Overview: This is probably as tough of a matchup as the Rams will face all season. While the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are unpredictable, they probably have as much talent on their roster as any team in the NFL. They don’t always play up to that level. Witness a 38-3 loss to the Saints a couple of weeks ago and an earlier season loss to a mediocre Bears team that they should have beaten. Even so, anytime you have Tom Brady and a receiving corps that includes Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, you can score points.
On defense, the Bucs are extremely hard to run on. And when the Rams have not been able to run the ball effectively this season, they usually have lost.
Coaching: Bruce Arians know the Rams well from his days leading the Arizona Cardinals, and the Bucs have a rising star in Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich. But the Rams appear to have struck gold with defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who is likely to be a hot candidate for a head coaching job come the offseason. Staley has done an excellent job designing creative defenses that get the most out of the Ram's talent.
He's almost a defensive version of McVay—an innovative mind who thinks outside the box and does the unexpected. Staley's mental chess game with Tom Brady will be one of the more exciting sub-plots to this game.
McVay has come under fire for his play-calling at times, but he still is one of the game's best offensive minds. Nobody disguises their plays better, as McVay runs a myriad of plays out of a few basic formations, never tipping his hand. He has had some lapses this season, notably doing a poor job of adjusting to blitzes against the Miami Dolphins. He's still one of the best, and we will give the Rams the edge here.
Rams Defense vs. Bucs Offense: Rams coach Sean McVay called the Tampa Bay offense a "Nightmare" this week. That isn't just coach talk; this is as deep of an offense as you will find anywhere in the NFL.
Let us start with the quarterback, who is widely considered the best to play the game. Yes, some think Tom Brady is in decline, and his arm is not what it used to be. The numbers say that's possible—he's 12th in the passer rating league at a still very respectable 99. That's not terrible by any means, and he has thrown 23 touchdowns versus only seven interceptions. Maybe those aren't Patrick Mahomes/Aaron Rodgers type numbers at this point, but they are still upper echelon by any measure.
Throw in the knowledge of the game, leadership, and competitive fire, and the Rams defense still has its work cut out in facing TB12.
Brady has, by his admission, had some issues throwing the deep ball this season. But this is a guy you never want to count out, especially when you consider that there is not a better set of receivers in 2020 than what the Bucs will put on the field on Monday night.
The key to beating Tom Brady historically has been by pressure, significantly pressure up the middle, where Aaron Donald comes into the picture. The Buccaneers must keep Donald under control to win this game, whether that means double teams, triple teams, or whatever else they can design. In his prime, Tom Brady was never the most mobile guy, but he does tend to get rid of the ball quickly.
If Aaron Donald has a big night, the Buc's very likely loses this game.
The Rams tend to move Donald around to get the most favorable matchups, and the Buccaneers will likely be without guard Ali Marpet, which doesn't help. Of course, holding Donald without any sacks does not guarantee a win. A prime example was the Rams victory over the division-rival Seattle Seahawks last week, where Donald recorded zero sacks. .
However, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd notched three, and rookie linebacker Terrell Lewis added two additional. That's in large part because of the Seahawk's double and triple-teamed Donald all night. And if you watched that game, you know Donald was still a factor, pressuring Seahawks QB Russell Wilson much of the night. Floyd was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week after his stellar performance against the Seahawks.
The job of shutting down Floyd will mainly fall to rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who may not get much help due to Donald's attention. Wirfs is athletic enough to match up with Floyd, but the Rams linebacker has been coming on, and defensive coordinator Brandon Staley may get creative using Floyd. Floyd is considered an underachiever is giving his tremendous athletic ability, but he may be hitting his stride. It doesn't hurt that he rarely gets double-teamed, thanks to Donald.
Eleven different Rams have logged sacks this year, and the Rams are second in sacks per game (they are lower in total sacks because other teams, including the Bucs, have not had a bye week). Pressuring Tom Brady will be the first task on Monday night.
Rams corner Jalen Ramsey is coming off a stellar performance against Seattle, in which he won his battle with Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf. It doesn't get any easier this week, as he likely will see a lot of Tampa Bay number one receiver Mike Evans is a big, physical wideout who presents a challenge to any defensive back. While his numbers on the season so far are just pretty good—forty receptions for 514 yards—you have to figure that he's had time to develop chemistry with T.B. 12 at this point. The fact that Tampa Bay can put so many good receivers on the field at once will challenge a Rams secondary that has been very good so far in 2020.
