Wilks seeks debut win as Panthers visit Rams; Mayfield out of practice again
Published 6:37 pm Thursday, October 13, 2022
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Not many NFL offenses have struggled more than the Los Angeles Rams’ unit this season.
The Carolina Panthers’ offense is one of them.
The Panthers’ struggles aren’t exactly surprising, since their top three quarterbacks are either injured or ineffective. Carolina (1-4) took drastic steps to fix its larger problems Monday by firing coach Matt Rhule, and Steve Wilks will make his interim head coaching debut Sunday when the Panthers visit the defending Super Bowl champions (2-3) at SoFi Stadium.
Wilks’ quarterback is all but certain to be P.J. Walker, the seldom-used veteran backup who’s the last man standing behind Baker Mayfield and Southern California natives Sam Darnold and Matt Corral.
“I’m confident in P.J., and I think the players are confident in P.J.,” said Wilks, the fourth head coach in the past four seasons for a franchise that had only two coaches in the previous 17 seasons. “This is one of those situations where, you’re sitting where we are right now this season, and everybody could start pressing and trying to do things outside the system. We don’t need one guy to go out and win the football game. Just go out and do what you do.”
The Rams haven’t been able to do practically anything consistently on offense, with a barely functional running game and an NFL-high 21 sacks allowed. Although offensive line injuries are the primary culprit, mistakes and missed assignments have infected the entire group to a degree that coach Sean McVay has rarely seen in his six seasons.
“It’s hard to beat another team if you don’t stop beating yourself,” McVay said. “So those are the things that we’ll continue to focus on: great communication, great command, great clarity from us. I do believe those things are correctable, and I think that’s going to be reflected this week.”
A struggling opponent in turmoil would seem to be an ideal foe for the Rams, whose back-to-back losses to San Francisco and Dallas have put them below .500 for only the second time in McVay’s career. But a coach’s firing frequently generates energy in professional team sports, and Carolina is equipped to cause problems for the Rams’ dismal offensive line with stalwarts Brian Burns and Derrick Brown up front.
“They’re a really impressive group,” Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said, singling out Burns and linebacker Shaq Thompson. “Probably in a little bit of a transition with what’s gone on, so there’s an element of that to get ready for, but you’ve really got to just go out there and trust your rules and play.”
Wilks said the plan is for the Panthers to be more aggressive on offense and not allow opposing defenses to dictate what they do.
That might mean more downfield passes — something the Panthers haven’t done much of this season.
“We aren’t going to sit back and react to the defense,” Wilks said. “We want to put pressure on them and have them react to us and mix things in, whether it’s inside or outside on the perimeter, and then try to go over the top.”
KUPP VS HORN?
NFL receptions leader Cooper Kupp has been the best part of the Rams’ offense, racking up 49 catches for 527 yards and four TDs. Jaycee Horn has been one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks in coverage this season, but he missed practice time this week with a rib injury after being unable to finish last week’s game.
MOORE OR LESS
The Panthers signed receiver D.J. Moore to a three-year, $61.8 million extension this year, but his production has suddenly dropped off.
Moore, who is coming off three straight seasons with at least 1,150 yards receiving, has 17 catches for 197 yards and one touchdown through five games with Mayfield at the helm. Mayfield and Moore appeared to have great chemistry in training camp, but it hasn’t translated to games, in part because of Mayfield’s accuracy issues.
Wilks is hoping to get Moore more involved in the offense, whether Mayfield or Walker is playing.
The Rams will see a familiar face on the Panthers’ offensive line: right guard Austin Corbett, who built a career in Los Angeles and won a Super Bowl ring before leaving last spring for a three-year, $26.25 million deal in free agency. The Rams promoted from within to replace him, but the first two contenders — Coleman Shelton and Tremayne Anchrum — are both hurt. Alaric Jackson is the current starter, but the longtime tackle doesn’t appear to be adapting swiftly to guard.
Thompson said this may be a good week for the Panthers to get away from home and play a road game, given the firing of Rhule and the team being roundly booed in recent weeks at home.
“We’re playing against the world champions,” Thompson said. “They just came off a loss at home like we did, and we’re going to trying to give them another one.”
The Panthers are 1-3 at home.
Mayfield a no-show at practice again
Quarterback Baker Mayfield was a no-show at the portion of practice open to reporters on Thursday, further increasing the likelihood that P.J. Walker will start for the Carolina Panthers against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks said Wednesday that he wasn’t ready to rule out Mayfield from playing despite a sprained left ankle, but emphasized he would have to see the 2018 No. 1 overall draft pick practice before considering that option.
