Aaron Donald Vs Ali Marpet Highlight Key Matchups In Rams And Buccaneers Playoff Game
It is widely known that the best way to beat Jalen Ramsey is to avoid him entirely. But Tom Brady ignored that advice and threw at him 10 times when the two first faced off in week three this season. That was Ramsey’s highwater mark for targets this season. The ultimate result was a win for the Rams and a rough but overall solid performance from Ramsey. He gave catches and yards, but he showed grit in the face of that onslaught. His performance was indicative of the Rams defense that day.
It was that kind of grit that allowed the Rams to beat the defending Super Bowl champions even though Brady threw for 432 yards. Which is his highwater mark for the season. In fact, it is the Rams worst performance when it comes to passing yards. But the defense held strong and got the job done. Particularly early in the game. They held Tampa Bay to just 50 yards in the first quarter resulting in three straight punts.
Specifically, the secondary’s contribution to this effort was locking down Brady’s deep options, forcing him to throw short. Because Ramsey was covering Chris Godwin in the slot it resulted in Brady being forced to target Ramsey. This is a pretty amazing way to get a quarterback to do something against their best interests and it worked. It limited Brady’s explosive abilities. The Rams held Brady to an average depth of target of 6.8. His season average is 8.1. For reference, Jared Goff finished with the lowest average depth at 6.8 yards per target.
Since that game was played nearly four months ago a lot has changed. Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp, the safeties that helped contain the Bucs deep threat passing game, are injured. Fuller is out and Rapp is still making his way through concussion protocol. The Buccaneers are two receivers down with Antonio Brown’s departure and Godwin’s injury. Though Brown missed week 3 while on the COVID/Reserve list. This game won’t be a facsimile to the first when it comes to this matchup in that Ramsey and Brady will be the role players that make them look as good as they do.
So far, they both have fared well since losing their respective starters. The Buccaneers are still the third-best offense by EPA per dropback (RBSDM.com) since losing Godwin. The Rams secondary held Kyler Murray, one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league, to a season-worst 4.0 yards per attempt and 55.9 completion percentage.
But that points out what makes both Brady and Ramsey so special. Even when the going gets tough they manage to, with their individual efforts, put their team in the position to win.
The matchup pits two future Hall of Famers against each other. Everyone will be watching to see if one or the other can get the upper hand by landing a devastating blow. But to move on to the conference championship game will require executing both aspects of this matchup. Both Brady and Ramsey will need to lead by example and raise the level of those around them to win.
Another way the Rams defense was able to contain Brady and the Buccaneers offense was with a lot of pressure. Brady saw pressure more in that game than he has in any game this season. Overwhelmingly this pressure was coming from the interior of the offensive line. Of the 20 allowed pressures by the Tampa Bay offensive line, 15 were allowed by interior linemen. Five of those came from Ali Marpet. That was Marpets worst game of the season. In fact, those five account for 23 percent of his 22 total pressures allowed.
Of course, when you are going up a generational talent in Aaron Donald, trouble can be expected. Generally, Marpet is regarded as one of the better guards in the league. In the regular season, he only gave up one sack all year. Unfortunately for him, Donald seems to be heating up. In the eight games since the Rams bye week, he has racked up nine sacks and 48 pressures per PFF. For perspective, that is what DeForest Buckner produced in 17 games this season, minus one pressure.
All of that interior pressure also halted the Bucs chances at running the ball. They averaged 1.9 yards when rushing between the tackles. In all other games, they averaged 3.8 yards. It goes without saying that Tampa Bay is not a running team, but when the option is essentially nullified a pass-heavy offense becomes rudimentary. The kind of interior pressure that Donald and Co. were bringing in the game sealed off what can be the Rams soft underbelly. Eliminating the small chance of a run by smothering it at the line avoids trouble on the second level.
As incredible as Donald is, his destruction can be mitigated. He has been held to under four pressures in a game six times this season. Four of the six games have been Rams losses (Tennessee, Arizona, and San Francisco twice). When the Rams and the Buccaneers played in 2019, Donald was held to only one pressure which also resulted in a Rams loss.
Many times this is done is by overwhelming Donald at first contact. This requires devoting more resources to stop one player. The problem for Tampa is twofold. They could be short one very important resource in Tristan Wirfs and the rest of the Rams pass rush has found its stride as well. Von Miller, Greg Gaines, and Leonard Floyd have generated 31 pressures in the last four games.
Protecting Brady is rule number when in Tampa Bay. Donald will look to break that rule and secure a Rams win and Marpet is what stands in Donald’s way. Good Luck to you, Mr. Marpet.
Odell Beckham Jr. vs Jamel Dean
Speaking of Rams that are hitting their stride, Odell Beckham Jr. has started to look like the big playmaker that he was early in his career. Plenty was made of Matthew Stafford’s first playoff win, but it was Beckham’s first as well and he had a lot to do with the win. He caught for three first downs, a touchdown, and threw a touchdown pass to Cam Akers. Beckham hasn’t just made a difference with individual stats but also by being a consummate teammate. Sean McVay summed it up by saying, “He’s an incredibly talented football player. And then, I can attest to this now, he’s a great teammate. … He’s been incredibly selfless.”
Against Tampa Bay, Beckham will face one of the league’s best secondaries. PFF has them as the second-highest graded coverage teams. The three other times this season that the Rams have played a top 10 graded team they have lost twice (Tennessee and Green Bay). The other team of course was the Buccaneers. Although in their first meeting they were missing a few key pieces. Sean Murphy-Bunting missed the game, Carlton Davis was dealing with a rib injury and Jamel Dean only played 12 snaps before leaving the game with a knee injury. Murphy-Bunting may miss this game, but Jamel Dean will be lining up as one of Tampa Bay’s wide corners.
The Bucs secondary isn’t the only thing that will look different this time around. Beckham was still a Brown and DeSean Jackson was still a Ram. Robert Woods’ ACL was also still very much intact. Both Woods and Jackson were big contributors in the win. Woods had three catches, all for first downs, and Jackson had two huge catches, a 40 and a 75 yarder. These two accounted for 115 of his 120 yards.
Jackson’s contribution while with the Rams was limited, but it did add a layer that seems to have been lost since his departure, and Stafford’s passes to him in this game showed off his rare arm talent. Rams fans’ jaws dropped and drool spilled out as they finally saw what McVay was cooking up. At that point, this offense seemed unstoppable.
Beckham and Stafford have yet to find that connection. In fact, some of Stafford’s most soul-crushing interceptions have come when the two have tried to connect deep downfield.
Jamel Dean will be covering one of the two Rams wideout receivers. Every corner in the Tampa secondary has been banged up at some point this season, but Dean has been on the field the most. He is the team’s most targeted corner but has also played the most snaps by far.
And he has been a solid consistent corner. He has a respectable three interceptions and 10 passes defended, but also has the seventh-best NFL passer rating when targeted in the league among starting cornerbacks (60.4). While he is the team’s most targeted corner, he is 37th in the league among corners with 74 targets.
This makes a lot of sense when looking at his allowed completion percentage. He has allowed only 38 catches on those targets. So while he isn’t making game-changing plays, he also isn’t giving them up. He’s allowed only one touchdown this season. He is one of two players who have over 500 coverage snaps that have achieved that this season. He has allowed more than 50 yards in a game twice this season.
The Rams will have to keep pace with an impressive Buccaneers offense. In order to do that they will have to generate a few big plays. The Rams will need another big day from Beckham to stay alive in the playoffs.
What do you think? Who wins this huge game? Pick below and join the conversation!