Last week's performance was certainly not what we were looking for from our Tampa Bay Buccaneers. New Orleans put the Bucs in their place, and there is still a lot of work to do going forward to ensure 2010 is a successful season. Now that we can move on from the beatdown the Saints gave us, let's take a look at our next opponent, the St. Louis Rams. This team is similar in many ways to ours. First round QB, unproven head coach, a team attempting to re-establish themselves amidst an apathetic fan base after many years without a playoff victory following a Superbowl trophy, and a rebuilding effort done almost exclusively through the draft. Although the Rams have not looked great for long stretches during games, this is a team that could realistically be 5-1. I watched their game last week against the Chargers, and tried to pick out what they did and didn't do well. Below are a few things that you may (or may not have) known about our opponents on Sunday afternoon.
1) Sam Bradford is the real deal:
There was a great deal of uncertainty surrounding Bradford before April's draft. He suffered a severe shoulder injury in the first game of his senior year at Oklahoma which ended his season before it started. This didn't stop the Rams from selecting him first overall with hopes that he would help turn the franchises hopes around. Through 6 games in 2010, fans of the club have to be pleased with that they have seen. He failed to turn the football over for the first time this season against the Chargers, an encouraging sign that he has made progress. He missed several easy throws, which is to be expected from a rookie quarterback. The highlight reel play to Denario Alexander was an excellent throw that displays the accuracy and his ability to make all the throws. In fact, Bradford has a pass completion of at least 30 yards in each game this year. He should have plenty of chances against a Bucs secondary that has allowed a number of long touchdown passes to average quarterbacks. There were other signs of maturity that were impressive last week, such as throwing the ball away after a couple of bad snaps (not trying to force anything) and getting rid of the football quickly when the Chargers applied pressure. In summation, his accuracy came and went, but his decision making was excellent for the majority of the game.
2. Stephen Jackson is a freak:
This can be filed under the "no kidding" section, but he clearly is the Rams best player and the Bucs porous run defense could be in for a long day. His stat line against San Diego wasn't that impressive: 29 carries for 109 yards. However he rarely went down at first contact and was able to help the Rams run the clock after they quickly jumped out to a 17-0 lead. This included a pair of 8 play drives that iced the game in the 4th quarter, the second of which Jackson took the ball on 5 straight occasions that got the two first downs to run down the clock. So far this season, Jackson is averaging 4 yards a carry with 2 scores. Expect Jackson to have a big day against Tampa's second to last ranked rush defense. The Bucs should load the box in an attempt to contain Jackson and just take their chances on a rookie quarterback making plays down the field. Either way, the Rams should be confident they can move the football on the ground.
3. Coach Steve Spagnuolo has improved the Rams defense:
This is arguably the biggest reason why the Rams pulled out the victory against the Chargers. Although Phillip Rivers missed several wide open receivers for big plays, St. Louis did a good job of putting the heat on the Chargers QB. He was sacked 7 times, many of which came on Rams blitzes. Oshiomogho Atogwe is a star in the secondary and made an outstanding play to intercept a Rivers pass in the endzone. I expect the Rams to attack the Bucs the same way the Bengals did two weeks ago. They will try to see if they can get pressure with four early on, and utilize some blitz schemes in the second half to confuse Josh Freeman and force him into making mistakes. Rivers only threw the one interception, but the sacks and mistakes ruined his day. Ryan Matthews had a decent day running the football, but the Chargers were forced to throw often after falling behind. The Bucs will likely try to reignite their run game early, but when this doesn't work Freeman will have his chances to make big plays. From watching the game it appears that the Rams can be scored upon and Freeman has a chance to be successful. Spags has vastly improved the defense and it has kept them in 5 out of their 6 games this season. They have a solid core of veterans (gasp! Not veterans!) to go along with young stars in Chris Long and James Laurinaitis, and has gotten the most out of his players in a similar fashion to when he was in New York. Look for this to be a 24-20 contest, with luck will most likely determining who comes out on top in this one.