The Tampa Bay Buccaneers began a lengthy trek away from home in Week Four, both in terms of the weekend trip and the overall schedule for the next two months. A run of six weeks away from Raymond James Stadium begins with the Buccaneers first visit to Los Angeles since 1993, where they will take on the defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs hope to start their road swing with an uplifting victory as they try to get back to .500 and keep pace in the wide-open NFC South. The Rams will try to stay perfect in their conference title defense after a 3-0 start that includes two victories over Tampa Bay's division foes, Carolina and New Orleans.
The Rams have a talented young quarterback in Jared Goff and a deep arsenal of weapons around him, particularly in terms of wide receiver depth, but so far the defense has led the way in Los Angeles. The Rams rank third in overall defense and fourth against the pass and they've been stingy in the red zone, which has been a problem area for Tampa Bay's offense. Aaron Donald, the two-time defending NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is obviously the main concern when facing the Rams' defense, but long-time Packer Clay Matthews has fit in immediately with four sacks in his first three games as a Ram. Overall, it adds up to an average margin of victory of 9.7 points for the Rams so far, which is seventh best in the NFL. Here's what you need to know to prepare for all the action in Los Angeles.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) vs. Los Angeles Rams (3-0)
Sunday, September 29, 4:05 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (capacity: 76,570)
Los Angeles, California
Television: FOX (Local WTVT Channel 13)
TV Broadcast Team: Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Laura Okmin (sideline)
Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station
Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (sideline)
ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
As noted above, the Buccaneers haven't played a game in Los Angeles in 26 years. They have, however, shared a field with the Rams on many occasions in the interim, including one unforgettable NFC Championship Game.
The Los Angeles-and then St. Louis-and then Los Angeles again Rams hold a 14-8 edge in the all-time series with Tampa Bay and, after a brief run of Buccaneer dominance in the first decade of the new millennium, have come back with a vengeance of late. The Rams have won five straight against the Buccaneers, including three at Raymond James Stadium.
That aforementioned NFC Championship Game came at the end of the 1999 season, pitting St. Louis' "Greatest Show on Turf" against a stifling Buccaneers defense. That defense carried the day for most of the game's four quarters until Ricky Proehl's 30-yard touchdown catch in the final five minutes gave the Rams an 11-6 lead. The Bucs had one more chance to take the lead back but stalled well into Rams territory after an overturned reception that led to the famous Bert Emanuel rule. Coincidentally, the Bucs and Rams had also met in the NFC Championship Game in 1979, in Tampa Bay's first-ever foray into the playoffs. Los Angeles won that game, 9-0.
The most famous non-playoff game between the Bucs and Rams occurred the season after their second NFCC meeting. In Week 16 of the 2000 campaign, with both Tampa Bay and St. Louis fighting for playoff spots, the two clubs staged an incredible shootout on Monday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium. Marshall Faulk scored four touchdowns for the visiting Rams but Warrick Dunn countered with three rushing scores of his own, including the game-winner on a one-yard dive with 48 seconds left. That final drive was kept alive by an incredible bit of ad-libbing by Dunn, who got out of a tackle for a loss by flipping the ball back to quarterback Shaun King. King ran around the end for a first down and a late-hit penalty tacked on 15 more yards. The Bucs held on to their hard-fought 38-35 win when John Lynch intercepted Kurt Warner's last pass.
· Rams Head Coach Sean McVay got his first NFL coaching job in Tampa, joining Jon Gruden's staff as an assistant wide receivers coach in 2008.
· Kevin Demoff, the Rams' executive vice president of football operations/chief operating office, was on the Buccaneers' staff from 2005-08. He started in Tampa as a consultant before being named a senior assistant in 2006.
· Buccaneers DL Ndamukong Suh was a starter on the Rams' Super Bowl team last season, and S Darian Stewart also played for the Rams from 2010-03 when they were still located in St. Louis.
· Rams CB Aqib Talib played his first four seasons for the Buccaneers before being traded to New England midway through his fifth campaign in Tampa. Talib was the Buccaneers' first-round pick in 2008.
· Four other members of McVay's coaching staff previously coached for the Buccaneers: Aaron Kromer (senior assistant/offensive line coach, 2005-07), Joe Barry (linebackers coach, 2001-06, 2009), Ejiro Evero (defensive quality control, 2007-09) and Eric Yarber (wide receivers, 2010-11).
SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
· Head Coach Bruce Arians
· Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
· Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
· Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
· Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
· Head Coach Sean McVay
· Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips
· Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel
· Run Game Coordinator Aaron Kromer
· Pass Game Coordinator Shane Waldron
KEY 2019 ROSTER ADDITIONS
· OLB Shaquil Barrett (UFA)
· LB/S Deone Bucannon (UFA)
· CB Jamel Dean Jamel Dean (3rd-round draft pick)
· S Mike Edwards (3rd-round draft pick)
· QB Blaine Gabbert (FA)
· K Matt Gay (5th-round draft pick)
· CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd-round draft pick)
· WR Breshad Perriman (UFA)
· P Bradley Pinion (UFA)
· DL Ndamukong Suh (UFA)
· LB Devin White (1st-round draft pick)
· QB Blake Bortles (FA)
· T Bobby Evans (3rd-round draft pick)
· DT Greg Gaines (4th-round draft pick)
· RB Darrell Henderson (3rd-round pick)
· OLB Clay Matthews (UFA)
· S Taylor Rapp (2nd-round draft pick)
· S Eric Weddle (FA)
ADDITIONAL 2019 CHANGES OF NOTE
· In January, Tampa Bay engineered one of the most significant changes a franchise could make in hiring a new head coach. That man is Bruce Arians, who needed just five years to become the winningest coach in Arizona Cardinals history and who has a history of helping quarterbacks excel. Arians assembled an extremely experienced coaching staff around him, almost all of whom he had worked with in the past.
· One of the coaches Arians brought on was Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles, who served under him in the same capacity in Arizona in 2013 and 2014 before becoming the Jets' head coach. Bowles' arrival means the Buccaneers have switched to a base 3-4 defense, something the team hadn't identified with since 1990.
· Bowles' defense means certain players were redefined as outside linebackers, inside linebackers and defensive linemen. No matter the position designations, Tampa Bay's defense is expected to be more aggressive and varied in its pass-rush packages, and will likely ask its defensive backs to play more press-man coverage than it has in the past, which plays to the strengths of many players in that unit.
· Tampa Bay's offense was prolific in 2018 in terms of yards, especially in the passing attack, and most of its starters return for 2019, so one could reasonably expect another strong season on that side of the ball. If anything, the Bucs may be more aggressive under Arians, whose 'no risk-it, no biscuit' philosophy involves taking the big-play shot when you have the chance.
· The Rams returned 18 primary starters from last year's NFC Championship squad but there was some significant change up front on offense. Los Angeles did not try to re-sign their two starting linemen who hit free agency, left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan. Saffold signed a four-year deal with Tennessee while Sullivan remains unsigned. In their places go a pair of second-year players, Joseph Noteboom at left guard and Brian Allen at center. Noteboom was drafted in the third round in 2018 as a tackle and got a small dose of playing time there as a rookie, performing well. Though he may be the eventual replacement for left tackle Andrew Whitworth, Noteboom was moved inside to guard during the offseason. Allen was drafted a round after Noteboom and also saw a smattering of action last year. The Rams decided to transition to their young talent up front in 2019 and so far they rank seventh in rushing yards and 16th in sacks allowed per pass play.
· The Rams lost their quarterbacks coach in the offseason when Zac Taylor accepted the Cincinnati Bengals' head coaching job. The team transferred those duties to their pass game coordinator Shane Waldron and kept their "Zac" quotient level by hiring former NFL quarterback Zac Robinson to assist Waldron with the position.
· The Rams also made a change to the defensive coaching crew, replacing Bill Johnson with the 36-year-old Eric Henderson, who came across town from the Los Angeles Chargers. During the offseason, DT Aaron Donald credited the arrival of Henderson as the reason he chose to attend voluntary OTA practices.
Back to Back to Back – Ninety yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns. Following a Week One loss to San Francisco, the Buccaneers had games lined up against two of the game's most prolific running back in the Panthers' Christian McCaffrey and the Giants' Saquon Barkley. If the Bucs knew in advance that they would hold either McCaffrey or Barkley to 90 yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns, they would probably feel good about that eventual outcome. What actually happened was that Tampa Bay's suddenly very stout run defense held McCaffrey and Barkley to a combined 90 yards from scrimmage and no touchdowns, including just 47 yards on the ground and less than two yards per carry. It doesn't get any easier in Week Four as the Bucs prepare to take on Todd Gurley, yet another back who is among the very hardest in the league to stop. Even though he was slowed a bit at the end of last year with a knee issue, Gurley still rang up 1,831 yards and 21 touchdowns from scrimmage. That was on the heels of a 2017 campaign in which he led the NFL with 2,093 yards and 19 touchdowns from scrimmage. Vita Vea, Ndamukong Suh and Will Gholston have been a stone wall up front for the Buccaneers' defense; can they make it three-for-three in containing top-five NFL backs in a three-week span?
