By Richie Lay – Los Angeles Rams Writer
The Los Angeles Rams return home to the Coliseum on Sunday where they will look to build on their 3-0 start to the season by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that has had an erratic first three weeks.
Although the Rams’ 3-0 start is perfect on paper, they have been far from perfect on the field. Their offense, whilst periodically showing signs of getting back to last year’s Super Bowl form, has so far been somewhat unreliable and certainly uninspiring. This has been personified by Quarterback Jared Goff, who has posted some decent numbers so far this season but has failed to look like the 2016 overall #1 draft pick that he should resemble by now – two poorly thrown interceptions last week against the Cleveland Browns tainted a performance that was otherwise largely positive if still a little bland.
Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston, another former #1 overall draft pick (2015), has looked both unstable and brilliant at times this season. Unlike Goff, “bland” is not a word you would use to describe Winston’s play. Strangely though, their numbers have been remarkably similar over the first three games: Goff going 66-from-105 for 738-yards, with a passer rating of 84.5, whilst Winston is 59-from-98 for 782-yards and has a passer rating of 85.5. Notice any similarities there?
The offensive alignment of these two teams does not stop there; both sides have Wide Receiver’s that have been on top of their respective games in recent weeks. Rams WR Cooper Kupp recorded two touchdowns, 11-receptions and 102-yards last weekend, and has so far been the star of Head Coach Sean McVay’s offense in his first three games back after suffering a season-ending injury midway through 2018. Not wanting to be outdone, Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans also had a career-game last Sunday, posting eight receptions for 190-yards and a career-high 3 TD’s, despite their loss to the Giants.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the similarities end there. Whilst Tampa Bay have very few offensive weapons to lean on outside of Evans, the high-powered Rams possess a WR trio that also includes playmakers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, who alongside Kupp have also had excellent starts to the season, averaging 19.4 and 12.9-yards-per-reception respectively. Alongside this, LA has a highly reliable and effective pair of Tight End’s in Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett, not to mention Running Back Todd Gurley, who we all know has the ability to be a game-wrecker, despite his slow start to the season.
However, for all the talk about their offensive capabilities, this is a game that the Rams should win with their defense. So far, the Californian team has been lights-out defensively, limiting three attacking-powerhouses (Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, and Cleveland Browns) to an average of 16.3 points-per-game. The LA secondary is establishing itself as one of the best in the league, and Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters will need to be at their best this week against the aforementioned Evans, who can destroy defense’s whether they employ man or zone coverage.
Anyone who has watched the Rams this season will tell you that Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald has been his usual destructive self in all three games, but he finally satisfied the stat-crunchers last week after recording his first sack of the season, with two tackles-for-loss on Browns QB Baker Mayfield. Donald will look to carry those positive numbers into this week against a porous Bucs Offensive Line; as will Outside Line Backer Clay Matthews, who has had an impressive start to his year with four sacks from the first three games.
Expect Donald to come alive back at home in the Coliseum, and destroy this Bucs O-line to put immense pressure on Winston, forcing him into making the loose throws he is so infamous for.
On the other side of the ball, the LA Offensive Line has gradually improved after making a poor start to the season. Last week they just about contained an excellent Cleveland pass-rush, holding them to just two sacks; they will need to maintain or improve that form if they are to stop Shaquil Barrett. The Tampa Bay Outside Line Backer had a career-high four sacks last week to increase his tally to eight for the season, where he sits atop of the NFL sack leader board. Preventing Barrett from causing carnage should be top of McVay’s to-do-list this week, and no doubt the experienced, in-form Left Tackle Andrew Whitworth will be heavily involved in doing so.
The similarities between these two teams, of which there are several is key in this game. However, unlike the team from Los Angeles, the Bucs are a side with some gaping flaws – despite their talented individuals. The Rams on the other hand (although, they have not made a blistering start to the season) are a team that seems very well-rounded and should still fancy themselves as one of, if not, the NFC’s best.
Prediction: Los Angeles Rams 28 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9.
The combination of the improving pass-rush and a nigh-on-impregnable secondary will cause nightmares for Tampa Head Coach Bruce Arians and signal-caller Winston, whilst home-field advantage should give Goff and the Rams offense the stimulus they need to put the sword to the Bucs’ defense.
(Feature Photo – Credit: Los Angeles Rams/Cedars-Sinai)