CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Inside linebacker Cory Littleton began the Rams' string of takeaways against the Panthers. Appropriately, he finished with the last one too.
Los Angeles' defense forced three turnovers in Sunday's 30-27 win at Carolina, and it was Littleton who set the tone.
"Great athleticism," Rams head coach Sean McVay said of Littleton. "A guy that can really compete. Defending the run, defending the pass, he's always active."
Littleton collected a team-high 14 total tackles, but just as important to those stops was the forced fumble and interception he added to his stat line.
The forced fumble provided L.A. with a momentum-changing play early on. Carolina reached Los Angeles' 26-yard line, but Littleton knocking the ball loose and recovering helped stall the Panthers' chance at taking a first quarter lead at home.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Rams were hanging on to a 10-point lead after TE Tyler Higbee's touchdown catch and the Panthers were looking to trim the deficit to three. Carolina QB Cam Newton fired a short pass over the middle intended for TE Greg Olsen, only to get picked off by Littleton. The ensuing17-yard interception return set up Los Angeles at the Carolina 26-yard line.
"We're in a zone defense, Cam is a readable guy. He gave me an opportunity, I read it perfectly, and I actually caught the ball today," said Littleton, who smiled and clapped his hands in gratitude. "Don't catch them in practice, but I catch them in a game."
The timeliness of Littleton's takeaways stretched beyond Sunday, because it ignited a key component of Los Angeles' defense as it prepares to face one of the NFL's most productive offenses in its home opener this weekend – an offense that not only produces at a high level but makes few mistakes doing so.
During the 2018 regular season, the Saints averaged the eighth-most total yards of offense per game at 379.2. Their 60 total touchdowns also tied with the Rams for second-most in the NFL. Meanwhile, they only had 16 giveaways – seven interceptions and nine fumbles lost – tied for third-fewest in the league.
Even with the takeaways, Littleton said there were still things for L.A. to work on. However, if they have their way, Littleton's contagious execution will carry over into this weekend's home opener against New Orleans.
"Throughout the season, we plan on doing just that, getting better and stacking wins," Littleton said.