Dec 16, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson (39) breaks away from Minnesota Vikings strong safety Jamarca Sanford (33) during the second half at the Edward Jones Dome. Jackson passed the 10000 career rushing yard mark on the play. The Vikings defeated the Rams 36-22. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
The St. Louis Rams will be traveling to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in a matchup of two 6 win teams. The Bucs were eliminated last weekend from playoff contention as they were blown out by New Orleans 41-0, while the Rams are clinging to the slimmest of playoff hopes following their 36-22 beatdown by Adrian Peterson. The Rams and Bucs are both young teams under their first year with a new head coach, and both appear to have good seasons ahead as their young players develop. These teams do appear to be on a different trajectory since week 10 as the Rams are 3-2-1 while the Bucs are 2-4 and riding a 4 game losing streak. Let’s go ahead and take a look at how these two teams match up in the three different phases.
Rams Offense vs. Bucs Defense. The Bucs defense has been very stout against the run this season and lead the league in both yards per game (83.3) and yards per carry (3.5). Part of the reason for this could be that the Bucs defense is also worst in the league against the pass surrendering 311 yards per game at 8.1 yards per pass attempt and an average of 38 attempts per game. If you take the average number of yards per game and yards per carry you will find that teams run the ball 5 times less per game against the Bucs than they do against the Rams. In spite of teams averaging nearly 40 pass attempts per game against them, the Bucs rank near the bottom of the league in sacks with 25 on the season. The Bucs are getting sacks on less than 5% of their opponents drop backs, the Rams are getting sacks on nearly 9.5% of their opponents drop backs by comparison. Perhaps this is the week that Sam Bradford and the Rams break their streak of consecutive games with at least one sack, which currently stands at 30. Sam Bradford put up some of his best numbers (377 yards, 3TDs, 1 INT) against the Vikings last weekend, even if most of it was against a softer zone defense. He could definitely post similar numbers against a Bucs defense that has struggled against the pass all season long. On the ground Steven Jackson is a mere 91 yards away from becoming the 6th player in NFL history to have 8 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons. Jackson may find it to be tough sledding against the leagues number one rush defense, but the last time the Rams traveled to Florida to take on the leagues number one rush defense he averaged 4.3 yards per carry in limited action (12 carries). Jackson has since resumed a much larger workload in the offense and should get 20-25 carries in this game as he has averaged 19.8 carries per game since the bye. This game could present one of the more favorable matchups for the Rams offense all season, as long as the Rams can protect Bradford the advantage goes to the Rams.
Rams Defense vs. Bucs Offense. The Bucs Josh Freeman is coming off one of the worst performances of his young career and will be hoping to rebound against the Rams. The Bucs may try to lean on their sensational rookie running back, Doug Martin, and get back to the formula that had them at 6-4 and poised for a playoff birth before their 4 game slide. The Bucs also have a pretty good receiving corps headlined by Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, a pair of big physical receivers that will present a tough matchup for the Rams secondary. The Rams front 7 will also have a tough task in the passing game as the Bucs have allowed only 21 sacks all season (tied for third best in the NFL), part of the reason being Josh Freeman is a big strong quarterback who is difficult to bring down. The Bucs have a very balanced offensive attack as they rank 12th in passing yards and 14th in rushing yards per game, and average just over 25 points per game. The emergence of Michael Brockers in the middle of the defensive line has had a big impact on the Rams defense, in both the run game and pressuring the passer. The Rams defense has been fairly hot and cold this season, but if they can generate some pressure on Freeman and force some turnovers advantage goes to the Rams. If the Rams can’t manage to force turnovers and stop the running game it will be a long day in Tampa.
Special Teams. Neither of these teams has been spectacular on special teams this season, but neither has been giving up the huge play either. Each team has a strong legged young place kicker, and each team ranks near the bottom of the league in net punt average. The one big difference between these teams is average starting field position. As Rams fans know this has been a big problem area for the Rams this season, but the Bucs have found themselves towards the top of the league in average starting field position. Perhaps the Bucs don’t constantly commit special teams penalties like the Rams do. I don’t see a big advantage in terms of special teams for either team, even though the Rams have shown the ability to pull off fake punts and field goals. I will give the edge here to the Bucs by virtue of their advantage on average starting field position.
This is a pretty tough game to call, the Rams probably have the advantage on both offense and defense, but the Bucs have home field advantage and present some matchup issues for the Rams. One final and often overlooked aspect of the game is the coaching matchup, and I would put money on Jeff Fisher over Greg Schiano every day of the week. As long as Schotty doesn’t find something that works and then completely avoid it for the rest of the game, I expect the Rams to win this one. Earlier in the week we predicted a strong game from Sam Bradford in a very favorable matchup and will stick with that prediction. Thanks for reading and as always Go Rams!!