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ST. LOUIS RAMS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS, SUNDAY 1 P.M., FOX

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Rams at Panthers: Joseph Person’s three things to watch

Grab the early momentum

The Panthers’ methodical, 9-minute, 29-second touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday took the Metrodome crowd out of the game. It’s equally important to set the tone at home, where the Panthers are 7-11 under Ron Rivera. With an early lead, the Panthers can stick with a run-pass mix to keep the Rams off balance, and keep Cam Newton a little cleaner in the pocket.

Get the Rams in third-and-long

Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott likes to play soft zone coverage and force quarterbacks to take the underneath throws. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has been labeled a dink-and-dunk specialist in the past, although he has a few deep threats, including big, athletic tight end Jared Cook. If the Panthers can limit the damage on first and second downs, the Rams have converted only 31 percent of third downs, next to last in the league.

Play smart offensively

Newton is coming off a 20-for-26 passing effort against the Vikings that produced the best passer rating (143.4) of his career. Newton again must go through his progressions quickly and get rid of the ball, or risk being taken down by defensive end Robert Quinn, who leads the NFC with six sacks. The Panthers should be able to run the ball against St. Louis, which is 30th in rushing defense. But Newton also will take a few shots downfield against a Rams secondary expected to be without cornerback Cortland Finnegan.

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