One of the strongest single game performances by the Los Angeles Rams during the 2021 regular season came in Week 3 against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Nearly 17 weeks later, the Rams and Bucs are preparing for a divisional round showdown.
A lot has changed with both of these teams since the onset of the regular season. Los Angeles has both acquired and lost key players, and Tampa Bay has also lost some important contributors (one in particularly dramatic fashion). Who has come and gone, and what can we gather from the previous matchup that is still relevant now?
Rams’ new faces:
- Von Miller
- Odell Beckham, Jr.
- Cam Akers
- Eric Weddle
Rams’ key contributors lost:
- DeSean Jackson - cut by team
- Robert Woods - injury
- Kenny Young - traded to Denver Broncos
- Johnny Mundt - injury
- Jordan Fuller - injury
- Sebastian Joseph-Day - injury
Buccaneers’ new faces:
- Breshad Perriman - signed from Chicago Bears in November
- Jason Pierre-Paul - missed last game with injury
Buccaneers’ key contributors lost:
- Chris Godwin - injury
- Antonio Brown - released in dramatic fashion
- Tristan Wirfs - game time decision (ankle injury)
Matthew Stafford’s performance
Matthew Stafford had one of his best performances in Week 3 against the Buccaneers, carving up Todd Bowles’ defense for 343 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a traditional passer rating of 134.0. Most notably this was a turnover-free performance by the quarterback.
If you want to be a tough grader, he did have a bit of a slow start - missing some throws to Cooper Kupp early in the game. Stafford also underthrew a couple passes to deep threat DeSean Jackson, so his numbers easily could have been even more staggering.
It’s not that I’m expecting Stafford to play poorly in Tampa Bay, it’s just unreasonable to expect him to perform at the same level in a second matchup. Realistic expectations would suggest at least some regression from the Rams’ signal caller in the divisional round, though he was decisive and effective last week against the Arizona Cardinals. It was encouraging to see Stafford take calculated risks and effectively manage the game plan in the wildcard game. This is a winning approach, though it may come at the expense of eye popping statistics.
CLASSIC DESEAN JACKSON pic.twitter.com/puT2Skim7s— Complex Sports (@ComplexSports) September 26, 2021
Verdict: Not repeatable - look for regression
Tom Brady’s performance
Tom Brady is one of the few quarterbacks capable of taking advantage of the Rams’ defensive scheme that gives up the underneath passes and forces offenses to be patient and put together long drives. His performance in Week 3 is an example of this, as he completed 41 of 55 pass attempts (75%) for 432 yards 1 touchdown.
Brady is missing some key weapons this time around, as Chris Godwin suffered a season-ending knee injury and Antonio Brown was recently released by the team. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris may elect to have shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey shadow Mike Evans, which could take away Brady’s best receiving option.
Look for Brady to once again have a high volume of pass attempts to underneath receivers. It’s on the Rams to force incompletions and get the Buccaneers off schedule. It is also important that LA tightens up in the red zone as they did last time, and making Tampa Bay settle for field goals could be the difference in this contest.
Verdict: Repeatable, but not the end of the world
LA’s running game
Darrell Henderson missed the early season matchup and the Rams turned to Sony Michel to carry the load on the ground.
Tampa Bay has a formidable defensive line that is adept at stopping the run. While LA’s running game was not overly effective, the Rams were able to keep Tampa Bay on their toes by remaining committed to running the ball - Michel finished with 20 carries for 67 yards (3.4 average). It is important for Los Angeles is at least maintain the threat of the ground game, as becoming too pass happy allows defenses to pin their ears back and rush the passer with no concern about stopping the run.
It is also reasonable to expect improvement from the Rams in this facet, as Cam Akers looked explosive against Arizona and Michel emerged over the second half of the season.
Cam Akers this recovery from the achilles injury is outrageous pic.twitter.com/4ikLnDKjno— Liam (@Blutman27) January 18, 2022
Verdict: Repeatable, and fair to expect improvement
Tampa’s running game
It is never a good sign as an offense when Tom Brady is your leading rusher - and that’s exactly what happened the last time these two teams met: Brady rushed 3 times for 14 yards and 1 touchdown, and the rest of the Bucs combined for 10 carries for 21 yards. Godwin added another 2-yard touchdown on the ground.
The Rams were also stingy against a strong Arizona run game in the wildcard round, holding the Cardinals to only 61 yards on 18 carries (3.4 average). As good as Von Miller is rushing the passer, he was equally as stout in the running game - recording 3 tackles for loss last week.
Sure, Von Miller was brought in to rush the passer but it's been really interesting watching how much he can also affect the run. Really solid effort plays even early on, when the sacks weren't there yet.— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) January 18, 2022
It’s not reasonable to expect minimal production on the ground again by the Bucs - their offensive line is too good and they will win their fair share of reps. The Rams don’t need to hold Tampa Bay to 35 yards to win this game, they just need to stop the run at key moments in order prevent short yardage conversions and to force Brady and the offense into 3rd and long situations.