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Rams must beat the Buccaneers at their own game

Both teams are suspect versus the short passing game

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Rams are riding high off a dominating win vs. the Arizona Cardinals last Monday night, 34-11. LA hits road this Sunday to face off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a foe they knocked off in week three of the regular season 34-24.

In their first meeting, both teams used short and mid range passes to move up and down the field. The two teams combined for 93 passes thrown and 875 yards of total offense, The Rams scored in the first minute of the second half, extending their lead to 21-7 and never looked back in a game that saw LA score on eight of ten drives, including kneel downs on the games final series.

For the Rams to move on to the conference championship, they need to mirror their offensive gameplan from their week three win and use the same aggressive defense they employed vs. Arizona.

Here’s a breakdown of the Bucs units and how the Rams should attack them.

Attacking Tampa Bay’s defense

Against both the pass and run, Bucs Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles uses a gambling, aggressive front seven that utilizes stunts, stacked boxes, and blitzing from all angles. It is high risk, high reward scheme.

Against the pass, the Buccaneers led the NFC in in blitzes with 313, a whopping 40.8 percent of defensive snaps. They also paced the league in QB hurries (95), hurry percentage (12.4), QB knockdowns (77), knockdown percentage (11.3), total pressures (219), and finished second in QB pressure percentage (28.6) and QB hits (127).

On the other side of the coin, Tampa Bay also gave up the most passing attempts (680) and completions (445) for 4062 yards. Effectively, 26 of 40 for 239 yards at a 65% clip against a schedule that included five games against the bottom four passing offenses in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints, the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears and the Carolina Panthers.

Against the run, the Vita Tea-led defensive line eats up space and blockers, allowing a stellar linebacking crew to fill the gaps with impunity. Those same stunts and blitzes make blocking calls difficult. Tampa Bay’s run defense is powerful and consistent at the point of attack and in its overall framework The Bucs run defense is an NFL top five unit that gives up 92.5 yards per game on 22 carries, and 4.3 yards per carry.

In their first meeting, the Rams used a mixture of short passes, an effective but not spectacular running game, and few deep passes downfield. Film shows LA had success getting outside of the Buccaneers ferocious defensive interior.

Sony Michel only gained 67 yards on 20 carries but was able to find space off tackle and outside even though this is not his normal comfort zone. The triumphant return of Cam Akers, with his fresh legs and burst may be able to exploit the edges.

Matthew Stafford was able to throw outside the numbers for nice gains. He used a mix of short passes, both non and traditional screens, swings and curls to negate Tampa Bay’s blitzes and stacked boxes. Staff did hit one long wide-open pass and under threw two others but mostly worked underneath and between the layers of the secondary.

If the Rams offensive line can match their week three performance and hold off the Bucs potent pass rush, Stafford can move the ball against a primarily two-deep zone. 11 of 17 Tampa Bay’s opponents were in the bottom half of the NFL in passing offense, not exactly a sterling strength of passing schedule.

Penning up the GOAT

Tom Brady ia arguably the best quarterback in NFL history, commands the leagues top passing offense, and at age 44, is having his best season ever. What could be worse? His offensive tendencies match up with the Rams biggest defensive shortcomings.

Brady shows patience and will pick apart a soft coverage by taking what he is given. His Buc offense led the NFL in attempts (731), completions (492), yards (5383) and touchdowns (43). With Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown all out for the postseason, 209 of those receptions are shelved, but Mike Evans’ ability ( 74 catches, 1035 yards, 14 TD’s) and size ( 6’ 5’’) are tough matchup. The three-headed tight end monster of Rob Gronkowski, Cameron Brate, and OJ Howard have accumulated 99 receptions, 1182 yards, and 11 TD’s.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay offensive line allowed the least sacks in the NFL (23). 10 of those sacks came in the Buccaneers four losses and the Rams chalked up three in their first meeting. The Bucs run game is statistically in the bottom third of the league and with Fournette out and primary backup Ronald Jones questionable, the Rams should expect most of the action to happen in the secondary. Two starting offensive linemen, starters tackle Tristan Wirfs and center Ryan Jensen are nicked up, as well as backup tackle Josh Wells. All three are questionable for Sunday.

Pressuring Brady is paramount, He is not elusive in the pocket and although not immune to throwing interceptions, he is more likely to throw the ball away under duress. Fine, just get him off the field.

The Buccaneer run game plays second fiddle to Brady’s exploits. With Fournette out and Jones questionable, the rushing attack falls to 2nd year man Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who has ran for 5.0 yards per carry in limited use and Gio Bernard, a nine year veteran who does his best work receiving out of the backfield. In their previous meeting, the Rams squelched the Tampa Bay run game, limiting them to 35 yards on 13 carries. The lumbering QB Brady tallied 14 of those on scrambles.

Replicating the Rams week three win

Make the Bucs one dimensional on offense, smother the run game again and force Brady to throw 50 times. He will surely pile up some yards, but limit his long drives drives with a mix of blitz pressures. Basically have the Rams defense do what Tampa’s does, force, not allow short, quick throws. Play tighter coverages underneath to disrupt Brady’s timing. I would strongly consider putting CB Jalen Ramsey on WR Mike Evans and compel the Bucs TE’s to be the playmakers.

When the Rams have the ball, go away from the interior and attack the edges. How the offensive line performs will likely determine the game, but keep plugging away with the run game, concentrating on the edges, no matter the results. The Bucs front seven is hard to fool with traditional screens, so use RB slip passes instead. The Rams had success in their first meeting by spreading out both the field and touches, forcing the Tampa defense to defend out wide, away from their strength. After softening them up, use play action to get behind the linebackers down the field.

Put your money where your mouth is

The rams are currently three point underdogs and at +140 a live dog. LA plays well on the road and won in Tampa last season. The Rams have played a tougher schedule and have the talent and scheme to win. Rams win 38-23.