The Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers danced in the 1979 NFC Championship Game. Then 20 years later they tangoed in the 1999 NFC Championship Game. If the cosmos do their work, the Rams and Buccaneers will eventually battle for the right to go to the Super Bowl this year as well, and this week we get a little preview.
That’s right! Jameis Winston versus Jared Goff, with everything on the line!
In all seriousness, the Bucs are currently trying to get over a stunning comeback at the hands of the New York Giants and Danny Dimes, and currently stand as a 1-2 NFC South long-shot to make the playoffs. They have pockets of talent throughout their front seven and receiving corps, but will have to pray for a good day from Winston to compensate for what will likely be an overmatched offensive line and secondary.
The Rams old buddy Bruce Arians, has relocated from one retirement location to another, going from Arizona to the swamps and manatees of Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers hope that Arians will be able to help Winston develop, the same way he helped pump life into Carson Palmer’s career in the desert. So far, in three games, Winston has turned in a subpar performance, an okay performance, and a solid performance. With a shaky pair of tackles in Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson, the Rams surging defense should give Winston plenty to think about as he guns for the upset. Outside, big Mike Evans will most likely be up against corner Aqib Talib, but blossoming receiver Chris Godwin may be a scratch with a hip injury. If he plays, Evans and Godwin will be another tough matchup, following a week where the Rams did an effective job of limiting Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. OJ Howard could be factor, although the Rams have been far more successful against tight ends so far than they were last season.
Like Godwin, the Bucs will also be hoping that their prolific center Ryan Jensen can play despite a back issue. Both practiced on Friday.
This season, Bruce Arians has tapped his old defensive master-mind Todd Bowles to fix Tampa Bay’s defense after a horrific 2018 campaign. The Bucs have a talented front seven to test the Rams still-gelling offensive line. Last year’s number twelve pick overall Vita Vea will be 350 pounds of fun to test the Rams young interior line. Flanking Vea will be former Rams playoff-standout Ndomukong Suh and William Gholston. On the EDGE the Rams will be contending with current NFL sack leader Shaquil Barrett, and Carl Nassib. Barrett went to Tampa on one-year $4m deal, whereas Dante Fowler re-upped with the Rams for one-year at $12m. It’s hard not to compare the two pass rushers, but both are currently thriving potential Pro Bowlers through three weeks. Inside, Lavonte David remains one of the best linebackers in the league, and should get more than a few blitz opportunities Sunday.
Corners Vernon Hargreaves and Carlton Davis may be in over their heads against the Rams receivers, however pressure up front could help them survive. Remember, last week the Browns secondary was depleted, but they were able to scheme themselves into the game, giving up 268 yards through the air, but not getting totally burnt.
This one could be a get-well game for the Rams offense, but only if their line is able to hold their own up front.