The Los Angeles Rams downed the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34-24 Sunday afternoon at SoFi Stadium.
LA snapped the Buccaneers’ 10-game win streak dating back to last season, and Los Angeles appears poised for a big year. We will have time to analyze over the course of the next week, but the Rams look like one of the best, if not the best, teams in the NFL.
There were a number of strong individual performances in this game, and several of the Rams top players stepped up when the team needed them the most:
Matthew Stafford, QB
The true measuring stick for the individual success of Matthew Stafford in a Rams uniform and the success of the team’s decision to acquire the signal caller will come in the playoffs. While it may not be necessarily fair to the player, Les Snead brought Stafford to Los Angeles to win an NFL championship, and anything short of that should be considered a disappointed.
With that said, Sunday’s Week 3 matchup was the most significant test Stafford and the 2021 version of the Rams have faced so far - and they passed with flying colors.
LA’s star passer finished with 27 completions on 38 attempts for 343 yards and four touchdowns.
Stafford started off a little shaky, competing only 1 of his first 7 passes. The Rams pivoted to a short, quick passing game that got their quarterback in a rhythm - and he never looked back.
Matthew Stafford vs the Bucs:— PFF (@PFF) September 26, 2021
134.0 passer rating pic.twitter.com/g4bCNY5Bd1
If you want to be a tough grader on Stafford, he missed Cooper Kupp multiple times earlier in the game and also underthrew the speedy DeSean Jackson twice. The Bucs also dropped an interception in the first quarter, which in hindsight could have been a momentum shifting play.
Overall, the Rams should be thrilled with the Stafford’s performance through their first three games. The team has division contests against the Arizona Cardinals (3-0) and the Seattle Seahawks (1-2) over the next two weeks, and Stafford will need to be at his best.
Cooper Kupp, WR
This was another strong performance for Stafford’s most trusted receiving option, finishing with nine catches on 12 targets for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Through three contests Kupp has recorded 25 receptions for 367 yards and five touchdowns.
Cooper Kupp receiving lines this season:— PFF (@PFF) September 26, 2021
Week 1 vs Bears
7 recs/108 yds/1 TD
Week 2 vs Colts
9 recs/163 yds/2 TDs
Week 3 vs Bucs
9 recs/96 yards/2 TDs pic.twitter.com/YeVEODxqmz
Aaron Donald, DT
The Rams jumped on the Bucs to lead 14-7 in the first half. Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were able to pass the ball efficiently; however, the savvy veteran did not have enough time to push the ball downfield on a consistent basis.
LA’s defense sacked Brady three times, and the pressure was significant. There were a number of times that Brady either had to release the ball earlier than he wanted or had to adjust the throw with defenders in throwing lanes and bearing down on him.
Donald had a key strip sack with in the final two minutes of the first half. Luckily for the Bucs, the ball was recovered by Giovani Bernard but could not be advanced. The sack pushed back Tampa Bay and kicker Ryan Succop missed a long field goal attempt to close the half.
Tyler Higbee, TE
The Stafford-Kupp connection has been a thing of beauty in the first three games, but the duo got off to a shaky start against the Bucs. Stafford had an errant throw on the first drive and then Kupp dropped a ball on the second drive that was a little high and ahead of him.
On the third drive the Rams started to get the ball rolling and worked into a rhythm - the fire starter was tight-end Tyler Higbee.
Against the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, Higbee totaled 6 receptions for 76 yards. Against Tampa Bay the veteran added another 5 catches for 50 yards and his first touchdown of the year.
While these aren’t eye-popping numbers, and we’ve seen Higbee have more dynamic individual performances, this is a situation where the offense needed someone to step up and Higbee was able to move the chains on multiple occasions and get his team on the board to take an early lead.
First score goes to the #LARams!— ESPN Los Angeles (@ESPNLosAngeles) September 26, 2021
Tyler Higbee's TD caps the 95-yard drive with help from the big guys (via @NFL) #TBvsLAR pic.twitter.com/VHsk5T1OGA
Kenny Young, ILB
Kenny Young earned a spot on the “Losers” list last week after making contact with an official and getting ejected from the game. At the time it was fair to wonder if Young’s absence would create an opening for rookie Ernest Jones to take over at inside line backer, but the veteran put this conversation to bed - at least for now.
