The Los Angeles Rams (6-3, 1-1) face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3, 3-0) this week after a pivotal 26-16 divisional win over the Seattle Seahawks. Now, the Rams must travel to Raymond James Stadium and face a familiar foe in former New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady joined Tampa Bay in free agency this season after a stellar 20-year career with the Pats. He earned six Super Bowl championships, two of which were won against the Rams in Super Bowls XXXVI and LIII. Brady is joined by former teammate Rob Gronkowski at the tight end position and recently acquired wide receiver Antonio Brown. Brown signed with the Bucs on October 27 after an eight-game league suspension. Saying the Rams will need to bring their A-game is an understatement. The Bucs have just as many offensive weapons as L.A. and an underrated defense.
The Buccaneers are coming off a walloping 46-23 win over the Carolina Panthers (3-7, 1-4). Brady had 28 of 39 passes completed for 341 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked once and had no interceptions. He also rushed in a one-yard score. His most-targeted receiver was Brown, who had seven catches for 69 yards. Wide receiver Chris Godwin led in receiving yards with six receptions for 92 yards. Mike Evans was second in receiving yards with six receptions for 77 yards and one touchdown. Both Evans and Godwin are one of the toughest receiving duos in the league and contributed greatly last season in a 55-40 trouncing of the Rams in Week 4. Bucs receivers Scotty Miller, Tyler Johnson and Justin Watson all have a combined 626 yards and four touchdowns for the season. Brady has 254 completions on 386 attempts for 2,739 yards and 23 touchdowns this year.
Against the Seahawks, the Rams defense shined again. For the last six games, they have held their opponents’ offense to three points or less. Now, they need to see if they can contain Brady and defend against his superstar corps of receiving weapons. The Bucs are not bad on the ground either with Ronald Jones leading the charge with 143 carries for 730 yards and five touchdowns for the season. He set a franchise record with a 98-yard touchdown run against Carolina. He had 23 carries for 192 yards. Running back Leonard Fournette has 59 carries for 244 yards and two touchdowns, as well as, 24 receptions for 152 yards on the season.
The Rams secondary will also face a solid tight end duo. Cameron Brate had three catches for 31 yards and one touchdown against the Panthers. Gronkowski had two catches for 51 yards and one touchdown. Gronkowski is fourth in team receiving with 29 receptions for 374 yards. He is second in receiving touchdowns with four for the season.
Rams cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams will most likely be tasked with covering Evans and Brown, respectively. Godwin may be covered by Troy Hill. Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley will evaluate how to handle the wideouts as they are stacked deep. The corners may have to rotate positions depending on the Bucs’ scheme. The Rams will have two reliable safeties in tow, always able to make a stop. John Johnson had eight solo tackles against the Seahawks. He is also second in team tackling with 61. Jordan Fuller had three tackles against Seattle. As Fuller came back from a shoulder injury, Taylor Rapp went on injured reserve. Rapp suffered a knee injury.
The Rams did well in shutting down receivers and forcing turnovers. One weak link on defense continues to be the inside linebacker position. Micah Kiser still leads with 71 tackles for the season. He had twelve tackles against Seattle, but none behind the line or for major stops. He and Kenny Young both missed assignments that resulted in big passing gains. They will need to improve in coverage.
EDGE Leonard Floyd had three sacks and five quarterback hits. He has already matched his career-high with seven sacks and was awarded his first-ever NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis also tallied his first two career sacks. Defensive end Michael Brockers had one sack, his third for the season. A surprise turn of events was Aaron Donald earning no tackles against the Seahawks. He continues to be isolated and double teamed by offensive linemen. It is only the second time he did not register a tackle. The last time was the 2016 season.
Look for the Rams defensive front to apply a ton of pressure on Brady. It may be the only way to shake up the offense right away. The Rams should have plenty of opportunities.
The Rams offense had a strong showing against the Seahawks, but there were still missed opportunities later in the game. The Rams running game was good, but not utilized enough. This continues to be a problem for the offense, but running backs Malcolm Brown, Darrell Henderson and Cam Akers continue to be a consistent running back-by-committee. Brown scored two touchdowns: one yarder and seven yarder. He had six carries for 33 yards and two catches for 18 yards. Henderson also found the end zone on a one-yard rushing score, and had seven carries for 28 yards. Akers led the way with ten carries for 38 yards. The running attack may not be easy since Tampa Bay is number one in defending the run.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff had 27 of 37 passes completed for 302 yards. He had no touchdowns, no interceptions and was sacked three times against the Seahawks. His favorite target was wide receiver Josh Reynolds. Reynolds had a career day with eight receptions for 94 yards. He has 30 catches for 416 yards and two touchdowns this season. Tight end Tyler Higbee and wide receiver Cooper Kupp also had decent numbers. Higbee tallied three catches for 60 yards with a long of 39. Kupp had five catches for 50 yards with a long of 31. Receiver Robert Woods and tight end Gerald Everett had a modest showing. Woods had five catches for 33 yards and Everett had two catches for 27 yards with a long of 16.
The offensive line suffered a loss with an injury to starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth. The 38-year-old veteran suffered a leg injury, a Grade 3 MCL/PCL tear toward the end of the half. He will not require surgery for now but was put on injured reserve for a minimum of 6 weeks.
Joseph Noteboom took his place for the rest of the game and did well. The Rams O-line continues to have success but will be challenged by a Bucs defensive front starring edge rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, as well as, defensive ends Ndamukong Suh and William Gholston. Pierre-Paul leads the defense with 7.5 sacks. He also had one interception against the Seahawks. Barrett, Suh and Gholston have a combined 11 sacks.
Inside linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David lead the Bucs with 88 and 72 tackles, respectively. White has the most tackles for a loss with 10.5. The defensive back corps is led by safeties Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Jordan Whitehead. Winfield is third in team tackles with 52 and Whitehead has 8.5 tackles for a loss. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting will shadow Kupp, Woods or Reynolds. Goff will need to watch Davis since he leads the Bucs with 14 passes defended and four interceptions.
The Rams are not favored this time around, but they should not disappoint. The defense is poised to do well and the offense may be shaky. Losing Whitworth on Sunday does not help the cause. The saving grace is that the offensive line is still stacked well with players in the wings that can play multiple positions. As usual, Goff will need to keep his head on a swivel and hit his targets quickly. It is also time for a breakout ground game to balance the attack.
As for the Rams kicking game, Kai Forbath injured his ankle and was put on the injured reserve as well. Forbath missed his PAT kick after the final Rams score. L.A. just signed former Bucs kicker Matt Gay. Gay was most recently on the Indianapolis Colts practice squad but was cut November 6. Austin MacGinnis and Gay will compete for who will start against Tampa Bay.
Kickoff is Monday at 5:15 p.m. on ESPN.