The Los Angeles Rams headed into their Week 8 bye looking like a team that needed time to rejuvenate after losing three consecutive games that pushed them an under .500 record for the first time this season.
The focus for the Rams now shifts over to the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers, who have gotten off to a sluggish start holding a 2-5 record. However, the Panthers appeared to get back on track last Sunday in a 30-20 win against the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday behind their potent rushing attack and defense.
In light of that, head coach Jeff Fisher sees some similarities in the tendencies that Carolina plays with that are comparable to the rest of the competition in the NFC West.
“Yeah, they’re built to run the football and they play outstanding defense and their really talented front seven," Fisher said. "They’re hard to run the football against they don’t give up a lot of big plays and they can collapse the pocket. You get behind there, and they make it hard on you. Our focus and our goal going into this week is we’re going to have to play the best run defense we’ve played all year, just because of the way they’re built, and the way they commit to it. That puts a lot of pressure on your secondary, but we’re going to have to commit there.”
The Panthers have had one of the league's most effective running games over the last few seasons. Last year, they possessed the second-best rushing attack behind Cam Newton's MVP campaign. Although Carolina currently ranks 14th in the league in rushing, there appears to be an upward trend in this aspect of the game.
Jonathan Stewart is coming off his best performance of the season racking up 95 rushing yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns against the Cardinals. Stewart has been their primary contributor to their running game but had missed a few weeks this season due to a hamstring injury. With him back in the fold, it has brought back balance to the offense.
However, Los Angeles' biggest issue defensively could come against limiting Newton's ability to use his legs as a runner. They had much difficulty defending a mobile quarterback in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers with Blaine Gabbert rushing for 43 yards on nine carries.
The Rams have near the league average against the run this season despite currently ranking 11th in fewest yards allowed. Nonetheless, Fisher believes that there is still a window of opportunity for his team to win their first NFC West division title in over a decade, but at the same time isn't overlooking the Panthers.
“Obviously, that’s our goal, as is the rest of the teams in the division," Fisher said. "But, this thing just becomes one at a time now, it really does. You just got to focus on each opponent. We got a challenge. 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.”