Key Matchups To Watch: Buccaneers Vs Rams

Ryan Anderson
Rams' Jalen Ramsey: 'Time to start talking about' Darious Williams as household name

Key Matchups To Watch: Buccaneers vs Rams

The Los Angeles Rams take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week. Here are the key matchups to focus on.

Darious Williams vs Chris Godwin

Last week Carson Wentz did one thing expertly. He avoided Jalen Ramsey. It seems he didn’t pass this advice along to Jacob Eason. (On five pass attempts Eason targeted Ramsey twice. The second target resulted in a Ramsey interception that iced the game for the Rams)

They instead focused their attention on Williams. He was targeted 13 times. The rest of the cornerbacks were targeted 10 times combined. Williams held up well. He only gave up 8 receptions for 64 yards. But, Williams was a couple of steps behind Zach Pascal when Pascal caught Indianapolis’ first touchdown of the day. 

Williams was asked to step into the STAR position against the Colts, a position made famous by Ramsey. Ramsey was the primary defender of Michael Pittman Jr, while Williams bounced around covering tight ends Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox, Pascal, Mike Strachan, and indeed Pittman as well. 

Last season, Troy Hill was the recipient of increased target share due to the effect Ramsey has on teams. Hill ended the season leading the team in targets. This season that will be Williams. He has already been targeted 22 times, which not only leads the league, but is nearly double the rate (targets per game) that Hill endured last season. 

So far Williams has risen to the challenge. He hasn’t been perfect, but he has been solid. But those performances have come against teams that have far less potent offenses than what he will be facing against the Buccaneers. The Bears and the Colts are 28th and 25th in offensive DVOA respectively. Tampa Bay is sixth. 

Even more simply put, Tom Brady will be the first quarterback this season that will stretch this defense vertically. Brady has 391 completed air yards this season. Wentz, Andy Dalton, and Justin Fields have 415 combined!  Not only that, but Tampa Bay has arguably the best receiving corps in all of football.

Broadly speaking, this is exactly what makes this matchup so important. It pairs what the Buccaneers offense does the best (Creating big explosive passing plays) and what the Rams defense does best (Forcing passing offenses to take the underneath options). Job one for the Rams defense will be to hold steady in that regard and force Brady to throw short passes, preferably to his running backs. The Rams succeeded in doing this in 2020. Brady attempted to force the ball downfield, throwing for 8.8 intended air yards per attempt. He averaged 9.1 on the season. But when comparing his season-long completed air yards per reception, the reality is shown. In 2020, Brady threw for 4.6 completed air yards per completion. The Rams held him to a season-low of 2.8. 

This outcome isn’t guaranteed this time around. The Rams secondary has two new starters and the Rams played Tampa Bay before they really hit their stride. One so potent that it resulted in a Lombardi. While Hill was the Rams leader in targets in 2020, Williams was thrown at the most when the Rams played the Bucs last season. He was targeted 14 times and allowed seven receptions and gave up a touchdown on a blown coverage to Godwin

The assignments in that game were very straightforward. Ramsey covered Mike Evans, Hill covered Godwin and Williams mainly covered Antonio Brown. He also took reps against Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, and Scotty Miller

If that is any indication of what Raheem Morris is planning to do, some questions arise. Physically, Hill (5’11” 168 lbs ) was a much better matchup to Godwin (6’1” 257 lbs) than Williams will offer at 5’9” 187 lbs. Furthermore, if Williams is glued to Godwin and Ramsey to Evans, who will play the STAR role and who will cover Antonio Brown if he is eligible to play. He is currently on the COVID list until he provides two negative tests. 

The best answer to containing this group may be to put David Long, who is Hill-sized, on Godwin and allow Williams to rotate among the rest. Which is essentially how it played out last year, with Long in Hill’s role. 

Long is having a good season from a coverage perspective. (Again this has been against bad offenses.) Pro Football Focus graded him 66.7 on 60 coverage snaps. This matches his best mark in 2019 when he logged 85 coverage snaps all year. Williams played in 90% of defensive snaps against Tampa Bay last season.  Long has never been on the field for more than 76 percent. Long is getting the most consistent playing time of his career this season and Godwin will be the biggest test to see if he can hang among the Rams starters. 

Moving Williams around will still create mismatches, particularly with the tight ends, but ones he has handled in the past. 

This game won’t be about shutting this passing attack down, but it will be about slowing it down enough to keep the game close. 

Matthew Stafford vs A Blitz Heavy Defense

Counterintuitive /ˌkoun(t)ərinˈt(y)o͞oədiv/ adjective: contrary to intuition or to common-sense expectation (but often nevertheless true). Example:Stafford becomes a better quarterback when under pressure. 

At least, this was true last season. With a clean pocket, only 58% of Stafford’s passes were accurate. That was good for the 28th best in the league and placed him just worse than Drew Lock and a little better than Nick Mullens

However, when he was under pressure he scored a 98.4 passer rating from Pro Football Focus and that was the best in the league. Of course, this is in stark contrast to Jared Goff whose passer rating notoriously crumbled when under pressure. 

So how about this season? So far, Stafford has fared much better with a clean pocket. Through two games he has been one of the least pressured quarterbacks (11.9%) and has the third-best passer rating in the league. He has been blitzed 16 times and has only been sacked twice. 

So does the contrary nature of Stafford under pressure persist through week three? It would be an incredible thing to watch if he got better and the Bucs are guaranteed to put him to that test. The Buccaneers have blitzed more than any other team in the league. A lot more. 50 times to be exact, which is 18 more than the next highest. 

Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, the investment of resources hasn’t resulted in meaningful pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Tampa Bay defense has logged just two sacks and has the seventh-worst pressure rate in the league. Where the Bucs have been effective in is limiting quarterbacks’ time to throw. Both Matt Ryan and Dak Prescott are capable quarterbacks when it comes to pressure. So rather than succumbing to pressure, they dumped it off to the closest option. This has resulted in a glut of yards after the catch against the Tampa defense. They lead the league in that category with 384. 

All of this means the Rams will have to make some adjustments for this week. So far Stafford has enjoyed 2.81 seconds to throw according to NextGen Stats. This will likely be cut down a few tenths. Which means they will be less likely to make a deep pass to Van Jefferson or Cooper Kupp. But, Kupp can be used to make a heavy blitzing, YAC-prone team pay. He currently has 146 yards after the catch, third in the league. 

Not only can Kupp pick up those yards, but so can Robert Woods. Last year he finished with ninth-most yards after the catch. So far though, Woods is being utilized differently this season. In 2020 his average depth of target was just 6.7 and this season it has been 9.1. This points out what is wholly different about the team year over year. Last season, they had to keep passes short. Now, they have the option to go deep.

But against the Buccaneers, they will need to get the ball out faster on shorter routes.  Jared Goff had a great game against the Buccaneers last season because that is exactly what he could do. He completed 39 passes completing 4.5 air yards per completion and the receivers picked up 200 total yards after the catch. This means Goff accounted for 175 yards of passing offense. 

Sean McVay should take a few pages out of that playbook, but also look for opportunities to beat the Bucs deep if their defense can’t contain underneath. 

Rams’ Jalen Ramsey: ‘Time to start talking about’ Darious Williams as household name. From ESPN LA