Is this the game where the LA Rams must face their run defense demons? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers seem to be loaded for a ground game assault. After all, the Bucs offense powered its way through the NFL Playoffs a year ago and this season by throwing to WRs Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Breshad Perriman, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard.
But Godwin is on IR, Antonio Brown has been cut after taking off his equipment and pulling himself out of a game at halftime, and Perriman is out due to nursing a hip/abdominal injury. So how will the Bucs offense move the chains? Well, the old-fashioned way. The Buccaneers just activated RB Leonard Fournette. The LA Rams should expect to see a lot of him in the Divisional Round.
Fournette will join Giovani Bernard and Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the Buccaneers backfield. It was the tandem of Bernard and Vaughn that kept the Philadelphia Eagles defense honest. The pair combined for 97 yards and two rushing touchdowns in a game where Tom Brady threw for 29 of 37, 279 yards, and two passing touchdowns.
With fewer weapons in the passing game, you may look for the Buccaneers to run more than usual. Fournette was, far and away, their best running back, running for 812 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. But he was also a threat in the passing game. Even with Evans and Godwin on the roster, Fournette was the Buccaneers’ fifth-best receiver. This is despite the fact that he fell to injury in Week 15 to the New Orleans Saints. With his return, the LA Rams will need to stuff the run as well as defend the pass.
Bucs will run, run, run
What of offensive center Ryan Jensen and offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs? NFL reporter and analyst Ian Rappaport showed up on the Pat McAfee Show and indicated that Fournette and Jensen are likely a go. He indicated that Tristan Wirgs is a game-time decision.
It appears that the Buccaneers are taking the threat of the LA Rams pass rush very seriously. Running the ball will keep the Rams pass rushers from pinning their ears back and launching at Brady. But will it work?
The Rams held the Arizona Cardinals to 61 yards, one touchdown, and an average of 3.4 yards per rush. The San Francisco 49ers were far more committed to running the football, carrying the ball 31 times for 135 yards, one touchdown, and a 4.4 yards per rush average.
In their past two games, the Bucs have rushed 18 times for 42 yards and a touchdown (2020), and 13 times for 35 yards and a touchdown (2021). Since the Rams have won both games, it falls to reason that the Buccaneers will likely try a new strategy. For more evidence, the lone win that the Buccaneers had over the New Orleans Saints in the past two years involved the Bucs rushing times for 127 yards and a touchdown. In that one, Brady passed 18 of 33 times for 199 yards and two touchdowns. But, most of all, Brady was only sacked once.
We expect the Buccaneers to run the ball. How well they do depends on the LA Rams defense.