After losing to the San Francisco 49ers last week, the Rams enter week nine sitting at 3-4 and staring a 3-5 record in the face. A win and the Rams season remains alive and in the hunt. A loss and they lose a potential tiebreaker to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their season is likely over.
The opponent is the same team that the Rams beat in the NFC Divisional round last season and are 3-0 against since Tom Brady left New England three years ago - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Prior to the season, many would have thought that these two teams would be fighting for the NFC’s top seed. Instead, the Rams and Buccaneers are fighting for a wild card spot. Here are five things that the Rams need to do to beat the Buccaneers.
1. Control the Game by Running the Ball
At this point in the season, it’s hard to say that the team with the NFL’s worst rushing attack needs to find success in the run game. However, that’s the case on Sunday against the Buccaneers. Whether it’s Cam Akers returning and playing with a chip on his shoulder, Darrell Henderson back healthy, or Kyren Williams adding a spark, the Rams must be able to run the football.
This isn’t the same Buccaneers run defense of the past few seasons. This season, the Buccaneers rank just 19th in run defense DVOA. Additionally, over the last five weeks, they rank 29th in run defense EPA.
In Week 8, Gus Edwards and Kenyan Drake combined for 18 carries for 127 yards. The week before D’Onta Foreman carried the ball 15 times for 118 yards in the Carolina Panthers 21-3 win. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Isiah Pacheco combined for 30 carries for 155 yards.
It’s worth nothing that Pittsburgh Steelers who rank 29th in run offense DVOA still only managed 42 yards rushing on 14 carries from Najee Harris.
Cooper Kupp has a banged up ankle and Matthew Stafford hasn’t been at his best this season. The Rams need to be able to lean on the run game to take pressure off of the offensive line in pass protection.
2. Keep the Buccaneers in 3rd-and-long
Much like against the Panthers a few weeks ago, the Rams must be able to keep the Buccaneers in third-and-long situations. On 50 third-and-long situations this season, the Buccaneers offense has converted just five of them. That’s a 10 percent conversion rate. This is the worst conversion rate on third-and-long situations of any team since at least 2000.
the Bucs have been forced into 50 third-and-longs— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) November 4, 2022
they've converted just 5 into 1st downs
not just WORST in the NFL this year...
the WORST rate for any team in any season since at least 2000
must call better plays & be more efficient on early downs pic.twitter.com/BWcSW1oaSj
This season, Tom Brady is averaging just 4.4 yards per attempt on third-and-long which is only ahead of Zach Wilson. If the Rams can keep the Buccaneers offense in these uncomfortable situations, it will be a long day for Brady and company.
3. Create Interior Pressure
During the offseason, the Buccaneers lost Ali Marpet to retirement and Alex Cappa joined the Cincinnati Bengals. Since then, it’s been tough sledding for the Buccaneers on the interior of their offensive line. Luke Goedeke has given up the third most pressures among guards and Robert Hainsey has given up the fourth most pressures at center.
The Buccaneers are good on the outside at tackle. Tristan Wirfs is still among the best and Donovan Smith has been average. On the interior though is where this offensive line can be exploited. As has always been the case with Brady, if you can get to him from the interior and knock him off his spot, you have a chance. Brady has been the least pressured quarterback this season, but his average time to throw is also the quickest.
The Rams need to force Brady to hold on to the ball to allow time for Aaron Donald and others to get to make the Buccaneers quarterback uncomfortable.
4. Win in the Red Zone on Defense
This is a game that the Rams defense was made for. It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Rams come out with shell to limit explosives. A game plan like against the Arizona Cardinals should get the job done on Sunday.
So far this season, the Buccaneers rank 29th in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on 45.8 percent of their red zone trips. Over the last three weeks, that ranks last as they’re scoring touchdowns in the red zone at a clip of just 30 percent. ‘
The Buccaneers haven’t been able to run the football well this season which has hurt them in the red zone. It shouldn't be a surprise to see the Rams take control of this game early and then allow Brady and the Buccaneers offense to dink and dunk their way down the field only to settle for field goals while chewing clock.
On the flip side, the Buccaneers defense is allowing touchdowns in the red zone on 69.6 percent of red zone trips which ranks 29th. It should be obvious, but if the Rams offense can score touchdowns while the Buccaneers have to settle for field goals, they’ll be in good shape.
5. Don’t Give Up The Big Play
Despite explosive plays and NFL scoring down this season, the Buccaneers are still among the top half of the NFL in this category, specifically through the air. This season, the Buccaneers rank 11th in passing plays that have gone 20 or more yards.
Mike Evans ranks third in the NFL in targets 20 or more yards down the field. His six receptions on those targets also rank fourth. As mentioned above, this is a Buccaneers offense that struggles once it gets down into the red area and they’re one of the worst offenses in third-and-long situations.
The Rams defense can’t make it easier on the Buccaneers by giving up big chunks. This is also a Buccaneers offense that has struggled to run the ball consistently. The only way that the Buccaneers offense has moved the ball is through chunks. Limit those chunk plays and it will make things very difficult for Brady and the Bucs offense.
In games that the Rams have lost this season, they’ve given up big plays on defense. Staring a 3-5 record in the face, the defense needs to remained disciplined in the secondary and keep plays in front of them.