As training camp approaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with it the unofficial start to the season, we are taking a closer look at the opponents on the team's 2022 schedule. Next up is the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, who the Bucs host in Week Nine on November 6 at Raymond James Stadium. The marquee matchup is slated for a 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff on CBS. Let the rematch of the 2021 Divisional Round meeting commence.
On the quest to winning Super Bowl LVI, the Los Angeles Rams had to go through several challenging opponents to achieve the coveted goal, including the defending champs and No. 2 seed Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Divisional Round clash. Tom Brady led the Bucs on a wild second-half comeback, leading the team to 21 unanswered points to tie the game at 27 with 40 seconds remaining on the clock. However, a Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp connection off a Bucs' all-out blitz set up the club's game-winning field goal.
In the Rams storybook season, the club took control of the NFC West capping off the regular season with a 12-5 record, which provided momentum heading into the postseason. The journey began with the trade of Jared Goff, a player who had taken Sean McVay to his first Super Bowl, for a player who had not won a playoff game with the Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford. McVay pushed for his own guy and bet on Stafford. It was a risk that paid dividends – and then some. In Stafford's first year under center, the Rams ascended to the grandest stage. Stafford completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 4,886 yards and a career-high (tie) 41 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. He guided the team to four playoff wins, including the Super Bowl, after arriving in L.A. with an 0-3 record in the playoffs.
On offense, Cooper Kupp ascended to stardom in 2021, accomplishing one of the greatest seasons on turf for a receiver. Kupp received Offensive Player of the Year honors, was named Super Bowl MVP, and posted the receiving triple crown. He recorded 16 touchdowns combined with an astonishing 1,947 receiving yards, priming the Rams for the elusive championship. With rare quickness, change-of-direction, yards-after-catch ability and deceptiveness on routes, Kupp commanded double and even triple teams – a testament of his sensational play. With efficiency on options out of the backfield, pivot routes, drag routes, fly sweeps or slants over the middle of the field, he sparked the Rams' offensive onslaught.
Elite receiver Robert Woods made nine appearances before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in 2021, but Kupp stepped up and became the catalyst. Additionally, Odell Beckham Jr. made his presence felt with five touchdowns and 305 receiving yards after a midseason acquisition. He requested to be released by the Browns and landed with the Rams on a one-year deal. Beckham became a difference-maker in the quest for the title and was the first to put points on the board for L.A. in the Super Bowl.
Running back Cam Akers was sidelined due to injury in 2021 and both Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel made significant contributions on the ground to solidify the offense. The duo received a heavy workload in Akers' absence and accumulated 13 touchdowns collectively. With explosive performances in December, Michel elevated his stock with a career resurgence.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Rams concluded the 2021 regular season sixth against the run, fifth in sack percentage and seventh in interception rate. Former Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley, by this point the Chargers' head coach, was replaced by Raheem Morris, who inherited the 2020 top-ranked defensive unit. He effectively dialed up favorable one-on-one pass rush situations to compromise blockers. Due to the menacing front led by Aaron Donald, Von Miller and fellow edge-rushing phenom Leonard Floyd, opposing teams had to release the ball quicker to try and mitigate the Rams' pass rush, limiting their ability to close on the quarterback. In addition, rookie Ernest Jones contributed to their efforts recording 61 tackles and two interceptions in seven game starts.
Perennial All-Pro Jalen Ramsey led the secondary, tasked with containing the opposition's best receiver. Up front, the addition of Miller made it more challenging for defenses to double Donald or to neutralize Miller and Floyd, keeping them from disrupting the backfield if more men were allocated to Donald. In 2021, Donald led the Rams with 12.5 sacks and 25 quarterback hits. In eight games with the Rams, Miller accumulated five sacks, eight quarterback hits and 12 tackles for loss. Donald's name is uttered with reverence by his peers. With unparalleled quickness off the ball, No. 99 has the disruption capability of an edge but does it from the interior, wreaking havoc on offenses. The fact that teams account for and prioritize game-plans around him and he is still making plays on a consistent basis – including a two-sack production in the Super Bowl – embodies his claim to the throne. He factored heavily into the confetti celebration at SoFi Stadium.
The Rams' win-now approach and repeat journey begins with the signings of All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner and Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson II, and the return of cornerback Troy Hill. Most notably, Donald returns after an enormous raise despite retirement speculation. Inking a deal with future Hall-of-Famer Wagner, encompasses the team's all-in mentality. As a previous member of the Legion of Boom, Wagner became the NFL's third-leading tackler in 2021 (170). New rookie offensive guard and the Rams' first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Logan Bruss, will have the chance to make an immediate impact in protecting Stafford. Additional help was acquired to bolster the secondary including Decobie Durant, Quentin Lake, Derion Kendrick and Russ Yeast.
The Rams tried to keep as much of the Super Bowl LVI-winning squad intact as possible, but several key departures included linebacker Von Miller, offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (retired), guard Austin Corbett, nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day, cornerback Darious Williams and receiver Robert Woods (traded to Titans).
What Else is New?
After winning a Super Bowl, the coaching staff tends to shift as prominent names are poached by other teams for their accomplishments. For the Rams, they are bringing back a familiar face to the offensive coaching staff. The club hired Liam Coen as their new offensive coordinator, replacing Kevin O'Connell. Coen served as Kentucky's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2021, guiding the team to fifth in scoring offense in the SEC powerhouse. Prior to joining Kentucky, Coen spent three years on the Rams' coaching staff as an assistant wide receivers coach in 2018 and 2019, before serving as the assistant quarterbacks coach in 2020. In 2019 under the direction of Coen, both Kupp and Woods eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark. In his first year with L.A., the Rams' offense finished No. 3 in scoring in the NFL. Coen returns in 2022 as the Rams strive for complete dominion.
Cam Akers' post-injury form?
Akers returned from a preseason torn Achilles injury in Week 18 to lead the team in touches. However, he did not hit peak form and posted just 2.4 yards per carry during the postseason. Questions permeate regarding Akers' potential in 2022. There is no set path or timetable to an injury comeback. At his best, Akers runs with balance and possesses the lethal speed to be a home run threat. He can boost the passing game with his instinctiveness on screens and intermediate routes. Once healthy, he can be another versatile weapon in Sean McVay's arsenal.
How to replace Andrew Whitworth?
Joe Noteboom is expected to fill the void left by Andrew Whitworth at left tackle, but the 2021 Walter Payton Man of the Year will be challenging to replace in both on-field execution and leadership off the field. He became a key cornerstone in the Rams' offensive line and last year's title winner will have to forge continuity in the trenches during the quest for another championship banner.