The Good Ole Days
This week, the Rams head down to Tampa to face the Bucs. I can't help but be reminded of the 1979 season NFC Championship game, when the Rams beat the Bucs 9-0 to advance to the Super Bowl. Twenty years later, the Rams again beat the Bucs in the NFC title game, as Warner's pass to Proehl and a controversial ending helped the Rams escape on their path to an unexpected SB championship.
Slater, Harrah, Youngblood playing on a broken leg, Dryer, Cromwell, Wendell Tyler, Leroy and Dewey Selmon, Ricky Bell, Doug Williams, John McKay. It is worth pointing out that the 1979 Rams were only 4-5 in the middle of that season, including a loss to the Bucs. Meanwhile, Tampa started 7-2, but lost 4 of their next 6 games, nearly blowing it before they got a win in the final game of the regular season, winning their division on a tiebreaker.
The Bucs basically couldn't generate any offense against the Rams in the NFC Championship. Williams struggled, then got injured and between the 2 QBs for the Bucs, they combined to complete only 4 of 26 passes for 54 yards, with one INT and one fumble. Even for that era of pro football it was a miserable outing. Bell ran for 1,263 yards during the regular season, but he also was bottled up, only gaining 59 yards on 20 attempts for less than 3 yards per carry. The Rams failed to score a TD, all of their points came from 3 FGs.
The Bucs and the Rams have won the last 2 Super Bowls, but instead of this week's game being a showdown between powerhouse squads it is a meeting of 2 teams in a tailspin. The 3-5 Bucs and the 3-4 Rams both need a victory to try to stop the bleeding and try to salvage their seasons. Barring a miracle, the Bucs and Rams won't play each other in the NFC title game this year, but with a win on Sunday, maybe one of the two teams can gain traction in the playoff hunt.
John McKay, the director of pro scouting for the Rams, is the grandson of the former Bucs coach.
Half a Ram
For much of the Niners game, the Rams seemed to have so little confidence in their OL that they didn't try to use a conventional gameplan. McVay tried to protect his weak like by using a ton of screen passes, jet sweeps, quick throws and play action so that the line wouldn't get placed in regular pass sets against the dangerous SF pass rushers. The Rams had some success with this in the 1st half and built a lead, but as the Niners made some adjustments to defend screens and the Rams got into longer 3rd downs in the 2nd half, the OL got more exposed and Stafford was under pressure.
I focused on Jackson for most of the game and I thought he was shaky. McVay gave him extra help at times, including keeping a TE in entirely on the play that Warner broke up a pass over the middle. Jackson blew a couple run blocks early in the game due to his lack of quickness. When required to pass block Bosa straight up, Jackson was no match for him.
I think it limits the value of players like Stafford and Kupp when the offense can't open up the playbook and call "normal" plays. You go into a shell and have to be conservative instead of attacking the defense. While the Rams don't have to play against SF every week, the Niners were not at full strength defensively. I'm just not very optimistic the Rams can turn things around on offense the way things are going.
Trying to come up with some positive things to say about the OL, Havenstein had multiple strong pass pro plays. On a long 3rd down pass to Robinson, Hav was rock solid on a solo block, which allowed the other 4 linemen to work against a 3 man loop. Given space in the pocket, Stafford was able to step into the throw. Hav also was good on the TD pass to Kupp. Higbee came across the formation and made a nice block helping out Skowronek, giving Stafford space to step into another deep pass and he drilled it to Cooper Kupp. Brian Allen picked off a LB on a screen pass, helping Rivers to gain yardage after the catch.
Alaric Jackson 63.8 PFF
Bobby Evans 37.3 PFF (78th out of 80 guards)
Brian Allen 70.0 PFF
Oday Aboushi 56.6 PFF
Rob Havenstein 69.0 (31st out of 79 tackles)
Others: David Edwards 58.2 PFF, Matt Skura, Jeremiah Kolone 36.1 PFF (last place center out of 37), Chandler Brewer, Coleman Shelton 49.9 (33rd out of 37 centers), Ty Nsekhe, AJ Arcuri, Max Pircher
IR: Noteboom 67.0 (39th out of 79 OTs), Tremayne Anchrum, Logan Bruss
Defensively, the Rams are 3rd in pass rush win rate and 3rd in run stop win rate. A'Shawn Robinson has the 5th best RSWR among DTs.
Tampa Bay Bucs Preview
Entering the 2022 season, ESPN projected the Rams to have the 12th best OL in the NFL and the Bucs were 15th. The Rams were projected to be 9th in pass block win rate, but not as good (20th) at run blocking, while the Bucs were supposed to be flipped opposite as only 19th at pass blocking, but 9th best in RBWR.
