Panthers, Rams looking to make gains after slow starts
LOS ANGELES (AP) Carolina coach Ron Rivera believes Todd Gurley is too good to be kept down all season long.
The Los Angeles Rams (3-4) think the same thing about the defending NFC champion Panthers (2-5), who are showing signs of reclaiming their fearsome form.
The Rams' homecoming season has been a success off the field and in the Coliseum stands, as the Panthers will see Sunday.
But the running game's inability to reprise Gurley's productivity in his remarkable rookie season has the team hovering near .500 yet again, with a three-game losing streak coming off its bye week .
Gurley has just 403 yards this season, and his 3.0 yards per carry are easily the NFL's worst for any player with at least 68 carries. But when the Panthers' vaunted defense makes its LA debut, Rivera will be wary of the Rams' top young offensive star.
''He's a solid football player who's got a tremendous amount of ability and potential,'' Rivera said.
''Right now, it's just one of those things. It's kind of like us. We're struggling to find our footing, and once you get it going, you know it's going to happen, big-time. It's just a matter of being patient. The team has got to continue to work and grow, that's the bottom line.''
The Rams' patience is still strong, but only because its defense has kept them in contention. That defense now must face Cam Newton, whose displeasure with the NFL over a season-long series of questionable hits has dominated the conversation in the days following last weekend's win over Arizona , snapping a four-game Carolina skid.
Rams coach Jeff Fisher has built an aggressive defense capable of harassing any quarterback, but he isn't worried about possibly being under a microscope in the Panthers' first game since Newton's conversation with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell .
''It would only create more problems for the league if we got ... extra scrutiny,'' Fisher said. ''There's a rule book. The game is officiated one way. We all are in favor of protecting quarterbacks.
''We know what legal hits are, we know what illegal hits are, and we just go from there and hope that the officiating department gets them right.''
Here are more things to watch when Cam steps into the Coli:
GETTING CAM: Despite Fisher's confidence, the Rams realize everyone will be watching while they pursue Newton. Los Angeles is well-equipped to survive against top quarterbacks, with one of the NFL's best front sevens causing trouble this season for everybody from Russell Wilson to Eli Manning. ''We're just going to play how we play,'' Rams safety T.J. McDonald said. ''We're going to do everything to keep him contained. He's a big dude, and he's tough to bring down, so we're going to have to gang-tackle.''
SACK PARTY: The Panthers have learned a bit about pressuring quarterbacks themselves, as proven by eight sacks of Arizona's Carson Palmer last week. Carolina managed just 12 sacks in its first six games. ''I think we're moving in the right direction,'' linebacker Luke Kuechly said.
QB QUANDARY: Rams quarterback Case Keenum threw an eye-popping 53 passes in their 17-10 loss to the Giants in London two weeks ago, although offensive coordinator Rob Boras doesn't anticipate a similar approach against Carolina's veteran defense. Los Angeles still doesn't plan to play No. 1 pick Jared Goff just yet, and Keenum is focused on doing his job while he has it. ''You don't get many chances in this league to do what I get to do,'' he said. ''I'm giving everything I have and having no regrets.''
HOLLYWOOD DEBUT: The Panthers are playing in Los Angeles for the first time. The franchise joined the NFL in 1995, a few months after then-Rams owner Georgia Frontiere and Raiders owner Al Davis both left the nation's second-largest media market. But this city isn't new to Newton, who typically spends a portion of his offseason in LA, occasionally turning up courtside at Clippers games wearing his latest fashion-forward concoctions . Newton was also sued last month by the manager of a luxury home rental company, claiming the quarterback caused about $100,000 in damage to a rental mansion in Beverly Hills earlier this year.
FINALLY HOME: The Rams are playing just their third regular-season game at the Coliseum, thanks to a back-loaded schedule and the loss of a home game to London. They've played in town just once since their mid-September home opener, and the road-heavy schedule couldn't have helped their preparations. Fisher says most of the Rams stayed here during their bye weekend to rest up. The Rams and Panthers also will be playing about 17 hours after Southern California and Oregon get done chewing up the Coliseum turf on Saturday night, but the field held up remarkably well last month in another set of back-to-back games.
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