The Game Plan To Beat The Rams

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Welcome to the in-season version of Bucs Briefing! My weekly column will seem every Wednesday morning, sometimes detailing seven key observations from the crew’s most up-to-date recreation. We’ll take a look at tape, scheme and main storylines as we prepare to shut the door on one recreation, and open the door on the following. However this week, I’m altering it up! I’m two massive issues on offense and protection for the Bucs, and two options for Sunday’s recreation in opposition to the Rams. Take pleasure in!

Concern: Can Battered Bucs O-Line Maintain Up?

Sure, the Bucs offensive line weathered accidents to Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen, which understandably shook the unit up some. However, outdoors of Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay’s O-line struggled. Jensen was strong, however there have been extra miscommunications in opposition to blitzes and video games than regular. Donovan Smith additionally gave up an excessive amount of strain across the edge. He was even tossed to the bottom on a number of performs.

On one reverse pancake close to the purpose line, Smith was carried again and deposited on Jensen’s ankle. That’s when the middle stayed down with an damage within the second quarter. Alex Cappa was knocked again off the snap typically, giving up penetration on a pair run performs. He was additionally overwhelmed soundly on a number of move safety reps, permitting strain in Tom Brady’s face.

Bucs LT Donovan Smith

Bucs LT Donovan Smith – Photograph by: Cliff Welch/PR

Regardless of having the quickest time to throw of any quarterback, Brady was sacked 4 instances. On three of the sacks, he had virtually no probability to eliminate the ball. Truthfully, Josh Wells performed higher than most of his counterparts on this one. If Tampa Bay’s offensive line performs prefer it did in opposition to the Eagles, the Rams will bury the Bucs.

This unit, together with Tom Brady, must be the energy of the crew shifting ahead. Brady is already throwing quicker than humanly doable. He was off-target on only one move on Sunday, in a ridiculously correct efficiency. There may be merely not that rather more he can do. The Rams protection isn’t going to present the Bucs receivers a move on the line of scrimmage. Los Angeles will do their finest to muck it up and drive Brady to carry the ball for even a standard size of time.

If Tampa Bay’s offensive line can maintain up, Brady could make the protection pay. However proper now, the questions out-weigh the solutions. As you noticed within the Rams beatdown of Arizona, that’s not an ideal place to be as an offensive line going into this matchup.

Resolution: Scheme + Brady Can Alleviate Stress

The Bucs have one excellent factor going for them no matter who performs on the offensive line: Tom Brady is their quarterback. And he’s nonetheless lightning quick from the pocket. In actual fact, solely Ben Roethlisberger had a quicker time to throw than Brady this season. However Roethlisberger performed in an RPO heavy offense that was designed that manner. In Tampa Bay, Brady simply reads out ideas that shortly. On Sunday, Brady launched the ball in 2.10 seconds on non-sacks. That’s 0.24 seconds quicker than his season common!

“He’s extraordinarily good at that,” head coach Bruce Arians stated. “It won’t be to the man, however he is aware of the mixture. As quickly because the ball is snapped, that mixture, he deciphers proper now which one’s getting it. That’s so simple as you may make the sport for the quarterback. However lots of them can’t course of that info.”

Bucs QB Tom Brady

Bucs QB Tom Brady – Photograph by: Cliff Welch/PR

Brady is a masterful and speedy decision-maker. However early in the course of the 2020 season, the Bucs offense wasn’t enjoying to his largest energy. It was merely lengthy ball or test down, and there was little or no success within the short-intermediate areas of the sector. For the reason that bye week final 12 months, the Bucs have slowly shifted in a extra efficiency-based route. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has finished a formidable job of rebuilding the ideas across the expertise at his disposal. That innovation might want to proceed on Sunday.

In opposition to the Eagles, Brady tried only one move of 20-plus air yards. He accomplished it to Mike Evans for a 36-yard landing that iced the sport. However Brady lived short-to-intermediate, tearing aside the Eagles’ tender protection. The Professional Bowl quarterback had Philadelphia well-scouted, understanding how zone-heavy they had been as a protection. When Philly switched to man protection greater than anticipated, Brady discovered all the fitting matchups, even when the receivers struggled to separate.

On the season, the Rams are one of many least man protection heavy groups within the NFL. They play predominantly zone, dashing 4 with a wide range of stunts and blitzes. L.A. is predominantly a Cowl 3/Cowl 4/Cowl 6 protection that may sample match extra aggressively than the Eagles. In Week 3, they caught to this precise script. Restricted man protection and go heavy zone to remove massive performs.

