Overview: On paper, the Los Angeles Rams should win this game. They are at home, odds-makers are making them a 10-point favorite, and they are facing a struggling team with an inconsistent quarterback. However, this is the NFL, and the other guys get paid too. A couple of other concerns include the fact that Tampa Bay Buccaneer's Head Coach Bruce Arians knows the Rams from his days leading the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC West and the fact that the Rams faces a big test against division-rivaled Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night. We never want to assume lightly of a team, and we cannot afford to look ahead in this league.
Rams Offense vs. Tampa Bay Defense: In one way this game presents a good challenge for the Rams offense, which has struggled through the air. The Buc's defense has been relatively good against the rush, giving up just under 70 yards per game. That is good for sixth in the NFL. However, they are 21st in pass defense, giving up 261 yards per game. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has not quite looked right since the Super Bowl loss to New England. He may have a chance to get back on track on Sunday.
For that to happen, the Rams need to find a way to contain Buc's outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who insanely have eight sacks through the first three games of the season. That ties the record at this point of the season, held by the late New York Jet's Mark Gastineau in 1984. The Buc's also feature former Rams d-lineman Ndamukong Suh on the defensive line. New defensive coordinator and former Jets Head Coach Todd Bowles have implemented an aggressive 4-3 defensive alignment that focuses on pressuring the quarterback. They will need to do that on Sunday to help out a suspect secondary.
The good news for the Rams is that guard Austin Blythe is expected to play after missing the last 1.5 games with an ankle injury. Tight end Tyler Higbee also returns to action after missing last week with a lung injury. As the Rams rarely have the luxury of a clean injury report going into this game, this will help. If the Rams can do a decent job of protecting Goff they have a chance to score 30 plus points in this game.
Rams Head Coach Sean McVay, said this week that despite any appearances, Todd Gurley is not on any snap count and that ideally the Rams running back should be in line for 25 carries per game through the rest of the season. The jury remains out on whether Gurley is healthy this year. The extraordinary thing has not been his rushes per game, although comparing to the past seasons have declined. However, the meaningful decline has been in Gurley's touches as a receiver out of the backfield. Will that change on Sunday?
Rams Defense vs. Buc's Offense: Whatever we might think of Buc's quarterback Jameis Winston, he is rarely dull. At times the former Florida State Seminole star has shown flashes of the talent that made him the top pick in the draft a few years back. He had that kind of week against the Giants last week, passing for 380 yards and three touchdowns in a game the Buc's should have won. He has one of the best wide receivers in the game in Mike Evans, who caught eight passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns.
The Rams so far this season have done an excellent job of limiting elite receivers such as Micheal Thomas of the New Orleans Saints and Odell Beckham of the Cleveland Browns. Whether they can reciprocate the same with Evans on Sunday may well determine the outcome of Sunday's game. The Rams pass defense enters this game ranked fifth in the NFL, and with the additions of safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, they seem to have given this unit a huge jump-start. Matthews already has four sacks, compared to 3.5 all of last season with the Green Bay Packers.
Of course, any conversation about the Rams defense starts and ends with Aaron Donald, generally considered the best defensive player in the NFL. Those who have not seen the Rams play this year might look at AD's paltry sack total of one through three games and assume the Rams defensive tackle is off to a slow start. That shows how numbers can be deceiving. The fact is that Donald has been in the opposing team's backfield on almost every play, wreaking havoc and occupying blockers. He draws double and even triple teams, freeing up players like Matthews and Dante Fowler. The Buccaneers offensive line is reliable, but certainly not spectacular. Aaron Donald is a one-person wrecking crew, and if he can force Winston into making some crucial mistakes, the Rams defense could have an important dayof
Special Teams: Buc's placekicker Matt Gay made four of five field-goal attempts last week, including a 52-yard against the New York Giants. The problem was that he also missed the potential game-winning field goal. Tampa Bay's Bradley Pinion is one of the game's better punters, but he is no Johnny Hekker. The Rams special teams have been showing slow improvement after something of an ideal rough start against the Carolina Panthers, and we think that will continue this week.
Prediction: The Rams SHOULD win this game, in which they are playing at home and frankly have a better team. If Jameis Winston and Mike Evans can have the type of day that they had last week, it could get interesting. Perhaps the most significant danger for the Rams outside of Evans and Shaq Barrett going crazy is complacency as they look ahead to the Thursday night match-up against the Seahawks. We do not think Sean McVay will let that happen.
Rams 34, Tampa Bay 21