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Everything you need to know about the LA Rams next opponent: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The reigning champs look even better than they did a year ago

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

My job of doing these primers could not possibly go any easier than covering the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did the LA Rams face the Bucs last season (and won), not only did the Bucs win the Super Bowl, therefore making them well-known to most NFL fans by now, but on top of all of that, they didn’t change.

Like, at all.

The Bucs have returned all of their starters, key reserves, and coaches from the 2020 championship season and so far that plan seems to be going off without many hitches.

Tampa Bay is 2-0 following a blowout win against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and in Week 3 they will travel to SoFi Stadium to face the Rams in a 1:25 PM PT kickoff in front of what I imagine will be a “SoFi attendence record” home crowd on September 26th.

Here is EVERYTHING you need to know about the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2020 record: 11-5

Playoffs: Won Super Bowl over Chiefs, 31-9

Head coach: Bruce Arians (Year 3, 20-14 with Bucs; Year 9 as NFL HC, 69-44-1 total)

Specialty: Letting his Hall of Fame quarterback call the shots, on and off the field

Offensive Philosophy: “No risk it, no biscuit”, West Coast scheme with Tom Brady “twists”:

Arians has altered his offense a bit this season in Tampa Bay to cater to Tom Brady’s strengths, incorporating more motion and a few more shorter passes to go along with the deep strikes that remain a staple.

“If you’re not looking for new things every year, you’re falling behind,” the 68-year-old Arians said. “You can look at what some other people do. But if it really doesn’t match your personnel, it’s not a fit for you.”

OC: Byron Leftwich (4th year; all four under Arians, including one with Cards)

Fact: The Bucs led the NFL in 2020 with 42 completions of 20+ air yards

DC: Todd Bowles (3rd year with Bucs; previous stint working for Arians resulted in being HC with Jets for 4 years)

From Bucs Nation: Examining the guts of the Todd Bowles defensive

Todd Bowles looks to marry great pass coverage with an aggressive front. Essentially, get big, long, fast guys that can cover 1-on-1 on the back end while up front you try to disguise and blitz to force the quarterback’s hand as quickly as possible. Everything starts with the back end.

Let’s get into some personnel differences, if you remember the 2020 Bucs.

Changes on Offense from 2020:

None - The Bucs brought back all 11 starters on offense, as well as “non-starters” like Antonio Brown, O.J. Howard, Leonard Fournette, Scotty Miller, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. They are essentially the same offense.

IR:

No notable injuries.

What to expect from Tampa’s offense:

Tom Brady will probably take part in it in some capacity

The assumption that Brady would survive into his mid-40s by winning in a war of attrition — limiting the usage of his arm as he gets closer to being in those mid-afternoon TV ads for a prescription drugs of which the purpose is not clear unless you talk to your doctor — has proven to make an ass out of u and me.

Through two games, Tom Brady has attempted 86 passes, which is a lot for a QB at any age. Or at least, that’s what we have always been led to believe but Brady is now at 10,684 career attempts. And that’s only in the regular season. Brady led the NFL in attempts with 581 in 2017, when he was 40, and he’s averaged 598 attempts per year in the three seasons since.

So far in 2021, it looks like Brady is cruising towards at least 600 attempts, but he could flirt with 700 thanks to the 17-game schedule.

And here I thought the 700 Club was reserved for Tim Tebow.

Not including playoffs, Brady has four straight games with at least four touchdown passes, and including playoffs, he has has a streak of 13 straight games with multiple scores.

Tampa Bay has Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown, and Rob Gronkowski, so they have little intention of running the football to score points. They will attack with Brady and those four weapons.

The running backs are only kind of there too

Leonard Fournette was a key part of Tampa Bay’s road to a Super Bowl championship but through two games in 2021 he has 20 carries for 84 yards. Ronald Jones II, the expected starter, only has 10 carries for 41 yards.

That’s it for Tampa’s running backs: through two games, no other RB has a rushing attempt and the 2-0 Bucs seem fine with that. You can maybe expect 10-15 carries from Tampa Bay, depending on how the game is going.

But the Bucs didn’t go out and get Brady, Gronk, and Brown just to hand it off in these primetime showdowns in front of the world.

Byron Leftwich, future head coach

I remember Leftwich’s first and only playoff start, a disaster-laden 28-3 loss to the Patriots in January of 2006. Leftwich went 18-31 for 179 yards with an interception and a fumble and his Jaguars career was essentially all but over. Leftwich started just 12 more games in his career, throwing 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions during that stretch, with a 3-9 record.

He’s much more settled in as an NFL coach, however.

