Headed into Week 11, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sit at 7-3 after a turn-it-around game in Carolina gave them their seventh win. Seeing this result after 10 games, rather than 16, is quite promising and something we haven’t seen for a very long time.
Yet the excitement abates. This is primarily because they’re about to head into the toughest two-game stretch of the season and we still don’t know what kind of team this is yet.
While the win in Carolina does show promise, it’s the inconsistency that has left me, and I assume many of you, worried.
One pattern that I’ve noticed through this season is that the Bucs are very good against teams with good offenses and bad defenses, but pretty bad against teams with good defenses and bad offenses. While this is a massive oversimplification, it is definitely a pattern we should pay attention to.
Take a look at the games they struggled in for example. Against the Saints, Bears, and really even the Giants, they couldn’t get it done offensively, and the opposing offenses did just enough (with the exception of Week Nine of course).
The Rams will be coming into Tampa Bay on Monday Night this week, sporting a 6-3 record after winning an important division matchup in Week 10 against the up and down Seattle Seahawks.
The Bucs are one year removed from beating this team, however, the Rams are a much different team than last year. But then again, so are the Bucs.
So what will it take for the Bucs to win this week? Well, it’ll take a lot of grit, but I’m confident that if they play well they can get the job done. But let’s take a look at what they can do specifically.
Stay aboard the RoJo train
Heck of a game from Ronald Jones II in Week 10. In my opinion, Jones is a very good running-back but just struggles with confidence.
One of the worst things that a coach can do with this type of player is bench them over and over and over and over again, as we’ve seen Bruce Arians do pretty consistently after mistakes.
However this last week, Arians kept him in and oh boy did it pay off. Hopefully this is the new trend as the more confident Jones becomes, the better he will play.
While this week may look like a week that they don’t want to run the ball based on the Rams statistics against the rush, it definitely is when you take a deeper look.
On the surface, the Rams look to be a top five run defense, based on their 96.8 yards allowed per game. However, there are a few things to keep in mind here.
While they may be allowing the fifth lowest rushing total in both YPG, and in total yards, they drop down to 10th in yards per carry allowed at 4.1 YPC. You may be thinking to yourself, why is he mentioning this? That looks pretty good to me.
Well, it’s because looking at the Rams schedule, they’ve played against some of the most anemic running teams in the NFL such as the Miami Dolphins, the nameless Washington team, and the Chicago Bears.
In fact, out of the nine teams they have faced, five of them are in the bottom-10 in terms of YPC. To add to that, they’ve only held three teams under 100 yards rushing, these being the previously mentioned Bears (49 yds), WFT (38), and Dolphins (55).
While the Rams aren’t the best team against the run, they aren’t the Carolina Panthers either. I expect to see a regression from last week in almost every statistical category for RoJo, but I also don’t expect to see the Bucs under the 100 yard mark.
Let’s take a look at a pretty successful run against the Rams and see why it worked:
The Bills send a zone run towards the short side of the field here and they end up picking up 10+ yards with relative ease. I don’t even think Devin Singletary (26) got touched until he got through the second level.
The reason that this play is successful is because the Rams are practically daring them to run through that hole, and it paid off. Notice the gap between Aaron Donald (99) and Leonard Floyd (54).
Donald is playing the 3-technique while Floyd is in the wide-9, leaving a very large natural gap for the play to go through. While Donald penetrates upfield and causes some disruption, the play goes right outside of him and goes for a good gain.
Another reason this works is because these linebackers aren’t the greatest, against the run or the pass to be honest. While I love me some Kenny Young (41) (primarily because I’m a UCLA homer), he just hasn’t had a very good season, and neither has Micah Kiser (59).
According to Pro Football Focus, Young is ranked 78th, and Kiser is ranked 76th out of 84 eligible players at the inside linebacker position. The reason being that they aren’t the best at fitting gaps or shedding blocks.
If the above average defensive line, spear-headed by Donald, doesn’t get the tackle at the line or in the backfield, there’s a good chance that the run is successful and that’s good news for the Bucs.
If the Bucs are able to have success on the ground, they’ll not only keep the yards coming, but they’ll also be able to control the ball and the clock.
Keep Tom Brady upright
The Bucs have been pretty good at this throughout the season, however they haven’t had to face off against Aaron Donald yet.
While 2020 has been a very unpredictable year, there’s always one thing that is constant, and that’s Donald’s ability to wreck a game.
This makes me really hope that Marpet can clear concussion protocol as he had some success against Donald last season. However, if he can’t come back, I liked what I saw out of the A.Q. Shipley and Ryan Jensen combo and I believe they can at least slow him down.
Outside of Donald though, the Rams still have some decent pass-rushers like Leonard Floyd and Michael Brockers.
While these guys aren’t the game-wreckers that Donald is, they can still rush the passer and the Rams like to send them in unique ways, akin to Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles.
Here’s a look at this:
This isn’t some ground-breaking pass rush scheme, however it’s very effective here. Russell Wilson is one of the hardest quarterbacks to sack based on his mobility, but they don’t even give him the chance to be mobile here.