Bucs QB Tom Brady and Rams DT Aaron Donald

Bucs QB Tom Brady and Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photograph by: USA At present

It didn’t actually work. Regardless of the loss, Brady shredded the Rams in Week 3. If the Bucs protection hadn’t surrendered a season-high in factors allowed, the sport may need been totally different. Additionally, a important Rob Gronkowski drop deep in Rams’ territory and 7 penalties killed the offense. A Bradley Pinion 15-yard punt additionally gave the Rams the ball on the Bucs’ 37, handing them three factors regardless of an L.A. three-and-out. Brady was 41-55 for 432 yards with out Antonio Brown within the lineup. Gronkowski additionally was injured, exiting the sport for a portion of the competition.

I feel the Rams will really feel ok about holding the Bucs to 24 factors within the final assembly. They’ll play fairly equally, sticking to what they do and counting on their entrance 4 to create sufficient game-changing performs to win. The Bucs want to make use of all their schematic instruments to win. Play-action, first down passing, utilizing tempo, early down screens and further assist for whoever is lined up throughout from Aaron Donald.

The Bucs CAN do all of these items. They’re at their BEST after they incorporate these instruments into their offense. Will they settle for these details and construct a recreation plan round it?

Concern: Rams Man Protection May Stymie Bucs WRs

I do know Mike Evans needs to face man protection. I get it. Evans in opposition to man protection is a troublesome ask for the opposition. However for the remainder of the Bucs offense, man protection isn’t precisely a perfect setup. When Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman and Scotty Miller face man protection, the outcomes haven’t been as fairly this 12 months. On Sunday in opposition to the Eagles, they weren’t that fairly both.

In response to Sports activities Information Options, 9 of 10 Brady passes versus man protection had been on track. However drops, failure to separate on the catch level and failure to make fight catches had been a problem. Perriman isn’t an ideal route runner. Miller struggles to separate in opposition to greater corners. Johnson is a mean athlete.

Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski

Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photograph by: Cliff Welch/PR

So the onus will fall on Evans and Gronkowski to get open constantly. Each gamers can accomplish that, however anticipating Evans to be singled might be silly. Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has coached in opposition to Evans his complete profession within the NFC South. He isn’t about to lose to Evans with no Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown to fret about. You’ll both see Jalen Ramsey do extra shadowing than he’s finished most of this season, otherwise you’ll see loads of doubling on Evans.

Tampa Bay’s star receiver should get his manufacturing, however anticipating him to win on each passing down is unrealistic. Gronkowski might be massive, however the Bucs might want to get artistic with him. The majority of Gronkowski’s manufacturing has come over the center of the sector, and I don’t suppose the Rams will give that up simply. Their post-snap security rotations may clog up areas the place Gronkowski often will get open in the midst of the sector. However given how typically the Rams work to Cowl 3, Gronkowski may discover house down the seams

If the Bucs’ depth receivers can’t step up and get open, it might be an extended evening for Brady and the Tampa Bay offense.

Resolution: Play-Motion + Tempo + Schemed Deep Photographs

Okay, right here’s the fact. This one is the hardest for me to give you a real resolution for.

However the reprieve for the Bucs could be this: the Rams play man protection at one of many league’s lowest charges. In addition they align in press protection at a league-low charge. So it might be a bit out of character for them to shift to a man-heavy scheme. Nonetheless, they do aggressively sample match, so it gained’t be the identical as dealing with the Eagles. What Brady sees post-snap will appear like man fairly shortly.

Two issues I feel the Bucs can do to open issues up: play-action and tempo. Play-action will open up the center of the sector bit. The Rams don’t have nice athletes at linebacker, so forcing them to maneuver and drop and discover receivers looks like the best way to go. In the event that they don’t respect the run, the Bucs ought to be capable to run it properly sufficient up entrance to drive them to vary technique. Play-action also needs to gradual up the frenzy if the road sells it proper.

Bucs WR Mike Evans

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photograph by: USA At present

Previously, lots of the Bucs shot performs have been off play-action. On Sunday, they’ll want some splash performs to remain alive. Sure, the Rams are aligned to cease massive performs. However that hasn’t stopped them from occurring this 12 months. Los Angeles has given up 10 40-plus yard move performs and 53 20-plus yarders. These aren’t the worst numbers within the league, however they’re removed from the perfect. Additionally, each beginning safeties could be out for the Rams.