Leftwich was OC of the worst offense in the NFL with Steve Wilks’ Cardinals in 2018, but that regrettable season opened the door for him to be hired by Arians in 2019. An intern and QBs coach for Arians in 2016-17, Leftwich oversaw an offense that ranked third in points and first in passing yards with Jameis Winston in 2019.

And then think of all those positives, minus the negatives, and a lot more positives, when Brady replaced Winston in 2020.

While some fans might attribute Leftwich’s success to his partnerships with Arians and Brady, that hasn’t stopped many coaches before him from getting opportunities to run their own teams; Brandon Staley knows a thing or two about that.

If Urban Meyer doesn’t enjoy his foray into the NFL, Leftwich might just wind up back where it all started — and where Tom Brady finished him: Jacksonville.

2020 offensive ranks

Points: 3rd

Yards: 7th

Turnovers: 7th

Pass attempts: 6th

Rushing attempts: 29th

Net yards per pass attempt: 8th

Passing touchdowns: 2nd

Rushing yards: 28th

Yards per carry: 25th

Rushing touchdowns: 15th

Points per drive: 5th

DVOA: 3rd (5th in passing, 10th in rushing)

Offensive “strength of schedule”: 15th by DVOA*

*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that last season the Bucs faced an “average” schedule of defenses in the NFL by average DVOA.

Offensive Depth Chart

Changes on Defense:

None. The Bucs brought back all 11 starters on defense, too. They also return many key reserves and first round pick Joe Tryon, a defensive end out of Washington who opted out in 2020, has been highly-praised throughout camp, preseason, and the season.

IR:

CB Sean Murphy-Bunting

What to expect from Tampa’s defense:

Don’t even attempt to run it

It may seem (ironically) passé to pay attention to the run game, but the reigning champions also happened to have an historically good run defense in 2020. The Bucs ranked first in rushing yards allowed, YPC allowed, rush TD allowed, and total attempts against, as they force opponents to play catch-up to their passing attack with Brady and co.

All told, teams averaged just 3.6 yards per carry and 80.6 yards per game on the ground against Tampa Bay last season.

The story hasn’t changed yet, as the Bucs allowed 60 rushing yards to Ezekiel Elliott’s Cowboys in Week 1, and 55 rushing yards to Atlanta in Week 2; the Falcons may not have a star running back, but don’t forget that head coach Arthur Smith was OC for Derrick Henry’s Titans the previous year.

With all the issues that LA is currently having in the backfield, we should expect this game to get very passé.

Vita Vea is underrated

The Bucs have several stars on defense, including inside linebacker Devin White, outside linebackers Lavonte David and Shaquil Barrett, former Rams defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul, and second-year safety/second-time being an NFL player named Antoine Winfield — Antoine Winfield, Jr.

But maybe it’s nose tackle Vita Vea that’s making everything “go” right now.

The 12th overall pick in the 2018 draft, Vea was just getting ramped up when he broke his ankle last October. Vea hasn’t filled up the stat sheet yet this season but he’s extremely disruptive — another test for Brian Allen — and he’s surrounded by talent, in case you haven’t noticed.

2020 Defensive Ranks

Points Allowed: 8th

Yards Allowed: 6th

Turnovers Forced: 5th

Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 8th

Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 21st

Rushing Yards Allowed: 1st

Yards Per Carry Allowed: 1st

Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 1st

Points Per Drive Allowed: 9th

DVOA: 5th (5th against pass, 1st against run)

Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 10th (average difficulty)

Starting Defense:

Special Teams

K - Ryan Succop has been the official replacement for Matt Gay, now the kicker for the Rams. Succop is 1-of-1 on attempts this year, and 10-of-11 on extra points. He was 52-of-57 on extra points in 2020, and 28-of-31 on field goals; but only 1-of-2 beyond 50.

P - Bradley Pinion is in his third year with the Bucs. He averaged a career-high 45.2 yards per punt in 2020.

Returns - Jaydon Mickens has settled in as the team’s returner. He appeared in 10 games last season, returning 16 punts for 99 yards and 14 kicks for 340 yards.

What happened in Week 1?

Bucs defeat Cowboys in 2021 season opener on Thursday Night Football, 31-29, surviving four turnovers by the offense. Tom Brady throws four touchdown passes and two interceptions. 1-0.

What happened in Week 2?

The Bucs hold off the Falcons’ third quarter comeback attempt and blow them out 48-25 on the back of five touchdowns for Brady and two pick-sixes for cornerback Mike Edwards off of Matt Ryan in the fourth quarter. 2-0.