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Rams-Buccaneers divisional preview: 4 final thoughts on what could turn the game

Tom Brady’s time to throw, Tampa’s lack of weapons, and LA’s strong depth at offensive line

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

The Rams have been to the NFC Championship game just three times since 1990, so even if it happened quite recently that type of success is rare. But this season’s team has felt a lot more like those championship caliber Rams than like Sean McVay’s two other postseason trips and because of the strength at quarterback and receiver, could have an even greater chance to win it all than the 2018 iteration.

The only person standing between the LA Rams and McVay’s second appearance in the NFC Championship game is the guy so successful that we literally named the Tom Brady* after him.

*We named the Lombardi Trophy after a coach who won the first two Tom Bradys, is it really that crazy to say that the Tom Brady could be named after the quarterback who won at least seven Tom Bradys?

Brady also has some other guys standing around him, as well as guys who step on the field when he’s not even playing, so Sunday’s divisional playoff game will give the Rams a lot of stuff to do besides trying to keep Tom Brady from getting back to the Tom Brady.

These are four thoughts on what the Rams could be thinking about this weekend.

Rams defensive line vs Bucs offensive line

Tom Brady got the ball off in an average of 2.17 seconds against the Eagles in the wild card round, his fastest mark in any game in at least five years. Though Brady was able to overcome four sacks en route to a 31-15 victory, the pressure and fast time to throw is a sign that Tampa Bay’s offensive line was overmatched after Tristan Wirfs was replaced by backup Josh Wells—who was also hurt but able to play because he had no other choice.

Wells chose to play rather than to quit and throw his jersey into the stands.

Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen was also hurt against the Eagles, signaling more extenuating circumstances that led to Brady needing to drive 90 in a 44. The status of Wirfs and Jensen is up in the air going into the weekend and even if they are able to start, how close to 100-percent will they be?

On the Rams side, they have un-rib-injuried Aaron Donald, rejuVonated Miller, Greg’s Gaines, and A’Shawn Robinson playing like he just started making Alabama money again.

Brady may need to break 2.00 seconds against the Rams defensive line on Sunday and those split-2.17-second decisions will have Jalen Ramsey to decide the consequences this time. The Bucs went 1-4 in the regular season when Brady was sacked three times, including against LA, but we know that he’s the type of player who can overcome a strong pass rush. The Rams have a long list of things they need to do well against Brady to win the game, not just sack him on third-and-15 a couple times.

Joseph Noteboom for Andrew Whitworth

Noteboom, Army, Unite.

The Rams ruled out Andrew Whitworth on Friday and the team will turn back to Joseph Noteboom. This isn’t considered to be a major issue however because LA has a recent track record from Noteboom and it’s not bad. This also gives the team another chance to show off before free agency and Tampa Bay has not been the dominant run defense that it was last season.

The Bucs defensive line has slipped a little bit from their 2020 efficiency, when they were fifth against the pass and first against the run by DVOA. In 2021, the Bucs were 10th against the pass and 12th against the run, and have also slipped a little in recent weeks.

Jason Pierre-Paul went from 9.5 sacks to 2.5 sacks, Devin White from nine sacks to 3.5 sacks. This isn’t to say that the Bucs aren’t as talented upfront, they’ve also added rookie Joe Tryon-Shoyinka in the first round, only that the makeup of the defense has changed a bit even if the roster didn’t.

The Rams passed for 331 yards and rushed for 76 yards in Week 3’s win, but with Cam Akers healthy again it could be that Sean McVay turns back to his back in back-to-back weeks. Akers is also used to rushing behind all types of offensive lines at Florida State, another reason that Les Snead drafted him.

The Bucs are light on wide receivers for once

You just can’t predict what’s going to happen in the NFL because it wasn’t long ago that we would have assumed that Tampa Bay had Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Cyril Grayson, and Breshad Perriman in the playoffs. Normally I might not even mention Grayson, a 28-year-old college track athlete who had three career yards until this past November, but the Bucs were starting to rely on him after Godwin got hurt and Brown quit.

The team also had to turn to Perriman, the former first round pick of the Ravens, but he’s now been ruled out. In practice this week, Perriman was all set to be the number three. That could now fall to Scotty Miller.

Number two Tyler Johnson caught 36 passes for 360 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season.

It may not end up being a huge deal who the number two and number three receivers are, but if Jalen Ramsey and LA’s linebackers can hold down Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski, who does Brady turn to next?

Scotty Miller had five catches for 38 yards this season. Jaelon Darden had six catches for 43 yards. Tampa also added veteran John Brown to the practice squad and could active him, similar to LA adding Eric Weddle at the last moment. Brown played with the Broncos and Jaguars this season but did not catch a pass in 2021.

That means that Evans had 1,035 yards this season and every other receiver on the roster had 442 yards, most of those belonging to Johnson.

Matthew Stafford will do fine but it’s fine if he don’t

The top passes defenses that Stafford faced this season by DVOA were the Cardinals (three times), Bucs, Titans, and Bears. and the Rams went 4-2 in those contests. Stafford had 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in those games, with two of those coming against Tennessee.

It’s not fair to compare September’s game against the Bucs to this Sunday’s, the teams are different as is the situation, and it may not matter that Stafford had four touchdowns against Tampa in Week 3. I do believe that it matters that a quarterback can handle the pressure of winning a playoff game against Tom Brady, but I also believe that Stafford has proven that he lacks flaps, or is otherwise unflappable.

The number one recruit in the country, the number one quarterback in college, the number one pick in the draft, and the first quarterback to ever survive the Lions for greener pastures.

However, every quarterback has bad playoff games, including Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Stafford is playing the best team of his career and there’s really nothing surprising about how easy his first playoff win now that he has a different support system around him. I think he’ll be fine, but if he’s not, it shouldn’t signal that he isn’t capable of winning the Super Bowl next year.