The Los Angeles Rams will travel to Tampa Bay on Monday night, looking to take sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
Following their win in primetime against the Seattle Seahawks in week 10, Los Angeles will hope to capitalize against an inconsistent Buccaneers team involved in their own divisional fight. With the two franchises heavily invested in rosters meant to win now, the matchup could be a playoff preview as we inch closer to the NFL’s postseason.
Here are our four bold predictions for the Rams as they take on Tom Brady and the Bucks in week 11.
4. Defense rules the day, as neither team gains more than 350 total yards
Despite both organizations being headlined by talent on the offensive side of the football, as well as being led by head coaches known for their scoring acumen, the Rams and Buccaneers boast two of the most fearsome defensive units in the league.
Headlined by all-world defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Los Angeles has perfected the art of utilizing their pro bowler as a distraction to spring loose one of their other options along the defensive line. While Michael Brockers continues to be a dangerous option playing off Donald, it was Leonard Floyd against Seattle that stole the show. Accruing three sacks–and five total tackles on the day–Floyd demonstrated how dangerous another explosive player can be when the offensive line is forced to devote so much attention to a single player.
While the Bucs lack the type of singular talent that the Rams possess in Donald, they feature an attack that relies heavily on their depth, but has proven to be no less effective. Allowing just over 300 yards per game, good for third in the league just behind LA, Tampa Bay operates in a 3-4 defense that uses an off-man to bring additional pressure. While they can at times be susceptible to big plays as a result of their aggressive style of play, the team’s placement of linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David has allowed the club to sack the quarterback on over 8% of opponents’ possessions.
With the Rams’ offensive line vulnerable due to the loss of veteran leader Andrew Whitworth, and Tom Brady struggling to stretch the field, there’s ample reason to believe that Monday night’s contest will delve into a slugfest reliant on field position. With only six weeks remaining in the season, the Rams and Bucs will officially be known as defense-first teams following the game.
3. Jared Goff will face heavy pressure but avoid giving up a turnover
The former number one overall draft pick has longed displayed a Jekyll and Hyde quality to his play. When well protected and given time in the pocket, he routinely picks apart the defense, while pacing the Rams’ offense to the type of explosive plays for which they have become known. When dealing with an aggressive defense, however, Goff’s numbers routinely crater, showcasing the quarterback’s limited ability to read defenses, and too often leading to turnovers that kill the team.
It’s the reason Sean McVay has implemented so many quick reads into the game plan, and why LA remains so dependent on play action. While it’s unlikely that Goff will ever fully change his M.O., the team has done a much better job this season at keeping their play-caller upright, buying time for him to work.
Against the Buccaneers, Goff and the Rams will face as stout a defensive unit as they are likely to work against the remainder of the year. Though it’s doubtful that Los Angeles will find a way to completely mitigate Tampa’s pressure, especially without the aforementioned Whitworth, the Rams will gladly settle for the quarterback holding onto the ball while under duress.
While they would prefer he be a focal point of their attack, last week’s game opposite the Seahawks proved that LA can get into the end zone, even if their QB isn’t throwing touchdown passes. As long as Jared Goff proves capable of avoiding the type of turnovers that have been his bane so far this year, the Rams should remain in prime position to get the victory.
2. The Rams’ secondary extend Brady’s struggles downfield
While Monday morning quarterbacking is nothing new in the media environment that surrounds the league, this week has seen a peculiar storyline take root in Tampa Bay. Mike Silver of Sports Illustrated recently posted a tweet threat, quoting Joe Judge and several other ex-Patriot assistants, who seem to believe that the success Brady has had, was merely a byproduct of the system in place in New England. Referencing the quarterback’s struggles throwing downfield, as well as operating outside the numbers, as proof of Brady’s limitations, Silver did report that the coaches allowed that the 43-year old quarterback was intelligent.
Somewhat ridiculous the entire notion may be, Brady’s inability to routinely throw the ball far large gains has certainly become more pronounced this season. A mere 1 for his last 13 passes of 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Talk, has meant that the Bucs have been forced into a more conservative, check down approach. Though the former-MVP has continued to move the ball efficiently, the limited play-calling has curbed the effectiveness of a wide receiving corp once lauded for its explosiveness.
Unfortunately for Brady and the Bucs, the Rams will prevent them from setting the record straight for at least another week.
Coming out of a game in which he stifled DK Metcalf for four quarters, cornerback Jalen Ramsey will prove a formidable matchup as LA maneuvers him around the field. Looking to disguise their action, McVay and the coaching staff love to place Ramsey on multiple targets throughout the game, hoping to keep the offense off balance, as they seek to pressure the quarterback into making a mistake.
That they will be targeting a player whose mobility is limited inside the pocket, should provide the secondary with prime opportunities to wreak havoc and hunt for interceptions.
1. The Rams win a close one, 21-18
Though many would have pegged this game as a high scoring affair at the beginning of the season, the Rams and Buccaneers have slowly found their identity as the season has progressed. While it may not have ultimately been the one either was expecting, given their investments and name recognition on the offensive side of the football, they have proven no less valuable as both clubs find themselves in postseason contention.
With Los Angeles boasting the best player on the field in Aaron Donald, and a three-headed monster in the rushing attack, capable of controlling the game in the absence of any Jared Goff turnovers, the Rams should be primed to take an early lead and refuse to relinquish it as they gain their seventh victory of the season.
For two teams built on star power, it will be fundamentals and mistake-free football that carries the day.