ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Turley's frown warns everyone not to go there. Too late -- someone has mentioned that hated word in St. Louis.
Turley, the rugged right tackle in his first year with the Rams after five seasons in New Orleans, knew it was coming. He figured when the specter of Carolina's sometimes-dominant defensive line was close on the horizon, he'd hear how the Rams might not be powerful enough up front. How All-Pro defensive tackle Kris Jenkins and dangerous ends Mike Rucker and Julius Pepper would be too much for Turley and his blocking buddies to handle in today's NFC divisional playoff game.
"You've got a great defensive line coming in against this team, they're supposed to dominate," Turley said sarcastically. "Once again, that's perception versus reality, that this team is perceived to be a finesse football team.
"You always have your perceptions of how things can be, and everybody outside this organization has got a perception of how this team is, that we're a finesse team and all these different stigmas that they want to put on our shoulders."
Turley notes that with him, Orlando Pace, and Adam Timmerman on the line, the Rams are willing and able to slug it out with anyone. Sure, coach Mike Martz is a pass-first guy, and St. Louis (12-4) ranked 30th in rushing yards. But star runner Marshall Faulk was injured for five games and backup Lamar Gordon did not play in five, too.
Still, Turley and the other blockers will be measured this weekend by how they handle the pass rush. Carolina's defensive linemen had 32 1/2 sacks, second in the NFL to Miami's front four. In Rucker (12 sacks), Peppers (7), Jenkins (5), and reserve Al Wallace (5), the Panthers (12-5) present a formidable challenge.
"You don't always have to get sacks to be disruptive," said defensive tackle Brentson Buckner, the line's foremost spokesman. "That's a case in point with Julius. He's five sacks off what he had last year, but you can turn on the film and he's probably one of the most disruptive people in the NFL right now."
And he's Turley's responsibility, with the winner of that matchup perhaps being pivotal in deciding which team goes to the NFC title game.
"These are the situations you want to be in," Turley said. "These are the games you want to be in as a player, and you get excited for them. You enjoy the great games because that's where you measure your talent.
"So you go up against a Michael Strahan or a Julius Peppers or a Leonard Little on our team . . . I mean [Panthers tackle] Jordan Gross is going to have a test for himself and he's had a great season.
"Their defensive front has had success at their positions because they are strong from end to end and in the middle. They've got Jenkins in the middle, I think that's been a big source of success for the defensive front, because you get that push up the middle. And Julius Peppers is a tremendous athlete, he has Jevon Kearse speed to a degree, and he's got the size and power. He's an ex-basketball player, so you know he's very athletic. He is a great player."
Sounds like the Rams should just give up trying to hold them off, doesn't it? Well, hardly.
St. Louis scored 447 points; only Kansas City had more. The Rams protected Marc Bulger well enough to rank third in team passing, but they allowed 42 sacks. Still, six came in the opener with Kurt Warner -- his only start -- and five were in Game 2 against San Francisco.
In the subsequent seven homes games after the victory against the 49ers, St. Louis yielded 10 sacks. The entire line of Turley, Pace, Timmerman, center Dave Wohlabaugh, and guard Andy McCollum started all 16 games.
They know how to work together, and they know what the imminent task is.
"That's going to be a huge matchup," Panthers coach John Fox said. "I don't think that's going to be the only one of the game, but that's definitely a big one."