To earn a chance to be the Champions, you have to beat the Champions. Check. The Los Angeles Rams have done just that by eliminating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-27 on Divisional Round Sunday. It was a back and forth game that required resolve and executing under pressure in all areas of the roster.
Here are the breakdowns by position and the resulting letter grade.
When it’s all said and done it came down to Matthew Stafford required to put the team in scoring position with 42 seconds and one timeout in order to win and advance and he nailed it. He knew well enough to target his best receiver in Cooper Kupp once for a 20 yard chunk and then right after that, in a hurry up offense, in the face of a blitz, he tossed a perfect deep pass with a defender in his face to drop it in the Kupp and set up the score. Stafford threw for 28 completions for 366 yards and two touchdowns. Not only was Stafford precise and productive, he did what many said was the key to the game which is to play mistake free from the QB position with zero interceptions.
Cam Akers took the reins officially carrying the load for the running backs with 24 attempts for 48 yards and three catches for 20 yards. On the downside the most impactful plays from Akers was two fumbles that were both recovered by the defense.
Kupp caught nine passes for 183 yards and one touchdown. He did have one fumble, but in the end was the most impactful skill player in the game starting with his 70 yard touchdown and then the two catches on the final drive to set up the win. Odell Beckham Jr had six catches for 69 yards which included on twenty yard catch and run to convert on a first and twenty.
Tyler Higbee had four catches for 51 yards. Kendall Blanton scored the first touchdown of the game which was also his first touchdown of his career.
The offensive line was tasked with protecting the quarterback from one of the most imposing pass rushes in the NFL while missing their best blocker in Andrew Whitworth. Fortunately Joe Noteboom has been and was ready to step in and do a good job. Against Jason Pierre-Paul, Shaq Barrett, Ndamukong Suh, and Vita Vea, the line allowed only two sacks but held up in the critical moments of the one score game.
Aaron Donald had one of three sacks on Tom Brady. He had a total of five tackles, three tackles for a loss, three quarterback hits, and one pass deflection. Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson combined or five tackles. The Buccaneers were held to only 51 yards total rushing.
Leonard Floyd and Von Miller both got sacks on Brady. Miller’s sack was a strip sack that was recovered by the defense. The edges were held to a good degree accounting for the limit of 51 total rushing yards by the Bucs aside from the two short yardage touchdown runs. Travin Howard and Troy Reeder combined for nine tackles.
The corners held up their own and would have been under less second half pressure without the offensive turnovers. However, after Brady led the National Football League in regular season touchdowns, the Rams secondary held him to only one touchdown in this game. Jalen Ramsey had the biggest lapse giving up a deep pass to Mike Evans for the only passing score.
Nick Scott did it again and has been really showing up this season, after a key pass break up in last weeks Wildcard game, he followed it by getting an interception on Brady in the Divisional Round. He also posted five tackles and two pass deflections.
Matt Gay went three for four on field goals but hit the game winning 30 yarder as time expired for the walk off win.
Sean McVay put his guys in a position to win this tough match up. Going up against one of the strongest run defenses in the league, McVay was smart to rely on the passing game but also knew to help his quarterback to get the ball out quick. Hitting OBJ and Higbee early and often in the first half was effective as well as tossing it out to Akers to get him some space. The difficultly in the second half was mainly attributed to execution errors with the fumbles more than it was a play calling issue. Perhaps the most important call down the stretch was less of a play call but a hurry up call. In Stafford’s post game, he describes that before his last pass to Kupp, Mcvay ordered a hurry up to take advantage of the chunk play and get the ball going before the defense could fully set up. Kupp described that the defense reacted and did a fairly good job getting set quickly but all it took was one misstep or one second of urgency for the Rams to get the advantage on that play as Stafford delivered while taking a hit and Kupp ended up with a step on his man.