*CHARLOTTE, N.C. *- Opening up the 2019 season on the road, the Rams rode plays made by their defense and rushing attack to a 30-27 win at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Here are five instant takeaways from the exhibition matchup.
1) LITTLETON SETS THE TONE ON TAKEAWAYS
It didn’t take long for LB Cory Littleton to make an impact.
Los Angeles chose to defer the opening kickoff and start the game on defense, and Littleton rewarded the decision with a forced fumble and subsequent recovery that set the Rams up at the Panthers’ 33-yard line. Littleton later recorded an interception on Carolina’s second-to-last offensive drive to momentarily stall its late momentum.
The unfortunate part was that the Rams failed to capitalize on both turnovers. The ensuing possession on the fumble recovery ended with a Johnny Hekker punt, while the possession after the interception saw kicker Greg Zuerlein uncharacteristically miss a field goal. Nonetheless, Fowler was at the forefront of a big day for turnovers for the Rams’ defense.
2) KUPP LOOKS LIKE HIS NORMAL SELF
Any concerns about rust for Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp were quickly alleviated on Los Angeles’ first offensive series.
The former Eastern Washington standout tallied four receptions for 24 yards on that drive alone, on his way to seven receptions for 47 yards on 10 targets from QB Jared Goff. His receptions of 10 and 17 yards late in the third quarter helped set up RB Malcolm Brown’s second touchdown of the day.
Overall, Kupp looked durable and reliable – or exactly like what Rams fans have been accustomed to seeing when he’s at full strength.
3) BROWN STEPS UP
The flow of the game saw more action for Malcolm Brown than Todd Gurley initially in the Rams backfield, and Brown was able to maximize his touches.
A forced fumble and subsequent recovery by LB Samson Ebukam gave the Rams prime field position at the Panthers 10-yard line, then Brown needed just two carries to find the endzone for his first touchdown of the day.
Brown finished with 11 carries for 53 yards and two total touchdowns, but equally as important, he kept Gurley fresh and allowed him to finish the game strong.
4) GURLEY FINISHES
It was a slow start for RB Todd Gurley, but he made up for it with a crucial second half.
Runs of 25 and 15 yards came on two of the Rams’ scoring drives in the second half after just five carries for eight yards in the first. His late surge paved the way for an 14-carry, 97-yard day – that’s 89 of his 97 yards coming after halftime.
Many were anxious to see how Gurley looked in the opener. Thanks to his work in the third and fourth quarter, they got a pretty good answer.
5) RECENT ADDITIONS AT LINEBACKER MAKE NOISE
Dante Fowler Jr. was acquired midway through the 2018 season, Clay Matthews during this past offseason. Together, they brought strong pressure from each of the outside linebacker spots and made a difference in Sunday’s game.
Matthews collected the Rams’ first sack of the 2019 season, while Fowler led the team with two plus a Rams-high three quarterback hits.
Matthews admitted that the opportunity to bring down Newton was a “layup” – a common theme for many of the instances in which the Rams were able to get to Panthers QB Cam Newton due to confusion and missed assignments on Carolina’s part.
Still, both he and Fowler played an important role and did exactly what they were brought in by Los Angeles to do.