The Bucs must discover a technique to put the Rams inexperienced safeties in battle with route ideas. And they should give time for Brady to take a number of pictures. Play-action will assist that occur. The Bucs can’t count on to string collectively 4-5 10-play drives that each one finish in seven factors with their present personnel in opposition to this Rams protection. They want some shot performs, and so they have the horses to do it. Time to throw 9 routes and let Perriman and Miller be who they had been created to be.

In an effort to put safeties in battle and problem the Rams communication in protection, the Bucs want tempo. It’ll hold L.A. from organising all their stunt video games on the line of defense, and it’ll drive their younger safeties to be on the ball. The opening script will probably be necessary for the Bucs. They should win on some early possessions earlier than Los Angeles can regulate to no matter schematic wrinkles are thrown at them.

Tampa Bay’s offense isn’t at full energy. However the Bucs have an elite quarterback and two elite weapons within the passing recreation. If the O-line can cling collectively, there’s nonetheless a technique to make this factor work. It simply could be a really totally different path than we noticed in opposition to the Eagles.

Concern: Sean McVay Has Lit Up Todd Bowles

Lately, we’ve seen Todd Bowles work out learn how to cease opposing offenses which have given him bother. In 2020, Bowles was overwhelmed by the Saints within the common season. However within the playoffs, considered one of his most sensible recreation plans to this point thwarted Sean Payton and Drew Brees. Then, within the 2021 common season, Bowles held the Saints to 9 factors within the two groups’ second assembly. Even within the first assembly, penalties and turnovers did his protection in additional than schematic flaws.

Rams head coach Sean McVay

Rams head coach Sean McVay – Photograph by: USA At present

In opposition to the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs final 12 months, Bowles was dominated within the Bucs’ common season loss to Andy Reid and co. However within the Tremendous Bowl, Bowles referred to as the sport of his life, holding the Chiefs to 9 factors in a 31-9 victory.

Nonetheless, in three years and three conferences, Bowles has but to decelerate Sean McVay. In 2019 with Jared Goff, the Rams put up 34 offensive factors and 518 yards in a loss. And solely a Goff 4-turnover meltdown stored the numbers that low! It was an identical story in 2020, when Goff turned it over twice on ill-advised selections, however the Rams nonetheless put up 27 factors and 413 yards.

However this 12 months was maybe Bowles’ weakest exhibiting in opposition to Los Angeles. The Rams churned out 34 factors and 407 yards in Week 3, placing the sport away earlier than the fourth quarter. It may have been uglier too, as Matt Stafford missed a number of open massive performs early within the recreation, earlier than discovering his rhythm.

In three conferences, Bowles hasn’t come near determining McVay. The Bucs banged-up offense isn’t going to place up 30-plus factors in opposition to the Rams with out loads of assist. Bowles’ unit has to present it to them on Sunday.

Resolution: Well being + Kupp Stoppers

In three profession video games in opposition to Bowles’ protection, listed below are Cooper Kupp’s numbers:

2019 – 9 catches, 15 targets, 121 yards, 1 landing
2020 – 11 catches, 13 targets, 145 yards, 0 touchdowns
2021 – 9 catches, 12 targets, 96 yards, 2 touchdowns

Make no mistake. Every little thing the Bucs do defensively has to begin and cease with slowing down Cooper Kupp. For all their faults, the Cardinals really did a strong job of this on Monday evening. Kupp completed with 5 catches for 61 yards, however 45 of these yards got here with the sport already over within the fourth quarter. The Cardinals performed extra man protection than they often do, bracketing Kupp inside-out with a nook and a security. Arizona typically buzzed a security down to chop Kupp on in-breakers, retaining the nook in outdoors leverage for something out-breaking.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr.

Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photograph by: USA At present

The Steelers deployed a recreation plan just like this in 2019 in opposition to McVay. They held Kupp to 4 targets and 0 catches on the day. Now, McVay and Kupp are each so much higher than they was. And the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr. is one other concern. However the Bucs must concentrate on Kupp first. He’s the quantity receiver in Los Angeles’ offense. On third downs, they should bracket him and go away different guys one-on-one.

