Here we go again, Rams fans. Over the past few years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been no strangers to the LA Rams. Rams head coach Sean McVay has faced the Bucs four times (three times in the regular season, once in the playoffs) in his six and a half seasons, hoisting a 3-1 record over that squad. Perhaps more notable, McVay and the Rams have not lost in three contests since “Tompa Bay” acquired quarterback Tom Brady in 2020 via free agency.
The Rams have come out on top of the last three matchups, but these games have been filled with breathtaking drama. The best of the bunch was obviously their last battle, the showdown in the divisional round of the 2021 NFL Playoffs. That game was filled with several big plays and a ton of offense for two teams who had hopes of winning the Super Bowl. The game this Sunday, however, holds very different circumstances. These are two teams that will be fighting to keep their seasons alive in a game that will have big implications down the line on the NFC playoff picture.
The Buccaneers hold a 3-5 record near the midway point of the season, as the Rams are 3-4 with their bye week in the rearview mirror. With both teams under .500 and needing a win, get ready for another tough matchup that will take all four quarters to win.
Can the Rams’ offense get going?
According to Statmuse, the Rams and Buccaneers respectively score the 28th and 24th most points per game in the NFL this season. Both offenses have struggled to run the football, as neither team has yet to have a hundred-yard rusher this year. For the Rams, those issues begin up front at the line of scrimmage. The offensive line, battered with numerous injuries that have forced a new starting five in each of the first seven games, has struggled at creating rushing lanes. But even when creases and lanes do appear, the running backs struggle to find the lane and show no indications that they can create yards outside of the scheme.
The Rams are averaging only 68.4 yards rushing a game, which has led to Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing the ball a ton. Despite the Rams’ failures rushing the ball so far, it may fall right into their game plan this week. With the return of Brian Allen, look for the Rams to try and establish the run against a Tampa Bay defense that has allowed over 164 rushing yards a game over the last five weeks.
You have to wonder if this is the week that Stafford and the offense will get it going through the air. Outside of phenomenal Rams WR Cooper Kupp and the reliable TE Tyler Higbee, the Rams have not had much production from their pass catchers this season. In two matchups last season, Coach McVay often took advantage of what he felt was a vulnerable Bucs secondary including Carlton Davis, Antoine Winfield, and Jamel Dean.
Having back Rams WR Van Jefferson will eventually start opening up the middle of the field more for Kupp and Rams WR Allen Robinson as he starts to get his feet back under him.
Will we see one of those familiar Stafford-to-Jefferson bombs this week? You’ve got to think there’s a strong possibility. It is his speed and ability to stretch the field that the offense has been missing through the first half of this season. With a Tampa defense that has seemed like a shell of its former self, it’ll be interesting to see if an also struggling Rams offense can get it going. The Rams decimated the Buccaneers’ secondary in 2021 through the likes of WR DeSean Jackson and Jefferson.
Frustrating Tom Brady
Any time you play against Brady, you must get pressure and make him uncomfortable in the pocket. Last year, Brady went on record saying he hated playing defenses like the Rams because they could generate pressure with just their front four. This year it has been different, as the Rams have missed the presence of former OLB Von Miller. Rams All-Pro DT Aaron Donald has been seeing consistent double teams, and Rams OLB Leonard Floyd has only recently begun to get after the quarterback.
However, Floyd played his best game of the year by far last week against the 49ers. He tallied nine tackles, two sacks, and two tackles for loss. The Rams are hoping that he continues to come into his own, taking some of that pressure off Donald.
On the back end, some fans have been frustrated with the lack of press coverage by the Rams’ defense. This is in part because of the personnel issues they’ve been having due to injuries, but it also has allowed quarterbacks to get the ball out much quicker than what the Rams want them to. To put it in perspective, the Rams rank second in the NFL in pass rush win rate.
The Rams and defensive coordinator Raheem Morris are going to stick with their cover-3 philosophy. While they could definitely tighten up their alignment at times to disguise their coverage schemes, this is simply a part of their defense. Rams outside linebackers Justin Hollins and Terrell Lewis will have to step up and get pressure on the quarterback opposite Floyd, and the interior defensive line must make the pocket muddy for Brady. Expect the Rams to also deploy some blitzes to help get pressure, as they are currently sending blitzes at one of the highest rates in the NFL.
Expect another close one
All schemes aside, these are two teams that will come out on Sunday and play extremely hard to salvage their respective seasons. These games against the Bucs have been some drag-out brawls, and I don’t expect this one to be much different. The Rams face the Bucs in a pivotal NFC showdown on Sunday afternoon in Tampa Bay.