Big Play: On the Rams’ first offensive play from scrimmage, Carolina defensive back Captain Munnerlyn intercepted Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead the Panthers would never relinquish.
There wasn’t much fancy about how this went down but the end result was a killer for the Rams and a possible 14-point swing.
With two receivers split out, Brian Quick to the left and Chris Givens to the right, Zac Stacy at running back, Cory Harkey at fullback and a tight end, the Rams came to the line against Carolina’s single-high safety look with both corners playing off.
Before the snap, Panthers safety Quintin Mikell creeped into the box as Givens motioned further into the slot. Bradford took the snap, faked a handoff to Stacy and looked to windup for a deep pass.
Givens ran a deep in route and Quick a deep post. The safety stayed underneath providing help on Givens. Meanwhile, Quick ran past Carolina cornerback Josh Thomas. Bradford prepared to throw it deep to Quick and an accurate throw likely would have gone for a touchdown.
Instead, Stacy’s blitz pickup of Mikell rushing through the left side was not horrible but not adequate enough to keep Mikell from getting an arm on Bradford’s arm. The ball floated away into the waiting arms of Munnerlyn.
On the ensuing return, the Rams didn’t have many chances to prevent a touchdown but left tackle Jake Long didn’t use the sideline to his advantage on the one clear shot the Rams had.
Instead of a long pass and a potential touchdown to Quick, the Rams found themselves in a 7-0 hole.
Hidden Play: On fourth-and-goal at Carolina’s 1, Bradford throws incomplete for tight end Jared Cook as the Rams come away with no point on a first-quarter drive.
Using a play design not much different from one that went for a touchdown against Houston last week, the Rams went with three tight ends, two attached on the right and Cook attached on the left. Cory Harkey lined up at fullback with Stacy behind him.
At the snap, Bradford faked the handoff to Stacy while Cook disengaged from a defender on the left side. But when Cook got off that jam, he found Mikell waiting for him and not budging from coverage.
With neither player open, Bradford essentially threw it away and the Rams came up empty.
• Not that there’s ever a good time for a serious injury but Bradford’s came in a game in which he was playing very well. He threw a pair of beautiful deep balls (one was called back for a penalty) and drilled a 24-yard completion to Quick on a crossing route in the middle of four defenders.
• Stacy showed better pass-catching skills than expected and did some good work after the catch as well. His catch and run for a big gain on a screen was better than anticipated.
• The Panthers’ Mitchell sure does celebrate a lot. And it really doesn’t take much to get him excited. We all know about the shenanigans after Bradford’s injury but Mitchell actually did a similar celebration after tackling Harkey near the sideline on a 6-yard gain.
• The Rams clearly felt they had some opportunities to take advantage of Thomas. Not only did Quick have some ground on him on the play that turned into an interception for a touchdown but Tavon Austin beat him on the play called back for tripping and Quick later beat him for a 73-yard gain.
• Speaking of the tripping, from a look at the tape, Jake Long is down on all fours with both legs on the ground and it does appear that he lifts his leg to get the call. The ball is pretty much out of Bradford’s hand when it happens and it’s a call that is probably one that can go either way but it’s also understandable why the call would be made.
• One route that seems to be effective for Rams against the blitz and in general is the use of crossing routes. Bradford hit Givens on one in the face of a blitz and it went for a big gain.
• The near-miss touchdown for Austin Pettis would have been a tough catch but it’s one Pettis can make. He’d probably like to have that one back.
• Some good moments for Quick and some bad ones. Two bad drops, including a touchdown almost erase the memories of two big gains in other spots. Consistency has been an issue for him and he’s still looking for it.
• It’s a shame the trip on Austin’s touchdown was called because if not for that we’d be recognizing what a good game he had. He caught every ball thrown his way and made a nice diving catch for one of them. Add 63 yards and a touchdown to his total and he had the best game of his young career.
• Excellent play design on the touchdown pass to Stacy. Austin came in motion on what looked to be an end-around and as he ran left, Stacy leaked out to the right. Good call and even better execution.
• The Rams split time almost evenly between Rodger Saffold and Joe Barksdale at right tackle. On Monday, coach Jeff Fisher complimented Saffold, going so far as to say he was just shy of dominant. From watching, it’s hard to disagree. Saffold played quite well, especially for a guy coming back from injury. While Barksdale wasn’t bad, Saffold was clearly better.