When the Los Angeles Rams travel to face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, it’s two teams that are 3-5 looking in a mirror.
I’m sure there will be lots of pre-game chatter about how each team needs to win or else it’s going to miss the playoffs, blah blah blah.
Don’t believe it. The NFC is so bad, an 8-10 team might get a wild card. The loser of this game isn’t out of it by any means.
We’ve detailed what’s been wrong with the Rams this season a lot around here Today we’re going to flip over and look at the Bucs. I’ve studied the Bucs’ last three game films to let you know what to look for and how the Rams can win.
The bad news is these two teams are almost exactly the same at this point. They try to compensate for poor offensive lines with quick passing games. Their running games are bad. Like so many other games, it will probably come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes.
But what will be the Bucs’ plan of attack and who do the Rams have to worry about?
When the Bucs Run The Ball
Is Tom Brady done? No. Not even close, but at age 45 he does have his limitations. The problem is that the Bucs offensive line isn’t good, outside of Tristan Wirfs at tackle. Watching the Bucs lose to the Panthers 21-3 I kept coming back to the same thought: All the Bucs do is pass on first down.
So I did the chart. On the Bucs 24 first down opportunities, they passed on 18 of them and ran the ball on six. That’s just silly.
The issue to me is that the Bucs offensive line is so focused on protecting Brady and the passing game, they never get into a rhythm in the running game and create holes.
However, even when there are holes, the Bucs struggle. Leonard Fournette made his name at LSU blowing up SEC linebackers (you’ll see he still wears his purple and gold shoulder pads underneath his jersey), but now, the minute he shifts his feet, he’s toast. He’s got no acceleration. The Bucs try to compensate for that by throwing the ball to Fournette a lot, but that doesn’t work real well either.
The one Bucs running back to worry about is rookie Rachaad White out of Arizona State. The Bucs use him on special teams and he has some burst.
When the Bucs Pass The Ball
Julio Jones came back from an injury against the Baltimore Ravens. He’s still a big, strong target, but he’s not the player he was back in Atlanta.
The Bucs version of Cooper Kupp (I’m telling you these teams are identical) is Mike Evans. But where Kupp’s elite skill is precision routes, Evans is just big and strong. He’s impossible to get through for a defensive back.
Brady looks to Evans first, but also Chris Godwin has become a key target for Brady on third down. He’s faster and runs more intermediate routes.
The Bucs have no real tight end to worry about.
The inability to run the ball really hurts the Bucs in the red zone. They only had one touchdown against the Steelers three weeks ago, and only a field goal against Panthers in the loss. Everything gets more crowded down around the goal line, so the Bucs can’t scheme players as open in the passing game.
Scouting The Bucs Defense
In both the loss to the Ravens and Panthers, the Bucs rushing defense just eventually broke in the second half. Baltimore and Lamar Jackson cooked the Bucs with the zone read, which is not something in the Rams playbook.
The Panthers though did some things to the Bucs that the Rams can model. They exploited some weaknesses of over pursuing linebackers (Devin White especially) and had plenty of cut-back lanes. Bucs linebacker Lavonte David is in his 11th year in the NFL, it’s hard to fool him, but he’s a liability in coverage.
Antonie Wingfield Jr. is the Bucs best cover man. I would expect him to match up on Kupp all over the field, but he’s also banged up. Ryan Succop is a quality kicker. He made a career-long 54-yarder against the Steelers.
How The Rams Match-Up
Again, it’s two teams with similar approaches on offense. The Rams like to use the short passing game because of the problems on its offensive line. They rank last in the NFL in running the ball, which is a shame because if there was a team I’d try to run against right now it might be the Bucs.
Brady is still Brady. He’s still accurate (maybe not like he was, but still good) and he inspires confidence in his teammates, but his teammates just aren’t very good. It’s clear he gets frustrated sometimes with them. I saw a lot of his offensive linemen jump offsides in the last three games, and those kind of pre-snap penalties drives him nuts.
Defensively, it’s a good match-up for the Rams, just like in the playoff game. Aaron Donald should have a big game pushing the pocket in on Brady. If I’m the Bucs, I try to run the ball against the Rams to negate Donald. We will see if they have the courage to do it.
How The Rams Win
Just play clean. More games are lost in the NFL than won, and the Bucs are on a three-game losing streak, the offense is struggling, Brady is getting a divorce (that sucks) and the defense just doesn’t make a lot of big plays.
Again, that sounds a lot like the Rams.
But what the Rams need to do is take care of the football. Remember, they win the playoff game last year big if they don’t turn the ball over in the fourth quarter. If Kupp is 100 percent, he should be able to find some holes in the Bucs secondary and gain yards and move the sticks.
The Bucs don’t rush the passer like the Rams can, so that’s a win for the Rams too. I’d love to finally see the Rams commit to running the ball, because I think the Bucs are vulnerable there, but the Rams have to do what they do best.