The Rams still only rush four here, but the way they did it caused the sack. They simply dropped their outside rusher and brought their inside linebacker. The Seattle offensive line was expecting the traditional four man rush which leaves a wide open gap for the backer to get through.
This obviously isn’t their only way to disguise pressure, but this simple little wrinkle helped them to slow down Wilson on this particular play. The rest of this game was no different, as Wilson was pressured quite often.
The Bucs line is going to have to be aware of things like this and with Brady back there, I expect that he is going to be able to read some of these. My biggest concern here is the new center/guard combination if Marpet is out as the other two guys haven’t had as much time to gel together, which can lead to some miscommunications and inopportune sacks.
While the Rams pressure rate is only 15th in the NFL, pressuring 19.9% of dropbacks, their defensive coordinator Brandon Staley knows how to exploit weaknesses and get to the quarterback.
With Tom Brady pretty much being a statue, the Bucs will need to get the ball out of his hands quickly or if they want to set something up deep, they’ll need to keep him off the grass.
The Rams secondary is no joke either, but I trust Brady to make the right reads and avoid Jalen Ramsey as long as he has the time to do so.
Play strong assignment football
While this is something that isn’t necessarily specific, it is something that they’ll have to do in order to beat the Rams.
Sean McVay is one of the most creative offensive coaches in the entirety of the NFL and the way that he designs plays causes a lot of trouble for opposing defenses. It seems as though Belichick was one of the only coaches to really figure it out.
The reason that his play designs cause so much trouble is because there are a myriad of plays that can be run from the same formation, and there are so many formations that can be used to run the same play.
He really likes to keep the defense guessing and out of position, despite relying heavily on the zone run game and play action passing. There’s lots of motion, misdirection, and outlets for Jared Goff to throw to if his primary targets aren’t open.
Despite this, they don’t seem to put up many points (24 PPG, T-18th). It’s my belief that they don’t need to put up a lot of points to win games seeing as they control the ball and play great defense.
On top of this, McVay likes to keep things simple for his QB by keeping up the running game, even when they’re down multiple scores. But that’s the thing, when they’re forced to throw a lot, Goff has a propensity to make mistakes and that is something the Bucs will have to capitalize on if they’re able to shut down the run like they have for the last few seasons.
That was the formula last year and it worked as the Bucs beat the Rams by a score of 55-40. While the Rams put up 33 points offensively (INT-TD gave them the rest), their run game was held to 28 yards on 11 carries.
The Bucs forced the Rams to throw the ball all day which resulted in Goff throwing 68 times, which led to three interceptions and a fumble for a defensive touchdown.
So how will the Bucs keep them from running all over them? Well, they’ll need to do their job and keep themselves in position as any one play can have three to four different options pre-snap.
Here’s a look at that:
This particular play ends up being a split zone run, however, the motion man helps to clear out the linebackers as they are forced to shift when they see him in motion. This clears up a wide open lane for them to pick up an easy 10 yards.
The thing about this is that they have so many different options here. They can hand it to the motion man, they can pull the ball and roll the QB out for a regular play action, or roll him out and toss a screen, or they can do what they did and hand it off.
The inability to know what is coming pre-snap puts a lot of pressure on a defense as they are forced to make multiple reads before they are able to put a stop to the play. This hesitation can lead to defensive mistakes, big plays, or efficient runs.
Here’s a similar formation with the same motion, but the play turns into a play action boot instead:
Josh Reynolds (11) looks like he is pulling like he would in a split zone run like the previous play and this forces the linebackers to come up and play the run.
However, this ends up being a rollout so when the linebackers come up, they leave a ton of space behind them for an easy pitch and catch that results in first and goal.
One major difference between the split zone run we see above and this play, is that it’s Reynolds, a wide receiver, pulling instead of the tight end. Noticing things like this can help the defense determine whether or not this will be play action or a run.
Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Rams might have an option built in where they will check to the run if the boot gets shut down. McVay would be the first to notice that Reynolds’ pull is leading to easy reads which would then lead him to just run it.
Essentially, the Rams can do anything on any given play and it’s really difficult to read what they’re going to do pre-snap because of it.
Because of this, the Bucs need to put the right guys in the right positions to stop these plays. If anyone can do it, it’s Todd Bowles, and I really hope I’m right about that.
While the Bucs may have won a shootout in Los Angeles last year, I expect this game to go much differently. Not only do the Rams have two of the better corners in the NFL that they didn’t have in last years’ matchup, but their overall defensive scheme has improved with the addition of their new defensive coordinator.
In order for the Bucs to put up points, they’ll either have to get the run game going strong, keep Brady from being pressured all day, or a combination of the two.
On the other side of the ball, they’ll need to come prepared to play chess, rather than checkers. The innovative play designs and different motions will be difficult to read, and it’s my hope that they are more than prepared to handle this.
Only time will tell how the Bucs play this week, however, it definitely won’t be a cakewalk. They’ll need to rise to the occasion and shake off whatever issues they have playing in primetime if they want to win this game.
Let’s see how it all shakes out.
What do you think the Bucs can do to beat the Rams? Can they get yet another winning streak going? Let us know in the comments below!