So far this year things have not gone according to plan. The Rams are 25th in PBWR and 30th in RBWR, making them one of the worst OLs in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Bucs are 26th in PBWR and 19th in RBWR, falling below expectations in both metrics. Not quite as bad as the Rams, but still underachieving.
Donovan Smith 66.2 PFF. Smith is a former 2nd round pick with a salary of nearly $14 million. Notice that Noteboom has a slightly higher grade than Smith this year.
Nick Leverett 81.7 PFF. Luke Goedeke, a 2nd round rookie, was the starting LG, but he struggled so badly 39.2 PFF (76th out of 80 guards, making Goedeke about the same as Bobby Evans) that the Bucs began shifting his playing time to Leverett, who was an UDFA out of Rice in 2020. Goedeke then had a foot injury, resulting in Leverett playing the entire game against the Ravens. Aaron Stinnie (IR) tore his ACL in the preseason, otherwise he might have been the one to take this spot over Goedeke.
Robert Hainsey 66.4 PFF(12th out of 37 centers) is filling in for Ryan Jensen (IR)
Shaq Mason 71.1 PFF (14th out of 80 guards)
Tristan Wirfs 83.3 (6th out of 79 OTs), also has the best PBWR of any OT.
Others: Josh Wells, Fred Johnson
The Bucs were hampered by having several injured players entering their game last week against the Ravens. This hurt their defense, particularly their secondary, which looked bad. Rookie Zyon McCollum (49.7 PFF) was one of the youngsters who struggled, looking weak defending the run. I thought edge rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka (66.5 PFF, 2.5 sacks) was impressive, but they also miss Shaq Barrett, who is on IR (he has the best RSWR among all NFL edge defenders.) Vita Vea had a social media highlight play where he roasted Linderbaum, the center for the Ravens, for a sack.
The Bucs haven't been able to run the ball. Fournett had 24 yards on 9 carries against the Ravens. Third round rookie RB, Rachaad White, only averages 3.0 ypc, but I thought he flashed some juice last game, so he could be dangerous if the Bucs can give him some space to operate.
Tom Brady throws a bunch of short, quick passes. I like how Tampa uses 3 TEs (Brate, Otton, Kieft), but Brate was hurt and didn't play last week. Almost all of Otton's catches have come in the last 5 games, so he's become a factor in the passing attack. Players like Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Fournette and Godwin are the big names, but I think the Rams need to be careful not to fall asleep against the TEs, because Brady will dink and dunk the ball to them all day long if given space.
One of the pivotal plays in the Ravens game came in the 4th quarter, when Scotty Miller got behind the DBs, but Brady's arm is so weak that he severely underthrew the pass. Instead of it being a critical TD, it was only a pass interference call and the Bucs ultimately had to settle for a FG. They were down by 11 points at the time, so losing those 4 points became costly at the end of the game.
Special teams could be a factor. The Bucs muffed a punt against the Ravens when one of their blockers ran into the punt returner. They have a rookie punter, Jake Camarda, who is tied for the most touchbacks. The Rams have had their own adventures and miscues on special teams this year, so I see it as an X factor wildcard that could swing in either direction.
Around the NFL
The Rams and Bucs have underperformed in the ESPN offensive line metrics this year, but which teams have been better than projected? Seattle was supposed to have the 30th ranked OL, equally putrid at both pass and run blocking. Instead, the Seahawks have struggled with run blocking (29th), but they are a top 5 unit in pass block win rate.
The Raiders were supposed to be dead last in run block win rate, but instead they are 3rd best. Josh Jacobs averaged 3.9 and 4.0 YPC in 2020 and 2021, respectively. This year, Jacobs is averaging 5.6 YPC. What a concept, right? Block better and the RB gains more yardage! What will they think of next, a wagon that has wheels?
The Saints were supposed to be average at pass blocking and poor at run blocking. Instead they are top 10 in both departments. Despite having QB issues and mediocre talent with Winston and Dalton, the Saints are 5th in total offense. While NO might not be as dominant up front as they were at the peak of the OL powers, they are still resurgent and it has given them at least a glimmer of hope in the weak NFC South. The Saints could use some help from the Rams this week.
The team ahead of the Saints in that division is the Falcons. ESPN projected Atlanta to have the 31st ranked OL in the NFL this year with the 27th best PBWR. Instead, the Falcons rank 12th in pass block win rate. Can Mariota take them to the playoffs?