Time goes by way to fast, or at least it seems that way when it comes to the NFL season. This year has been one of change for the Rams and Bucs. Both teams have new head coaches, and to a certain extent have outpaced most preseason predictions by the national media.
Its been a tough season too. Injuries scattered across the season have challenged their coaching staffs. The Rams are an incredibly young team; making the mistakes that are directly proportionate to their experience level in the NFL. The Bucs made a hard run through the middle of the season, turning the NFL world's collective heads. The rise of Doug Martin has been fun to watch, while the peak and valley of quarterback Josh Freeman has some scratching their heads. I'm a fan of Freeman, and I truly think you have "the guy" to take the Bucs to the promised land.
I'm and editor and writer for Turf Show Times, the SBNation site for all things St. Louis Rams. I've been watching Tampa Bay closely since the 2012 NFL Draft. In fact, my Preseason Power Ranking cast the Bucs as a team to watch:
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - This is still my "Boom or Bust" team for 2012. The acquisition of Vincent Jackson gives this team two great wide receivers (Mike Williams being the other). I think where this team comes off the rails is Greg Schiano's run first mentality in the pass happy NFC South. The Bucs defense was horrible, so field position is still a problem for an offense led by the enigmatic Josh Freeman. I'm a fan of Freeman's, but something went terribly wrong last season for the once highly touted quarterback. The offensive line for the Bucs should be top notch with the addition of Carl Nicks. The problem I see barreling down the tracks is how fractured this team seems to be. Pieces-parts are all well and good, but add in a complete shift in team philosophy from an unproven NFL coach, and I get a vision of a team that will compete more with itself than its opponents. I see 6 wins to be the best possible outcome for this team unless something sparks them to gel - fast. If they do? Hmmm?
Doug Martin came out of his rookie shell just in time to prove all the Fantasy Football gurus right. They'd ranked him as a Top 5 running back at the beginning of the season, and it looked like they all missed the mark. Then came the Oakland Raiders game, and his 251 rushing yards with four touchdown not only announced his presence to the football world, it gave birth to one of the worst nicknames I've ever heard: "The Muscle Hamster".
To my mind, you have one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL. Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are flat out solid. If you take this season as a test drive for Freeman and his wide receivers, it bodes well for next year.
The Rams are a story still unwritten. They have a great head coach in Jeff Fisher, and an outstanding position coaching staff. The team is stacked with first round draft choice over the next two years, and they hit big in the 2012 draft too. Michael Brockers and Janoris Jenkins were solid first and second round picks. Wide receiver Chris Givens made his 4th round selection look like pure genius. Brian Quick has been slow to develop, but I can't help but think he has a chance to be special down the road.
The big story for the Rams - if you're going to grade the team sans rookie disclaimer - is the number of penalties they rack up every week. All "homerism" aside, the Rams lost four of their games this season due to penalties. Left tackle Rodger Saffold is the most penalized offensive player in the NFL this year. His new nickname is "Grabby", since he holds defensive linemen so much. The Rams offensive line as a whole has been rocky at best all year. The Minnesota Vikings bashed them around last Sunday, and sacked Sam Bradford four times.
The key to this game will be Bradford and Freeman. These are two of my favorite NFL players, and I have to say I'm just shy of mystified that they both haven't met expectations to date. If you'd like to read a quaint little story I wrote about them in 2011, go here.
All in all, this game should feature two evenly matched teams. The Rams have struggled playing away games this season, so the edge could shift to the Bucs' home field advantage. I can guarantee it will be a physical game from what I've seen of both these team so far this year.
Questions that come to mind for you wily Bucs fans are many. I'll start with the media drivel first and get it out of the way: What's the deal with Schiano and whatever dopey player it was saying he should go back to coaching college football? Sorry guys, but I had to ask that one...
When I examine the Bucs roster, I see top notch first team players, but a lack of depth in key areas. What positions do you feel need to be addressed in the 2013 NFL Draft? One of the players Rams fans reeeeally wanted in the 2012 NFL Draft was Lavonte David. How's he been doing this season?
Who are the key free agents Tampa Bay needs to get re-signed in the off season? What's the team's CAP space look like for 2013?
Whew! Lots of questions there, but we have all week to discuss them, eh? I'll be inviting the Turf Show Times crew to drop by to help answer and ask questions. Should any of them forget they are guest at your site, please don't hesitate to let me know.
Here's to a great game, and may injuries stay far, far away...