I don’t want the hyperbole to get out of hand, but this weekend the Tampa Bay Bucs might be facing the biggest they’ll see all year. The Bucs travel to Los Angeles to play the 2-0 Rams in an NFC heavyweight showdown. This will be an important test for a pair of teams with championship aspirations.
Although it is only one game, there are potentially important implications. The Rams and Bucs are both favorites to get the number one overall seed and home field advantage through the playoffs. It could also very well be a preview of the NFC championship game in a few months. It’s a great opportunity for both teams to get an advantage on their biggest competition.
Here’s what you can expect from the Rams as the challenger to the Bucs championship throne.
New Face In Town
In the offseason, the Rams made a blockbuster trade to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford. It took multiple first round picks to get him, but it was worth the price for a legitimate top ten caliber quarterback. That’s what Stafford has proven to be after spending 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions.
The former pro bowler has led the league in game winning drives three times. He has a big arm and excels at throwing the ball down the field. There is very little Stafford can’t do as a passer and should elevate an offense that made it to the Super Bowl with Jared Goff at the helm. With such a significant quarterback upgrade, the Rams project to have one of the best offenses in the NFL this year.
The Rams feature a pair of receivers who are both among the best in the NFL at creating yards after catch. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are the primary playmakers in Los Angeles and both excel at making things happen in space. In fact, both ranked in the top five among wide receivers in yards after catch last year.
This will be problematic for the Bucs. Their big physical cornerbacks could have a difficult time with the quickness of the Rams pass catchers. On top of that, Sean Murphy-Bunting will still be out for this game, so it will be back up Ross Cockrell as the main defender against Kupp. From a stylistic standpoint and a health standpoint, the Bucs are at a disadvantage.
We will see a battle of strengths this weekend when the Bucs throw the ball. We know Tampa Bay has the best group of pass catchers in the NFL and perhaps of all time. However, you may not realize that it was the Rams who had the top ranked pass defense in the NFL last year.
The Rams allowed the fewest passing yards and passing touchdowns in 2020. Led by all-pro corner Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles consistently made life difficult for opposing quarterbacks. The Bucs receivers will have their work cut out for them in creating space as they will not face a better secondary this season.
There isn’t much to say about Aaron Donald that hasn’t been said. He’s a three time defensive player of the year and seven time pro bowler. His interior pass rush is the backbone for the Rams front seven. To put it simply, he’s the best defensive tackle ever and one of the best defensive players of all time.
The interior group of Ali Marpet, Ryan Jensen and Alex Cappa will have to work together to limit him. The Bucs did a good job of this the last time these two teams faced off in 2020. Donald was held without any impact on the box score. However, it feels like it’s only a matter of time when it comes to a player of Donald’s caliber making plays.
The Rams Can throw the ball and defend the pass as well as anybody in the game. Combining that with the reigning defensive player of the year rushing the quarterback and Los Angeles is built to beat the Bucs. Will they? That’s another matter altogether. Only time will tell.