No team in the league is a bigger sleeping giant than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Rams have climbed back into the long-sought-after conversation of top five teams in the league. With an overpowering defense that kept the Seahawks offense under 20 points in last week’s statement win, their Monday night showdown against the Buccaneers is culminating into a game that is worth the primetime slot.
Scoring 46 points on the Carolina Panthers, the Buccaneers had their own statement win after a 36-3 loss the previous week, and gave fuel to all skeptics of the notion that adding Tom Brady to the reasonably talented, yet highly inconsistent, Tampa Bay team would propel them into prime Super Bowl contenders.
History will remember Tom Brady kindly as the G.O.A.T., but his endeavor of remaining an elite quarterback at the age of 43 is a bold pursuit even for the all-time great. Regardless, the Buccaneers offense has its hiccups and then its strongest pulses, such as last week’s 46-point performance, and the 7-3 team is not just the favorite to win the NFC South with Drew Brees’s recent injury, they are a lock to enter the playoffs as the premiere dark horse team flying under radars.
To stay in play for the top spot in the NFC West, the Rams must find a way to not only stop the Bucs offense, but find the key matchups to come out on top and set the stage for San Francisco, Arizona, and New England in the coming weeks. Here are the top matchups to look out for as the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers face off tonight.
Key Matchups: Los Angeles Rams vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Buccaneers’ Solid Defensive Line vs. Rams’ Injured Offensive Line
The loss of Andrew Whitworth to a season-ending knee injury appears to be a thorn for the offensive line, a unit on the rebound after a horrible 2019 performance as a collective. Without the leadership and veteran play of Whitworth, replacement Joe Noteboom and the offensive line have an unfavorable task of stopping Shaquil Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul, and a vengeful Ndamukong Suh. If Tampa Bay’s stalwart defense keeps Goff and the offensive off the field, surrendering time of possession to Tom Brady is a massive plus in favor of the Bucs.
Antonio Brown vs. Rams DBs
Making headlines this week for typical #84 behavior, the newest Buccaneers receiver remains an elite option for Tom Brady and the offense even in the midst of a loaded position in the depth chart thanks to Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, and Scotty Miller.
Catching seven passes for 69 yards, the stat line is indicative of a significant role that Antonio Brown can have with the offense to open things down the field, and, frankly, return to being a WR1 even at an iota of the previously seen Antonio Brown. Fans are quick to forget the elusive play of the great receiver.
There are no coincidences in the NFL and for Tom Brady to actively recruit the troubled player after a short-lived tenure in New England shows the level of confidence Brady has in his receiver. With Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams having a handful with Evans and Godwin, Antonio Brown can be open to exploit his matchup against Troy Hill.
Opening the Bucs offense down the middle can present big play possibilities for Brady, and even with an aging arm, the man knows how to throw a beautiful deep ball. John Johnson III will equally have his hands full.
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Aaron Donald vs. Tampa Bay Offensive Line
By this point in his career, Aaron Donald is the safe bet to show up for the Rams in a disruptive manner. However, a good matchup can be requested from time to time. What Tampa Bay promised with their pitch to Brady in the offseason was an improved offensive line compared to the post-Nate Solder squad in New England.
With Donovan Smith (PFF grade 69.0) and leading (or should be) candidate for Rookie of the Year Tristan Wirfs (PFF grade 78.0) providing time in the pocket for Brady and aiding Ronald Jones to run for 192 yards, points to a “bat signal” the Rams will need to call with Aaron Donald’s assignment on Monday Night Football. This is also a call for the Rams defensive line and pass rushers to step up and beat their single man blockers.
Getting to Brady, a la 2007 and 2011 New York Giants, will be the type of opportunity that Aaron Donald will have to create against the offensive line with the number of weapons that the Buccaneers have in play.
Leonard Fournette can still play as a high-end RB2 and tight end Cameron Brate fills in any gaps that Gronkowski leaves on the field. The Rams have another statement win in them, and after that, the conversation returns to Super Bowl aspirations.