Do you know that Spiderman meme? The one where one Spidy is pointing at another identical Spidy. It is overused, but indulge me if you would. This week’s Rams/Buccaneers game might be the perfect real-life realization of that meme. The similarities between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are staggering.
Both are recent Super Bowl Champions. They both came into the season with high odds of making it back to the Super Bowl, yet so far this season both are shockingly under .500. Neither quarterback has played up to expectations despite both teams having great wide receivers. Neither has a running game to speak of. They are the NFL’s 31st and 32nd in rushing yards per game.
And injuries to each team’s offensive line are a major contributor to their anemic offenses. The teams have a combined 10 offensive linemen on their Reserve/injured list and injury report heading into this game. Both are scoring fewer than 19 points per game. Both teams also had high-powered offenses last season.
Although, this season it is their defenses that are keeping them in games. The Tampa Bay defense is allowing just 19 points per game and the Rams defense gives up only 18 ppg.
Another commonality; despite obvious needs neither team made trades before last Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Matthew Stafford vs. Tom Brady
Beyond just the offensive line problems the two teams are having, they are also running into that pesky Staley/Fangio defense that is specifically designed to stop what Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford do best; creating explosive plays. Both quarterbacks in general are throwing shorter passes. Brady’s intended air yards per attempt (7.2) is almost a full yard shorter than it was last year (8.1) and Stafford’s is currently 6 yards per attempt, 1.5 yards less than last year (8.5).
Not only that but both have been far less accurate when throwing deep passes. Last season, Brady had a completion percentage of 42.7 percent and Stafford’s was 46.3. This season, those are down to 34.3 percent and 31.6 respectively. It’s not that either quarterback’s overall accuracy or arm strength diminished that drastically. It is the case that defenses are more well equipt to stop those passes from being completed.
Where there has been a distinct difference is that Brady has been protecting the ball far better than Stafford. Brady only has one interception all season to Stafford’s eight picks. Stafford has cleaned it up a bit over the last few weeks, including zero against the 49ers last week. Stafford avoided throwing a pick in the two games they played against them last year.
But in what should be a close game, turning the ball over can be the difference. The Rams have allowed 20 points on Stafford’s turnovers this season. Defenses playing against the Buccaneers have scored zero points.
The Rams offense seems to be trending in a better direction than Tampa Bay’s. The Rams looked great against Carolina and moved the ball well in the first half against the 49ers. The Bucs on the other hand could only muster three points against the Panthers and have averaged 14.3 points over the last three games, all of which were losses.
The biggest question facing both teams is when will they right the ship on offense. Both have the same offensive mind at the helm, Sean McVay and Byron Leftwich. Both have very capable quarterbacks and great receiving talent. So it seems like they both should be able to figure this out. This could be the game where one finally puts it all together.
The Rams and the Buccaneers Strengths and Weaknesses
The Rams defense has allowed the 5th fewest yards in the league, in addition to one of the fewest points allowed per game. The Buccaneers offense, while not scoring many points has still been able to move the ball up and down the field. They are fifth in the league in yards per game through the air, but they also have the third-lowest success rate in the league when it comes to scoring touchdowns from within the red zone. It just so happens that the Rams are the third-best defense in the league at stopping red-zone touchdown scores.
One of the reasons the Buccaneers struggle so much in the red zone is their inability to run the ball. Leonard Fournette has one of the league’s worst yards after contact. In the red zone, contact comes early and often. The Rams also have one of the best rushing defenses in the league this year. So it seems the Rams have an advantage there.
But based on receiving yardage, this will be the best passing offense the Rams have played since week one against the Bills. The Rams secondary has been pretty fantastic with a few exceptions even with their own laundry list of injuries. They did struggle against the 49ers, so it will be interesting to see how they hold up against the Buccaneers receivers.
Chris Godwin and Mike Evans are still major threats, but several Buc pass catchers are on the injury report this week. Cameron Brate, Russell Gage, and Julio Jones have all missed some practice this week.
The Rams secondary did get Troy Hill back last week. He played only 42% of the defense’s snaps, but only allowed one catch of seven yards.
Bobby Evans vs Vita Vea
The Buccaneers have the third most sacks in the league right now. They create that much havoc by blitzing at the sixth-highest rate in the league. Their top pass rusher, Shaquil Barrett, tore his Achilles tendon last week and will miss the rest of the season. The Bucs will likely rotate Anthony Nelson, Carl Nassib, and Genard Avery in to replace him with Joe Tryon-Shoyinka lining up on the opposite side. Nassib has flashed in a few games and Tryon-Shoyinka has been a consistent pass rusher all season.
The Rams have seemed to find some mojo along their offensive line. They only allowed eight pressures against the 49ers formidable pass rush. In their previous game, the Rams allowed 28 pressures. Bobby Evans was responsible for four of the eight pressures and will see a lot of time against Tampa Bay’s sack leader, Vita Vea. Vea has 4.5 sacks on the year, the fourth-most among defensive linemen.
Evans has been inconsistent in his four starts this season. He allowed seven pressures against the 49ers in week four, but zero the next two games only to allow four last week. Vea will be by far the best lineman he will go up against so far this season. Expect Tampa Bay to put Evans to the test. The Bucs also have pass-rushing threats from their safety Antoine Winfield Jr. and linebacker Devin White. They both have three sacks on the season.