Turning Red to Green – The Buccaneers' offense has to get better in the red zone. Last week, a balanced attack that also was able to repeatedly strike downfield rang up 499 yards of offense but found itself wanting by a single point at the game's end because their five trips inside the Giants' 20-yard line produced only 15 points. Overall, the Buccaneers rank 31st in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency through three weeks, only finding the end zone on three of 11 trips so far. The Los Angeles offense hasn't been quite as prolific in the early going of 2019 as it was when it averaged 32.7 points per game on the way to the Super Bowl last year, but it has still been quite productive, producing 25.7 points per game. There's a good chance that the Buccaneers' offense will have to score a lot to keep up, and they're capable of doing so if they get more out of their red zone chances.
The Long Journey Begins – The Bucs wanted a boost with a Week Three home win to give them momentum at the start of perhaps the most unusual scheduling stretch in franchise history. They didn't get it when Matt Gay's clock-ending kick snuck just outside the right goal post against the Giants, and now they won't play another game at Raymond James Stadium until November 10. The trip to the L.A. Coliseum to play the Rams will be followed by another road game in New Orleans and then a long flight to London for what is considered a home game against the Carolina Panthers. The Bucs will get their bye after that, then immediately set out again for consecutive away games at Tennessee and Seattle. That means that if the Buccaneers want to use the middle of the season to climb out of a small 1-2 hole and put themselves in position to make a run at the playoffs down the stretch, they'll need to come away with at least three or four victories in that stretch. The first matchup looks like one of the toughest, against an undefeated Rams team with loads of talent on both sides of the ball, but it's also the one that would go the farthest towards creating that momentum that wasn't allowed to materialize in Week Three.
Time to Be Special – During his post-practice press briefing on Wednesday, Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians praised the Rams' special teams, unprompted, on several occasions. And when you start that crew with the duo of punter Johnny Hekker and kicker Greg Zuerlein, you are likely to get good results. The Rams have a reputation for being creative in that phase of the game, and Hekker has thrown 19 passes in the past eight years, completing 11 of them. The Bucs will need to improve on special teams in order to match their opponent on Sunday. Gay missed the last kick against the Giants as well as two extra points (one was blocked) but also made four others, including 52 and 47-yarders, and the rookie obviously has the leg to be a long-range weapon. The Bucs believe he will find more consistency. Meanwhile, the return game has been nearly nonexistent. That's a function mostly of touchbacks on kickoffs, but the punt return unit has averaged just 3.3 yards per runback and Arians said on Monday that he needs better work from the special-teamers assigned to blocking the opposition's gunners.
RoJo Ready to Shine in Return – The Buccaneers haven't played a game in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum since 1993, when they took on the then-L.A. Raiders before their return to Oakland. Well, most of the Bucs haven't played there in a while. Second-year running back Ronald Jones used to call the Coliseum his home, as he had three prolific seasons for the USC Trojans, racking up 3,921 yards from scrimmage and 42 touchdowns. The Buccaners drafted Jones early in the second round in 2018 expecting to see some of the explosive plays that dotted his career with the Trojans, but his rookie season was a wash. Things have been much different in Year Two, as a stronger and newly-confident Jones has led the Bucs in rushing with 164 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per tote. Jones has even made two big plays in the passing game, totalling 59 yards and producing a pair of first downs. The Buccaneers are still splitting the backfield duties between Jones and starter Peyton Barber, but they also are prepared to ride the hot hand whenever either one gets hot. That was Jones in Week Three, and perhaps the return to his college stamping grounds will have him ready to roll in Week Four, as well.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 4 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
1. Buccaneers LG Ali Marpet vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald
Donald, the two-time reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, can and does rush from all over the line, so at some point he's going to be a challenge for every blocker the Bucs' have, probably more than one of them at a time on many snaps. But the best battle may come when Donald lines up close to Marpet on the left side of the Bucs' front and tries to shoot the B or C gap. Donald showed exactly what he can do in that situation on the very first short third down of the game last Sunday night in Cleveland. He was off the ball so quickly that he shot immediately between left guard Joel Bitonio and left tackle Greg Robinson before either could get a hand on him, and he then veered quickly to his left and dropped running back Nick Chubb on what had been a play designed to run away from Donald. Loss of two. Punt. Marpet is a rising star on a Buccaneers' offensive line that has had a good start to the season, primarily in run-blocking. The Bucs' rank high in sacks allowed per pass play but a good number of those takedowns have been on plays where Jameis Winston held the ball in the pocket for a long time. Marpet, big and nimble and a sharp on the details, may not face a tougher challenge all year.
