finger a couple times and get it back in place to put the pins in. I'm pretty sure it was a lot more difficult for the doctor. But actually that is why I went in Monday to have the surgery so I can get the swelling down. Make sure that I can be as functional as I can and give myself six days (to get ready) instead of three or four days."
Jackson said there is some experimenting taking place with what he will wear Sunday to protect the finger, but that it would "be some sort of soft cast. Something that's functional that will allow me to carry the ball, catch the ball, hold the ball. So we're going to play around with it, we've been experimenting. We started today. I think I found sort of the feel of what I like. We'll see what we come up with tomorrow and then make a decision from there."
There's a chance Jackson will practice Friday, and he knows he will be dealing with a certain amount of pain in the game.
"Pain is going to occur," he said. "That's not something we're trying to avoid, it's not something we're going in thinking it won't happen. Pain will be a part of the game Sunday. But just like any injury, when you're out there you have to perform at the level you can."
The pins in Jackson's finger will be there for six-to-eight weeks, but to show the confidence he has in his team, he added, "If we go into the playoffs, then we'll see. I talked to the doctor about it, we'll see just where I am and (my) comfort level and do we leave them in or do we take them out."
When asked if it's nice to even be thinking about a potential playoff spot, he said, "It's really nice. But first things first, we've got to take care of Carolina this weekend."
He hopes to shed the soft cast as soon as possible. Said Jackson, "We've got to make sure the bone heals correctly. Once the bone heals, knowing me I'll probably just take the cast off."
Asked about dealing with some uncertainty regarding Jackson, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said, "Steven has displayed an ability to play extremely well with limited practice. That's the approach that we're taking at this point. Obviously, it's his left hand and he carries the football primarily in his right."
Noting how Jackson has played in the past when dealing with injuries, Shurmur said, "He's done that. With a warrior-type player like Steven, it's not as much of a concern as it would be if maybe a player is dealing with one of his first injuries."
--DE Tyler Brayton returned to practice Thursday after his wife gave birth to their child.
--OT Jeff Otah (knee) remains out of practice.
--LB Thomas Davis (knee) said he still hopes to play Nov. 14 against Tampa Bay, but sounded a little less optimistic than he has in the past.
--WR Devin Thomas was added to the injury report as limited Thursday after suffering a groin strain.
--RT Garry Williams is expected to make his second straight start at right tackle this week against the Rams.
--RB Steven Jackson did not practice Thursday, but when asked whether he would play Sunday, Jackson said, "Absolutely." Jackson said he will likely wear a soft cast on his left hand to protect his broken left finger and allow him to carry and catch the ball. Helping the situation is that he usually runs with the ball in his right hand. The two pins in the finger will be there for six-to-eight weeks.
--S James Butler, who was not expected to play Sunday after spraining the MCL in his knee against Tampa Bay, practiced on a limited basis Thursday and might be available to play against Carolina.
--OT Jason Smith was limited in practice Thursday with what was listed as an "illness," but coach Steve Spagnuolo said Smith got "a little bit fuzzy" after bumping heads with DE Chris Long. Smith missed the final six games of the 2009 season after suffering a concussion in a Nov. 22 game against Arizona.
--LB David Vobora fully participated in practice Thursday after being limited in Wednesday's work because of a hamstring injury.
--LB Bryan Kehl, acquired on waivers from the Giants early in the season, has been playing extensively in the nickel defense and has also been participating in the base defense on the weak side, taking some snaps away from starter Larry Grant.
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