I am excited for this game. For one, it's winnable. Two, it's a match-up of teams in the same place. Both teams are in rebuild mode and showing signs of progress and signs of youth and inexperience. Both teams have very young "Franchise" quarterbacks. If you'll remember back to the 2004 draft many experts and fans hoped that the Bucs would take Steven Jackson with the 15th overall pick. Instead they went with infamously bad wideout Michael Clayton. Choosing to take Carnell Williams the following year. Regardless, here are 5 Keys to Victory for the Bucs, relying heavily on football outsiders analysis of the Rams strengths and weaknesses (I have only watched a couple of snaps of Rams football this season).
1. Disrupt the Backfield. I know this sounds trite at this point in the season, but we have got to get penetration. I am out of ideas. I have seen Morris stunt, blitz, stand guys up, etc and nothing has worked. For me, it's youth on the inside and a lack of talent on the outside that is the problem. However, the St. Louis offensive line is far from dominant. They have given up 14 sacks (I presume some of it is because you have a young QB who holds on to the ball too long at times) and have struggled to spark their running game. While it hasn't been bad, they haven't exactly played powerhouses against the run either. So, unless we can get some penetration against both the run and pass, we are in for a long day defensively.
2. Protect the Edges. Chris Long and James Hall combine for 8.5 sacks on the season. Donald Penn vs James Hall is a big-time match up this week. If we can create a pocket for Freeman to step into than passing vs a banged up Ronald Bartell and a slightly underrated Bradley Fletcher becomes one of the easier secondaries we will have faced to this point.
3. Use Williams/Graham/Blount out of Backfield. The Rams rate 27th in the league at guarding the RB out of the backfield. Williams found success against the Rams in the form of 63 yards on only 7 catches. It was something the Bucs have done much but could also neutralize the pass rush and open up stuff on the inside.
4. Capitalize on Penalties. The Rams rank near the top of the league in defensive penalties, giving up about 64 free yards a game. I'd have to imagine that keeps 2-3 drives alive a game. Finishing drives and capitalizing on free yards and first downs will be huge. The Bucs are one of the least penalized teams in the league (Morris instilling discipline?). Can this disparity help us get a win?
5. Hold them to under 20 points. I rarely believe in these types of statistics. They are used far too casually and implied that it's a gold standard. With that being said, when the Rams have scored 20 points or more they are 3-0. When scoring less, they are 0-3. The sample size is small. This tells me though that if you are successful in frustrating their offense with a lot of 3 and outs and getting to Sam Bradford, your chances for winning the game increase exponentially. Sorry to state the obvious...but it's true.
Prediction: I think regardless of the winner it's a close game. It will be relatively low scoring (>50pts). I think Jackson can go for 150 yards and 2 scores, with the Bucs can still win the game. If that's the case though, we can't see anything remotely similar to what Brees was able to do to this defense last week. I think Winslow and Freeman have big days, with a fair distrubition of passes going to multiple receivers (Rams rank 32nd in the league against #2 WR and the Bucs have 3). My guess for the final score is 24-17 Bucs over Rams. Don't be surprised to see this game come down to the 4th quarter. Another brilliant 4th quarter Freeman?