It’s encouraging to see Young bounce back with a dynamic performance - he was all over the field and make a handful of key plays. The off-ball linebacker notched a team-leading 8 tackles, one sack, and three tackles for loss.
.@KennyYounggg lays the BOOM‼️ pic.twitter.com/kBd195M9FA— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 26, 2021
DeSean Jackson, WR
The veteran deep threat was mostly kept in Sean McVay’s tool belt during the first two weeks of the season, but the Rams unleashed Jackson against Tampa Bay.
Stafford attempted three deep passes to the speedster, and they finally connected on the third shot for a 75-yard touchdown bomb.
CLASSIC DESEAN JACKSON pic.twitter.com/puT2Skim7s— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) September 26, 2021
Jackson also added another 2 receptions for 45 yards, totaling 120 yards on the afternoon. The Rams offense is even more dangerous with one of the best deep threats in the history of the NFL in the mix, and it’s clear that Jackson still has plenty left in the tank.
Stafford was sacked only a single time in the game (after the score was pretty much decided) and LA’s signal caller often had ample time to push the ball downfield. While Tampa Bay was missing Jason Pierre-Paul, this is still a formidable defensive front capable of getting after opposing quarterbacks. Through three games, the offensive line has been impressive — particularly in regards to pass blocking.
For the third week in a row the Rams have faced a stout interior defensive line. There was not a ton of running room available for Sony Michel, but it is a positive sign that Los Angeles was able to maintain balance between the run and the pass. This is not something the Bucs’ previous opponents, the Dallas Cowboys in week 1 and the Atlanta Falcons in week 2, were able to accomplish.
Sony Michel rushed 20 times for 67 yards and also added 3 receptions for 12 yards.
The entire defensive unit played well and should be considered as a winner, but the run defense deserves to be specially mentioned after this impressive outing.
Tom Brady was Tampa Bay’s leading rusher on 3 attempts for 14 yards, which tells you just how well things went for the Buccaneers on the ground.
Running backs Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette had 5 carries for 11 yards and 4 carries for 8 yards, respectively.
While the statistics were pretty for Brady through the air, the Rams seemed to dictate terms and the Bucs took what they could get. Tampa Bay was able to complete passes, but it often seemed they were behind the chains and unable to come up with plays when they needed them most.
The Seahawks fell to the Minnesota Vikings 17-30 on Sunday, leaving them 1-2 on the season. With the Rams and Cardinals at 3-0 and the San Francisco 49ers with at least 2 wins currently, it’s possible that the Seahawks are falling behind early in the season.
While risking looking too far ahead, LA will host the Cardinals next Sunday at SoFi Stadium and then travel to Seattle the following Thursday night. Week 5 could quickly become a must-win game for the Seahawks, and the Rams may be looking to build an insurmountable lead over them.
Tackling on Defense
The Rams for the most part was able to stifle Tampa Bay’s downfield passing attack, but the real damage Sunday afternoon came on shorter completions that turned into big gains through catch-and-runs. This has been a theme through the first few weeks of the young season and is something that McVay has attributed to a lack of preseason action for starters and key role players; therefore, it’s something worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
Justin Hollins, Edge (but he was good!)
Justin Hollins continued his string of strong play into Week 3 and made a handful of plays rushing the passer and even in coverage.
Hollins left the game with a pec injury and did not return. Second-year OLB Terrell Lewis and rookie Chris Garrett rotated in to replace Hollins. Coach McVay did not have a significant update on Hollins’ status after the game, and this is worth monitoring ahead of next week’s big game against the Cardinals.
No update on Justin Hollins, per McVay - he left late in the game with a pec injury and did not return.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) September 26, 2021
A silver lining may be that OLB Obo Okoronkwo would be eligible to return for Week 4 after being placed on the short-term injured reserve listing ahead of Week 1. It is not yet known if Okoronkwo is ready to return; however, he may be able to provide some much needed depth if Hollins misses much time.