Scouting the Los Angeles Rams 2019 Opponents: The Carolina Panthers

by Blaine Grisak
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Los Angeles, Calif. – The 2019 season will start much different than the 2018 season did for the Los Angeles Rams. Last season, the Rams were able to ease into the season against the underperforming. Oakland Raiders. This year they will open up against the 2015 NFC champions.

The Panthers had a losing record for the second time in three seasons last year, finishing 7-9. However, that record is slightly misleading. Carolina was 6-2 and 3-0 against playoff teams before an injury to Cam Newton derailed the season and impacted a 1-7 finish down the stretch.

Before last season, Carolina had reached the playoffs in four of the previous five seasons. This is a team that improved in the offseason and will be looking to retake a place among the NFC’s elite teams.

Schedule: Week 1, 1 p.m. ET at Carolina

Recapping 2018

The Panthers began last season 3-1 in the season’s first quarter before a loss to the Washington Redskins had them fall to 3-2.

Trailing 17-0 in the fourth quarter on the road against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Panthers stormed back. An 11-play, 80-yard drive ending with a touchdown from Curtis Samuel made it 17-6 after a missed extra point. A touchdown pass from Newton to Devin Funchess capped off by a two-point conversion shortened the deficit to just three at 17-14 with a little under five minutes to play. With 2:17 left, the Panthers had the ball and faced 4th-and-10 from their own 31-yard line and the game on the line. Newton responded with a 35-yard pass to Torrey Smith. Six plays later, Newton threw his second touchdown pass of the day, this one to Greg Olsen, to take the lead. With the Eagles in the red zone, it was the Panthers defense that came up big with a sack-fumble-recovery on Carson Wentz to seal the comeback win.

The Panthers went on to win three straight, defeating the Baltimore Ravens, 36-21, the following week and the Buccaneers, 42-28.

That’s when the season spiraled. An injury to Newton’s shoulder set in and the team went on to lose seven straight games and the former number one overall pick sat out the final two games.

Despite a disappointing ending to what looked to be a promising season, running back Christian McCaffrey rushed for 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and led all running backs in receptions (107) and receiving yards (867).

The Panthers also seemed to find a new receiving target for Newton in rookie DJ Moore. The rookie tallied 55 receptions for 788 yards and two touchdowns – he also averaged 14.3 yards per reception.

Biggest Offseason Gains/Losses

Added: DT Gerald McCoy, C Matt Paradis, WR Chris Hogan, DE Bruce Irvin
Lost: OT Matt Kalil, S  Da’Norris Searcy, WR Devin Funchess

Marty Hurney killed the offseason for the Carolina Panthers. Hurney brings in Paradis and Irvin and then signs Hogan to replace Funchess. He then convinces McCoy to bypass opportunities in Baltimore and Cleveland to join the Panthers.

The team will miss Funchess, who was a solid WR2, but they replace him with Hogan. The biggest gain is by far McCoy who has been one of the most dominant interior defensive linemen since joining the league.

A Look at the Draft

The Panthers needed to add a young stud pass-rusher to the mix, and that’s exactly what they did. Sitting at No. 16, Hurney had to be thrilled when arguably the second-best edge rusher in the class fell to him. Coming out of Florida State, Brian Burns will give the Panthers their most prominent force off of the edge since Julius Peppers.

Will Grier out of West Virginia gives the Panthers a backup option behind Newton, and they wrapped up their haul with a high upside wide receiver in Terry Godwin. Godwin is a bottom-of-the-roster receiver, but he can provide a spark inside.

Biggest On Field Question

The biggest question for the Panthers headed into the 2019 season will be Cam Newton’s shoulder and its status. Newton has been cleared to throw; therefore, it doesn’t seem like it will be an issue.

However, Newton plays one of the more physical game styles among quarterbacks in the NFL, given his size and speed. In weeks 1-8 last season, Newton was one of just 10 quarterbacks with a passer rating over 100 (100.8) and was one of 16 with over 15 touchdown passes (15).

There is no question when healthy that Newton is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Winning the league’s MVP award isn’t a fluke. While Newton certainly needs to add consistency to his game, when he puts it together, he is almost impossible to stop.

That throw isn’t easy to make, and Newton stands and delivers it with ease. Starting against the defending NFC champions at home in 2019, Newton and the Panthers will be looking to make a statement.

Depth Chart Analysis

Quarterback: Cam Newton is one of the top-15 quarterbacks in the NFL and top-10 when healthy. Given his uncertainty headed into the season, the team drafted Will Grier to add some young depth with starting potential.

Running back: When Christian McCaffrey is headlining your running back group, you’re doing ok. The Panthers added Jordan Scarlett out of Florida who will be an excellent third-down option in the NFL. They also signed Elijah Holyfield as an undrafted free agent who had some buzz going into the draft.

Wide Receiver: DJ Moore is one of the best young wide receivers in the NFL. However, there is a lot of competition here. The Panthers have Curtis Samuel and Chris Hogan, but Terry Godwin, Jarius Wright, and Aldrick Robinson will be the competition to watch in training camp.

Tight End: Greg Olsen gives this group some stability, but he has been injured the last two seasons and is aging. Ian Thomas was a high-upside, day-three selection in 2018 and the Panthers also have former Ram Temarrick Hemingway.

Right Tackle: Darryl Williams has had his injury woes but was a top-five right tackle in his last full season in 2017, but don’t have a lot of depth behind him.

Left Tackle: Taylor Moton established himself as a cornerstone on the blind side last year in his first year as a starter. The Panthers are immediately better on the offensive line after cutting Kalil. 2017 first round pick Greg Little adds depth.

Center: The Panthers got Matt Paradis for a bargain of a price after his injury.

Left Guard: Greg Van Roten has been average at best on the inside as he allowed 36 pressures last season. Taylor Hearn is just one of a handful of young offensive linemen that the Panthers need to develop.

Right Guard: Trai Turner had a 79.6 grade in pass protection last season according to Pro Football Focus. He has played well and should be even better next to Paradis.

Defensive End: Between Bruce Irvin and Mario Addison, the Panthers have a good group of veterans rushing the passer. When you add Brian Burns and Christian Miller to the mix, you get some young depth that can produce right away.

Defensive Tackle: This is a deep group for the Panthers. The team added Gerald McCoy to play next to Kawaan Short who has posted a grade 80 or higher on Pro Football Focus in each of the last four seasons. Dontari Poe and Vernon Butler sit behind them.

Linebacker: Luke Kuechley has been one of the best linebackers in the NFL, and he headlines this group. Kuechley is such an intelligent player and is someone offenses have to gameplan around. Shaq Thompson has had his ups and downs, but he’s on the outside with Andre Smith. Brandon Chubb, the brother of Bradley Chubb, is in this group as well.

Defensive Backs: After not re-signing Josh Norman, the Panthers struggled to find a replacement. James Bradberry has been average, but Dante Jackson had four interceptions as a rookie. He led defensive backs in missed tackles, but you can’t teach turnovers. At safety, Eric Reid is back and has played well in his return to the NFL last season as he plays next to Rashaan Gaulden who had a 75.5 tackling grade. Gaulden doesn’t have a lot of experience, but he’s someone who can move down into the nickel if needed.

2019 Outlook

The Carolina Panthers should be back and ready to compete for not only the NFC South, but the NFC as well. This is a team that when healthy on offense, are almost impossible to defend and are well coached on defense by Ron Rivera. Ultimately, the Panthers should be a favorite for a playoff spot in what will be a competitive NFC.

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