CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Update: Panthers lose in week one of the season to the Los Angeles Rams, 30-27, Sunday afternoon at Bank of America Stadium.
The Panthers have pored over game tape from last year's Super Bowl looking for ways to shut down Rams quarterback Jared Goff and the Rams' high-powered offense in Week 1.
Hard to blame them.
Los Angeles averaged more than 30 points per game during the regular season and rolled to the NFC championship before New England designed a game plan limiting the Rams to three points on football's biggest stage.
"To see that game versus the Patriots, you see a humbled offense," Panthers safety Tre Boston said of New England's 13-3 win. "You see an offense that is used to scoring points and getting down the field, and (Bill) Belichick and that defense did a great job of containing them and understanding what they like to do and not allowing them to do it. We have to do the same thing."
Boston said that means understanding how and why the Rams run motion -- and immediately comprehending and countering it.
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"They want your eyes in different places and they want you to think a little bit longer than you need to," Boston said.
Panthers wide receiver Chris Hogan was with the Patriots last season and said he watched the defense spend two weeks working on ways to pressure Goff into throws he doesn't want to make. Goff was sacked four times in the Super Bowl and finished 19 of 38 for 229 yards with one interception.
Hogan said the goal was to "try to get in his face and get him off his spot."
Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly sees that as a key on Sunday, too.
"However you can make him uncomfortable is the way to do it," Kuechly said of Goff, who signed a $110 contract extension earlier this week. "If you're a quarterback and you sit back there and sling to the same spot every time, it's easy. But with him if you can push him off his spot, that's when it is harder for him."
The Panthers were 27th in the league in sacks last season, but have switched to a 3-4 defense and will look to apply pressure with Mario Addison and rookie Brian Burns working at outside linebacker.
Things to watch Sunday between the Rams and Panthers:
CAM'S DEEP BALLS
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was hindered by a right shoulder injury that severely limited his ability to throw the ball deep in the second half of last season. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner said Newton is healthy now and that "it's exciting to have him where he can make those deep throws." He hopes an occasional deep ball will open up things underneath the coverage and keep the Rams from stacking the box as many teams did against Carolina last season due to Newton's lack of arm strength. Newton was not listed on the team's injury report this week after suffering a mid-foot sprain in the preseason.
NEW LINE OF PROTECTION
The Rams' biggest area of uncertainty is the offensive line, where center Brian Allen and left guard Joseph Noteboom will make their first career starts in Charlotte. The 2018 draft picks spent last season backing up John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold, two stalwarts of the Rams' remarkably consistent line over coach Sean McVay's two seasons. Allen and Noteboom didn't even get a chance to play in the preseason, sitting out along with almost all of the Rams' starters. The Panthers' defensive front is formidable, but Allen isn't worried: "Starting right off the bat with a defensive line like we're going to play is a good test right out of the gate to get us ready for the season."
The game will mark the Rams debuts of linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Eric Weddle, who both returned to their native Southern California in the offseason after decorated NFL careers elsewhere. Both will be immediate starters for the Rams, with Matthews taking over at outside linebacker and Weddle replacing Super Bowl starter Lamarcus Joyner. Matthews and Weddle both took likely less than they could have made elsewhere to pursue a championship in LA. "I can't wait to finally get out there with my brothers," said Weddle, who sat out the entire preseason along with Matthews and almost every Rams starter.
SLYE ON THE FLY
If the game comes down to a winning kick, the Panthers will have to rely on untested rookie Joey Slye . Slye replaces veteran Graham Gano, who went on injured reserve last week. Slye's accuracy (72.2 was an issue at Virginia Tech, but he kicked well in the preseason, making 7 of 8 field goals, including all three attempts from beyond 50 yards. But how will Slye perform under pressure?
Turner said it is vitally important the Panthers know exactly where Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is at all times. Donald has won back-to-back NFC Defensive Player of the Year awards. Turner called him a "unique player" who's going to disrupt the offense at times and make plays, but added "the thing you have to do is not leave him in a position where he is going to make a play that turns out to be a disaster for you."
RAMS (15-4) at PANTHERS (7-9)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE - Rams by 2 1/2
RECORD VS. SPREAD - Rams 7-7-2; Panthers 7-9
SERIES RECORD - Panthers lead 13-8
LAST MEETING - Panthers beat Rams 13-10, Nov. 6, 2016
AP PRO32 RANKING - Rams No. 4, Panthers No. 18
RAMS OFFENSE - OVERALL (2), RUSH (3), PASS (5).
RAMS DEFENSE - OVERALL (19), RUSH (23), PASS (14).
PANTHERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (10), RUSH (4), PASS (17).
PANTHERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (15), RUSH (12), PASS (18).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES:
- Rams reached Super Bowl last season before losing to Tom Brady and Patriots 13-3.
- Sean McVay owns .750 winning percentage (24-8) in two seasons as Rams coach.
- Rams averaged 30.8 points per game last season, second only to Kansas City (34.8).
- QB Jared Goff was fourth in yards passing (4,688) and sixth in TD passes in 2018.
- RB Todd Gurley led NFL with 21 TDs last season, was limited late last season due to knee soreness.
- WR Brandin Cooks going for fifth straight 1,000-yard receiving season after career-high 1,204 yards in 2018.
- DT Aaron Donald has won NFL Defensive Player of Year in back-to-back seasons.
- LB Clay Matthews and S Eric Weddle make Rams debut.
- CB Marcus Peters' 22 interceptions are most in NFL since 2015.
- Panthers are 4-4 in season openers under coach Ron Rivera.
- Rivera needs three wins to become Carolina's all-time winningest coach.
- QB Cam Newton returns from offseason shoulder surgery and mid-foot sprain in preseason. Newton needs 121 yards rushing to pass Randall Cunningham for second most by an NFL quarterback.
- Christian McCaffrey set NFL record for receptions by RB last season with 107. McCaffrey also set franchise record with 1,965 yards from scrimmage.
- WR D.J. Moore was first in NFL in yards after catch (7.7) in 2018.
- Carolina was 27th in NFL in sacks in 2018. Added veteran DL Gerald McCoy and rookie OLB Brian Burns to bolster pass rush.
- Panthers debut 3-4 defense for first time under Rivera, who'll make defensive play calls.
- LB Luke Kuechly has 948 tackles, needs 19 to pass Brian Urlacher for most by an NFL player through first eight seasons.
- Ray-Ray McCloud, acquired off waivers Sunday, expected to return punts, kickoffs for Carolina. ... Undrafted rookie K Joey Slye replaces Graham Gano (injured reserve/leg).
- Fantasy tip: Panthers WR Curtis Samuel appears on cusp of breakout season after assuming starting role.
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