In Week 3, the Bucs didn’t have Sean Murphy-Bunting and so they misplaced Jamel Dean early to an damage. Dee Delaney and Ross Cockrell performed nearly all of the sport at cornerback. Because of this, they performed a ton of zone protection and received toasted. On Sunday, neither of these guys are more likely to see the sector. As a substitute, it’ll be Dean and doubtless Murphy-Bunting, with Mike Edwards enjoying a job as properly. That’s an enormous enchancment for the Bucs if Murphy-Bunting may be his finest self, or if he’s put in a sheltered position. We’ll see.

How ought to the matchups work? If I’m Bowles, I’m not losing my time placing Carlton Davis III on Kupp. It’s not an ideal matchup for Davis, and also you want him elsewhere. I’d deploy Davis throughout from Beckham all over the place he goes. Then I’d put Dean on Kupp when he’s outdoors, Murphy-Bunting or Edwards on him inside. Play Kupp with outdoors leverage and buzz a security down on long-and-late downs. And hit Kupp off the road of scrimmage as a lot as you possibly can.

The opposite possibility is to place Winfield within the slot for the second straight week. I’m a bit skeptical of taking Winfield out of the free security place in opposition to a quarterback like Matt Stafford. You want vary and ball abilities on the again finish on this matchup. Edwards has ball abilities, however lacks the velocity and athleticism that Winfield has. Shifting Winfield to the slot is an possibility, however I’d have it as Plan B.

Plan A: 2-Man, Cowl 1 Robber (reducing Kupp), Cowl 4 on longer down and distances. Davis on Beckham. Double protection on Kupp, who will often be within the slot. Dean on Van Jefferson. Linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White might want to cope with tight finish Tyler Higbee more often than not.

After all, all of those numbers in protection can solely imply one factor …

Concern: Can Anybody Cease Bowles From Blitzing?

Todd Bowles goes loopy this 12 months. The Bucs have blitzed on virtually 41 % of their defensive snaps this season! That’s by far probably the most of any crew within the NFL. Bowles despatched 313 5-plus man rushes this 12 months. The subsequent closest crew despatched simply 268.

Rams QB Matt Stafford

Rams QB Matt Stafford – Photograph by: USA At present

The strategy labored in opposition to a number of quarterbacks this season. Nevertheless it’s not going to work in opposition to Stafford on Sunday. In opposition to the blitz this 12 months, Stafford and McVay have been unstoppable. Per Sports activities Information Options, listed below are Stafford’s numbers in opposition to 5 or extra rushers.

5-plus rushers: 85/118 (72%), 1,031 yards, 14 TDs, 0 INT, 8 sacks

4 or much less rushers: 319/483 (66%), 3,855 yards, 27 TDs, 17 INT, 22 sacks

Can Bowles take this info and course of it accordingly? Can he get away from his blitz-happy methods sufficient to place numbers in protection?

Resolution: Bowles Can Chill Out … Simply Sufficient

In Week 3, Bowles solely despatched 5 or extra rushers 11 instances out of 39 dropbacks. That’s 28.2%, or for Bowles, a time without work. And Stafford shredded him on these 11 blitzes, going 8-10 for 81 yards and a landing. One of many two incompletions was a drop. The Bucs sacked him one time, however the recreation was already over at that time.

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead

Bucs SS Jordan Whitehead – Photograph by: Cliff Welch/PR

That failure will doubtless deter Bowles from blitzing even that always on Sunday. I count on him to depend on four- and three-man rushes to get residence, though he may get artistic about which 4 he’s sending. However I don’t suppose we’ll see him go all out sending additional strain. He is aware of Stafford is simply too good for that. In opposition to top-tier, veteran quarterbacks, Bowles has identified when to tug again the reins a bit.

After all, Bowles goes to want his four-man rush to do significantly better work than it did in opposition to Philadelphia. Can Shaq Barrett lastly get the higher of proper sort out Rob Havenstein? Will the Bucs be sensible sufficient to restrict Jason Pierre-Paul’s snaps and let Joe Tryon-Shoyinka work as a pure edge rusher? I’d let Tryon-Shoyinka rush from the left aspect, and Barrett from the fitting. Use Pierre-Paul as a nickel rusher on long-and-late downs. And Vita Vea may have to play 60-70 % of the snaps on this one. He’s the Bucs’ finest inside havoc creator up entrance.

The sport plan is there for Bowles to attract up a winner in opposition to the Rams. It’s going to be robust, and McVay will discover options. Bowles might want to counter-punch. However with a completely wholesome protection, Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator may lastly be in place to decelerate his nemesis.


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