The Bucs is only 23rd in the league in rushing, averaging 103 yards per game. They do feature former USC star Ronald Jones, who is third in league with 730 yards. The Rams are fifth in the NFL in rushing defense, but they have had some lapses, notably in a loss to the 49ers in which Aaron Donald admitted that the team played "soft" on defense. They have been better since then in terms of rushing defense, but they can't afford a letdown in this game.
We're going to check this box for the Rams, but it's very, very close.
Rams Offense vs. Bucs Defense: While the Rams offense is seventh in the league in yards per game this season, they have not been on par with the team that went to to the Super Bowl in 2018, which averaged a touchdown more per game.
Part of the reason, of course, is the absence of former superstar Todd Gurley. Gurley was arguably the best running back in the league in his prime, but he's long gone at this point, following a severe decline that was primarily caused by health issues. That's not to say the Rams can't run the ball.
They are eighth in the league in yards rushing per game, and except for the Seattle game last week, the running game has set the tone for this offense. Second-year running back Darrell Henderson has emerged as the feature back, although coach Sean McVay tends to ride the hot hand.
Rookie Cam Akers has been getting more touches as of late, and Malcolm Brown gets a lot of the tough yards between the tackles. The Rams may have extra incentive to go "ground and pound" on Monday; long drives to prevent Tom Brady from having his hands on the ball.
The Bucs rushing defense has been stout this season, ranking first in the league in yards per game at 76. They are incredibly tough between the tackles, somewhat more vulnerable (but still outstanding) against the outside run. Linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David are excellent run defenders for the Bucs and given the difficulty of running straight up the middle against this defense. The Rams backs may have to try to make them miss in the open field. That will not be an easy task.
The Bucs best corner, Carlton Davis, will probably see a lot of the Rams Cooper Kupp on Monday night. But the Rams receivers are much like their running backs in that McVay and Goff tend to ride the hot hand. Lately, the team's nominal number three receiver, Josh Reynolds, has been seeing more action, and McVay keeps saying he wants to get Van Jefferson, the rookie out of Florida, more involved. It hasn't happened yet.
The Rams' problem in this game is that their passing game tends to be most effective when they can run the ball. That's not easy against Tampa Bay, and the Noteboom matchup against Pierre Paul is also worrisome. On the other hand, the Rams put up 40 points against the Bucs defense last season, with most of the same players in a 55-40 loss. We don't think this Rams defense will give up 55 points, and 40 points would probably win this game.
As on the other side of the ball, this is close. This time we're going to check the box for Tampa Bay.
Special Teams: Whom will the Rams placekicker be in this game? As of Sunday morning, we don't know. The kicking game has been a big problem for Los Angeles all season, and it remains a big question mark. The last report had former Bucs kicker Matt Gay and Austin MacGinnis on the roster after newly signed Kai Forbath suffered an ankle injury last week and was struggling. The problem here is that when you have two placekickers, it means neither one is that good. It becomes a problem; if someone doesn't emerge, it will eventually cost the Rams a game. Let's hope it isn't on tonight.
As bad as the Rams placekickers have been, that is how good punter Johnny Hekker has been. He's been the lone bright spot on a group of special teams, which has not been very good otherwise. At least the Rams seem to have gotten away from the idea of having Cooper Kupp (in favor of Nsimba Webster) return punts. That's a step in the right direction; there is much room for improvement across the board with the Rams special teams.
Tampa Bay's special teams have not been all that in recent years either, but they have been better this season. Kicker Ryan Succop was the NFC Special Teams Player of the week earlier this month.
The truth is that neither team features great overall special teams play, but the Rams dicey situation at placekicker tips the balance in favor of the Bucs.
Prediction: There are many intangibles in this game. It's yet another long trip back east for a Rams team that has piled up the frequent flier miles. Will the Rams come out flat following last week's big win against a division rival? Meanwhile, the Bucs are one of the few teams that have not had their bye week yet. You could wonder if the week-to-week grind and the minor injuries that accumulate with any unit that plays this very physical game might be a factor.
The Rams, meanwhile, have questions at left tackle and especially placekicker. Oddsmakers pick the Bucs by four and a half; neither of these teams has been a model of consistency.
Rams 27 Bucs 24