Mayfield has now missed two days of practice.
Walker, who is 2-0 as Carolina’s starter over the past few seasons, took all of the quarterback reps on Wednesday. Mayfield was seen walking through the locker room with a boot still on his left foot.
CAROLINA (1-4) at LOS ANGELES RAMS (2-3)
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. EDT, FOX
BETTING LINE: Rams by 10, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Panthers 1-4; Rams 1-4.
SERIES RECORD: Panthers lead 13-9
LAST MEETING: Rams beat Panthers 30-27 on Sept. 8, 2019 in Charlotte
LAST WEEK: Panthers lost to 49ers 37-15; Rams lost to Cowboys 22-10.
PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (32), RUSH (27), PASS (28), SCORING (24T).
PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (20), RUSH (27), PASS (17), SCORING (20T).
RAMS OFFENSE: OVERALL (26), RUSH (32), PASS (18), SCORING (29).
RAMS DEFENSE: OVERALL (11), RUSH (11), PASS (13), SCORING (16).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Panthers minus-2 (23T); Rams minus-5 (29th).
PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: DE Brian Burns. The Pro Bowl edge rusher has four sacks in five games and continues to be a dominant force for Carolina even when he’s not getting to the quarterback. Burns will look to fluster Matthew Stafford and the Rams, who have given up the most sacks in the league (21) this season.
RAMS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Cam Akers got 13 of the Rams’ 15 rush attempts against the Cowboys, but he could only turn them into 33 yards. Los Angeles doesn’t need a dominant run game, just one effective enough to help keep the offense on schedule and open up play action.
KEY MATCHUP: Panthers third down offense vs. Rams third down defense. The Panthers have been abysmal on third downs this season, converting just 24.2% of their opportunities into first downs. P.J. Walker will start at quarterback this week in place of the injured Baker Mayfield, who has struggled mightily since joining the Panthers in July. The Rams are 22nd in the league in third down defense so there will be chances for the Panthers to move the chains.
KEY INJURIES: Mayfield is out with a high ankle sprain so Walker will make his third career NFL start this week. … The Panthers gave up 37 points last week to the 49ers, but that was without four of their defensive starters. S Jeremy Chinn (hamstring) remains on IR, but the team is hoping to get CB Jaycee Horn (hip), S Xavier Woods (hamstring) and LB Frankie Luvu (shoulder) — their top playmaker on that side of the ball — back this week. … The Rams are holding several top players out of practice because of minor injuries, although none is expected to miss the game. The group includes WR Cooper Kupp (foot), DT Aaron Donald (foot) and TE Tyler Higbee (ankle). … C Brian Allen (knee) will miss his fifth straight game. Matt Skura could start after being signed to the active roster. … LG David Edwards (concussion) will miss at least four games after being placed on injured reserve.
SERIES NOTES: This will be just the fourth meeting between the Panthers and Rams going back to 2013. … This is Carolina’s second trip to Los Angeles since the Rams moved back in 2016. They won 13-10 at the LA Coliseum in November 2016.
STATS AND STUFF: The Panthers fired Matt Rhule on Monday and hired Steve Wilks as their interim head coach. … Wilks appointed Al Holcomb as the defensive coordinator to take over for Phil Snow, who was also fired Monday. … The Panthers have lost 11 of their past 12 games. … Carolina hasn’t won a road game since Nov. 14, 2021, when it beat the Arizona Cardinals 34-10 behind two touchdown runs by Cam Newton. … Walker is 2-0 as a Panthers starting quarterback. … RB Christian McCaffrey is one of just four players with 100 yards from scrimmage in four games this season. … Carolina’s offensive line has allowed 17 sacks this season. … The Rams have rushed for 100 yards once this season, finishing with 100 yards on 20 carries against Arizona in Week 3. They have not gained more than 65 yards on the ground in any of their other four games. … Kupp ranks third in the NFL with 267 yards after the catch. … Stafford has been sacked on 13.3% of his pass attempts in his past two games (12 sacks on 90 drop-backs). … Donald has six of Los Angeles’ 14 tackles for loss. … The Rams have been outscored 47-3 in the fourth quarter this season. … The defense ranks fourth in red zone defense, allowing four touchdowns in 11 possessions (36.4%).
FANTASY TIP: Here comes the ‘get well’ game for Stafford and everyone else in the Rams’ pass game not named Kupp. The Panthers gave up eight completions of at least 15 yards to the 49ers.
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