ST. LOUIS — Killing two birds with one stone -- getting over .500 for the season and stringing together their second three-game winning streak in the last seven seasons -- is possible this week for the St. Louis Rams.
The Rams (3-3) can accomplish both of those goals with a win over the Carolina Panthers (2-3).
The Rams enter the game riding a two-game win streak with the common denominator in both of those victories being an improved running attack behind rookie Zac Stacy.
As the starter at running back the last two games, Stacy has rushed for 157 yards and averaged a respectible 4.9 yards per carry.
"I love the balance,'' Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I really think through the third quarter, if you look at it, it was probably a 50-50 mix of run-pass (last Sunday in a 38-13 win over the Houston Texans).
"And, I think when we're able to do that and we're running the ball effectively, I think that's when this offense is at its best.''
The Panthers rank fourth in rushing defense with an 88.8 yards per game and third in overall defense with an average of 299.2 yards per game. They've forced eight turnovers in their last three games.
"Our challenge this week, however, is a little different than the last two from the standpoint that this defense is very good against the run,'' Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "This defense is very well-coached, very aggressive, not giving up any points. They have not been scored upon in the first quarter this year.''
Indeed, the Panthers have outscored their opponents 17-0 in the first quarter this season.
The Panthers also have eight interceptions with safety Mike Mitchell leading the way with three.
Mitchell starts at free safety in a defensive backfield that also features strong safety Quintin Mikell, a former Ram (2011-12) who has 13 tackles and a sack.
"I'm excited,'' Mikell said of playing the Rams. "This is a big week, not just for me, but we have an opportunity to get to .500 and get the win.
"Obviously, I want to play well. Obviously, whenever you get to go against your former team ... you get excited to show them what you still have.''
The game will feature two former No. 1 overall picks in Bradford, the top choice in the 2010 NFL draft, and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton, the top choice in 2011 NFL draft.
Newton completed 20 of 26 passes for 242 and three touchdowns, while rushing for 30 yards and a touchdown in a 35-10 win over the Vikings last week.
"Tremendous athlete, great arm strength and accuracy and mobility,'' Fisher said of Newton. "He extends plays when he needs to with his legs, and then they call plays to use his legs. He's playing really well.''
The Panthers' top two receivers are tight end Greg Olsen with 23 catches for 292 yards and one touchdown and wide receiver Steve Smith with 23 catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
"He's not playing like an old man right now,'' Fisher said of the 34-year-old Smith. "He wants the ball, he can get behind you and he's still blocking like he always has. He's fun to watch on tape. He's really quite a competitor."
The Rams have posted three consecutive wins only once since 2007. That was last year when they beat Arizona, San Francisco and Buffalo in Weeks 12-14.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.