2. Rams WR Cooper Kupp vs. Buccaneers CB M.J. Stewart
Los Angeles starts a trio of receivers on offense and has all three of them on the field for almost every snap. That means the Buccaneers will be in sub packages for most of the game and their nickel corner, Stewart, will probably see his highest number of snaps yet. Though the Rams have many ways of lining Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods up, they will definitely have Kupp in the slot on some plays, making him Stewart's responsibility in man looks. Stewart will be giving up three inches and about 10 pounds to the big Ram receiver but will be able to match him in terms of physical play. Kupp runs sharp routes and is good at finding the holes in zone defense looks, and he leads the Rams in targets, catches and receiving yards. Stewart and the Buccaneers' secondary are looking to rebound after a tough performance in Week Three that was the result of breakdowns in communication.
3. Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard vs. Rams S John Johnson
Donald is the obvious figurehead in the Rams' defense, and that unit features some other big names with the likes of Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters, Eric Weddle, Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler. Amid all of that veteran talent, third-year safety John Johnson is probably the most overlooked and underrated players. It is Johnson who is tied with linebacker Cory Littleton (the other underrated Rams defender) for the team lead with 26 tackles and he owns twof the team's three interceptions so far. Johnson had a team-high four interceptions last year, too, to go with 12 passes defensed, but he's a force in run support as well. Fourteen of his 26 stops have come on running plays. O.J. Howard, the Bucs' ultra-athletic tight end, may find himself alternately trying to keep Johnson out of the play with downfield blocks on running plays or beating him with fast sprints down the seam. Winston found Howard repeatedly against the Giants last Sunday, throwing four passes his way to record three receptions for 66 yards. That doesn't even include another deep pass downfield that succeeded in drawing a pass-interference penalty.
4. Rams LT Andrew Whitworth vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaq Barrett
At this point, Barrett has to be considered one of the key matchups for any team opposing the Buccaneers, given his incredible 8.0 sacks in three games. The Bucs' red-hot pass-rusher may rush off either side of the Rams' line, but last week he recorded three of his four sacks coming around the quarterback's blind side against Nate Solder. When he does that on Sunday, Barrett will find himself battling Whitworth and/or a tight end and/or a running back if the gets past the others. Whitworth, a 14th-year veteran, has been named to four Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro as recently as 2017. At 6-7 and 330 pounds, he provides a rather sizeable obstacle for Barrett to get around, though the latter seems to have perfected the ability to keep the hands of big blockers off his chest so he can slither by them and get around the edge. Barrett has benefitted from a good number of one-on-one blocks, and he's been winning them. Given his output, it will be interesting to see how much help the Rams give Whitworth, and whether or not that opens opportunities for others on the Bucs' defensive front.
DNP: Did not participate in practice
LP: Limited participation in practice
FP: Full participation in practice
· OLB Devante Bond (hamstring) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· CB Jamel Dean (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.
· T Demar Dotson (calf) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Chris Godwin (hip) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· C Ryan Jensen (back) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.
· WR Breshad Perriman (quadriceps) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· DL Vita Vea (groin) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.
· ILB Devin White (knee) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out
· OL Austin Blythe (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP
· DL Michael Brockers (illness) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP
· TE Tyler Higbee (chest) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP
· CB Aqib Talib (not injury related) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: FP
· T Andrew Whitworth (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP
Partly cloudy, high of 74, low of 57, 10% chance of rain, 50% humidity, winds out of the S at 8 mph.
