The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are headed to SoFi Stadium for a highly-anticipated matchup — and what could be a preview of the NFC Championship game — on Sunday. Both teams are 2-0 and figure to be in contention again in 2021.
What do LA’s performances so far tell us ahead of the highly-anticipated Week 3 contest?
1 - The pass rush has been relentless
But teams will take different approaches to manage it
An important first step to analyzing the Rams pass rush in Weeks 1 and 2 is to distinguish between the porous offensive line of the Chicago Bears and the Indianapolis Colts having one of the better units in the league (albeit RT Braden Smith was unable to play against LA). These teams are certainly not created equal up front, though Los Angeles has still been able to apply consistent pressure to opposing signal callers.
In Week 1, Andy Dalton mitigated the Rams pass rush by getting the ball out quickly, averaging a remarkably quick time to throw of 2.0 seconds. Chicago had some success with this approach and at one point strung together a 16-play scoring drive. Eventually, the Rams were able to outscore and outpace the Bears and forced Chicago into playing more aggressively and push the ball down the field.
Andy Dalton's average time to throw is 2.0 seconds, and he's still on the edge of what that offensive line can handle#CHIvsLAR— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) September 13, 2021
In a stark opposition to Dalton, Carson Wentz relied on his athleticism to avoid rushers and buy time to throw. The Colts signal caller also scrambled five times and contributed 37 yards on the ground. Wentz had an impressive afternoon navigating the pocket and extending plays on the outside, which created opportunities for downfield attempts.
Carson Wentz just threw an absolute bomb. pic.twitter.com/PbQfXLyxEe— Indy SportsOne (@IndySportsOne) September 19, 2021
LA will face the ageless Tom Brady in Week 3. If the Rams pass rush can get home at a similar rate to Weeks 1 and 2, we may see Brady take a Dalton-style approach and fire the football out quickly. A heavy dose of pressure could help mitigate the downfield threat of the Bucs’ many playmakers, such as Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, and Rob Gronkowski.
While Brady is as good as any at reading defenses and diagnosing coverages, the Rams were able to bamboozle the future Hall of Famer for two easy interceptions in their matchup a season ago. If LA can force Brady to hasten his decision making, there could be opportunities to disguise coverages and clog the short and intermediate passing lanes.
2 - The Rams have bent but not yet broke on defense
They also have not played Brady and the Bucs
Both the Bears and Colts found success against the Rams in putting together long drives; however, the Los Angeles defense has so far been able to tighten in the red zone and limit touchdowns.
The Buccaneers are also a much different team than Chicago or Indy, and they also have a player that has made his living scoring touchdowns in the red area: Rob Gronkowski. At this point in his career, Gronkowski shouldn’t scare defenses until Tampa Bay is within striking distance — and then he should terrify them. Brady and Gronk have connected for a pair of touchdowns in each of their first two games, totaling four on the young season.
Gronk is turning back the clock.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 19, 2021
4 TDs in 6 quarters so far this season.pic.twitter.com/LON4GWgyFD
While Gronkowski may not have the same athleticism he did earlier in his career, his pure size advantage over defensive backs and most linebackers is enough to cause havoc on the goal line. Brady is able to put the ball where only his big guy can catch it, and through two weeks the duo have been nearly unstoppable. If the Rams are unable to force more three-and-outs and prevent long drives, the Brady-Gronkowski connection may become the straw that breaks the defense’s back.
3 - LA has faced stout defensive fronts to start the season
And fared well in the ground game
The Rams offensive line has had a fairly strong start to the 2021 season, especially considering the defensive lines they’ve faced in the first two weeks. Unfortunately, things don’t get any easier against a Tampa Bay front that stars former Ram Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea on the interior.
Center Brian Allen was a significant question mark heading into the season, but Pro Football Focus currently has the fourth-year veteran as the 2nd best player at his position through 2 games.
Notable PFF grades from @RamsNFL Week 2 win.— J.B. Long (@JB_Long) September 20, 2021
The first & last note :
DT Donald 92.1 (deals Q. Nelson a career-low 52.2)
LB Reeder 90.0 (career best)
WR Kupp 90.6 (4th career 90+)
CB Ramsey 87.8
QB Stafford 78.2
EDGE Floyd 72.2
C Allen 70.8 (No.2 center in NFL through 2 weeks) pic.twitter.com/vZ5qhZMpxp
Starting running back Darrell Henderson left the Week 2 contest in Indy early due to a rib injury, and his status for Week 3 is up in the air; however, the third-year back is off to a decent start, accumulating 123 yards on 29 attempts (4.2 yard average). Henderson has also caught 6 passes for 46 yards.
The recently acquired Sony Michel has notched 11 carries for 48 yards, representing 4.4 yards per attempt.
LA has leaned pass heavy to start the season, but has also found success in the running game when it matters most — chewing up the clock late in the game against both the Bears and Colts.
If Henderson is unable to play against Tampa Bay, Sony Michel would likely shoulder most of the load with rookie Jake Funk mixing in on third downs or when Michel needs a breather. Funk came into the game multiple times against Indy, but ultimately did not touch the ball outside of a few kick return opportunities.