Head referee: Brad Rogers (three seasons, first as referee)
· Favorite: Rams (-9.5)
· Over/Under: 49.0
INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Matt Gay, 26
Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 3
Passing Yards: QB Jameis Winston, 782
Passer Rating: QB Jameis Winston, 85.5
Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 164
Receptions: WR Mike Evans/WR Chris Godwin, 14
Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 214
Interceptions: CB Vernon Hargreaves, 1
Sacks: OLB Shaq Barrett, 8.0
Tackles: LB Lavonte David, 23
Points Scored: K Greg Zuerlein, 29
Touchdowns: RB Malcolm Brown/WR Cooper Kupp, 2
Passing Yards: QB Jared Goff, 738
Passer Rating: QB Jared Goff, 84.5
Rushing Yards: RB Todd Gurley, 203
Receptions: WR Cooper Kupp, 23
Receiving Yards: WR Cooper Kupp, 268
Interceptions: S John Johnson, 2
Sacks: LB Clay Matthews, 4.0
Tackles: LB Cory Littleton/S John Johnson, 26
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: t-13th (22.7 ppg)
Total Offense: 14th (361.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 20th (239.3 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 8th (121.7 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: 16th (20.3)
Third-Down Pct.: t-25th (29.7%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 27th (10.20%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 31st (27.3%)
Scoring Defense: 22nd (25.7 ppg)
Total Defense: 14th (330.7 ypg)
Passing Defense: 21st (261.0 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 6th (69.7 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-7th (18.0)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 11th (35.0%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 13th (7.89%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 3rd (30.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-16th (0)
Scoring Offense: 8th (25.7 ppg)
Total Offense: 16th (358.0 ypg)
Passing Offense: 22nd (234.3 ypg)
Rushing Offense: 7th (123.7 ypg)
First Downs Per Game: t-13th (20.7)
Third-Down Pct.: 12th (45.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 16th (5.71%)
Red Zone TD Pct.: 12th (61.5%)
Scoring Defense: 7th (16.3 ppg)
Total Defense: 3rd (285.7 ypg)
Passing Defense: 4th (192.7 ypg)
Rushing Defense: 11th (93.0 ypg)
First Downs Allowed Per Game: t-7th (18.0)
Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 12th (37.5%)
Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 14th (7.34%)
Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: t-9th (50.0%)
Turnover Margin: t-16th (0)
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
· WR Mike Evans has 44 career touchdowns, 43 on receptions and one on a fumble recovery in the end zone. After recording his first career three-TD game last week against the Giants, Evans needs just two more to tie James Wilder for the second-most touchdowns in team history.
· Shaq Barrett has already tied an NFL record with 8.0 sacks in his team's first three games of a season after dropping the Giants' Daniel Jones four times in Week Three. He could set a new record for the most sacks in a team's first four games with two more on Sunday against the Rams.
· TE Cam Brate has three career games with multiple touchdown receptions. With one more he would tie Ring of Honor member Jimmie Giles for the most such games by a tight end in team history.
· LB Lavonte David has 10 career interceptions. With one more he would surpass David Lewis (also 10) for the second most by a linebacker in team annals. Derrick Brooks holds the record with 15.
· Head Coach Bruce Arians on if the Rams' defense under coordinator Wade Phillips being similar to the Bucs' defense: "Yeah, they're similar in that they're a 3-4, but they're really totally different defenses. Wade's evolved a lot in the last two to three years to different schemes, so yeah, they're a challenge. There's a lot of number one picks in that front, so that's the biggest problem. It's not the scheme – it's the individuals."
· Quarterback Jameis Winston on the opposing defense's game plan dictating which of his pass-catchers has a big game: "It's different from week to week. The first two weeks, they were adamant of taking Mike [Evans] away, but Chris [Godwin] proved how talented he was, so he had some great spurts in those first two games. Last week, they just threw a lot at us, left Mike on some one-on-one occasions and we were able to find ways to get him the ball. Whatever they have for us, Coach Byron [Leftwich] does a great job of preparing, trying to get guys open, trying to put us in the right situation for us to be effective."
· Arians on why the Bucs' defense under Todd Bowles has been effective at stopping the run: "I think they've got a good plan – really good plans. Todd has put them in position to stop the run and we're tackling well. We're not missing a lot of tackles and we're not giving up a lot of yards after the catch other than that one the other day. The safeties have tackled well. Jordan [Whitehead's] done a good job in there, and so have our nickels when they're coming in to plug gaps. When you have those type of guys tackling, it helps."
· Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh on teammate Shaquil Barrett's hot start: "He's just executing. One of the things we talked about on the sideline the last game – which I love about a young guy like that is that he actually listens – and one of his, I think it was the third or fourth sack, he reached for the ball like I told him to and he got it. He's been doing a tremendous job so he's probably going to get some more attention over the next handful of weeks and whatnot as people continue to notice him on film. He's just got to continue to keep pressing and doing what he's doing."
· Inside linebacker Lavonte David on what the Buccaneers need to improve upon: "Just finishing, finishing obviously. We could easily by 3-0 right now but the tables didn't turn that way. That's just something that we know and it's something we've got to be better at. Everybody got the message for sure. So we've just got to do a better job at that and things will turn around."