The Bucs host the defending Super Bowl Champions 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 as the rematch of the 2021 Divisional Round contest commences. On the journey 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 that Divisional Round clash. Tom Brady led the Buccaneers on a sensational second-half comeback, guiding 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. On Sunday, the Bucs will seek revenge against their NFC nemesis.
Sunday's contest will not have quite the same appeal as both the Buccaneers and Rams, who were projected to be frontrunners in the NFC contention race at the outset of the 2022 slate, have struggled to find their footing. Both franchises are below .500, as Tampa Bay sits at a 3-5 record after three consecutive losses (second in the NFC South); meanwhile Los Angeles holds a 3-4 record (third in the NFC West). In desperate need of revitalization, both teams will look to rebuild their 'powerhouse' status on Sunday. Early in October, offensive guru and Rams' Head Coach Sean McVay made a comprehensive statement that embodies the team's current state: "It's not a good movie right now, it's not something we're accustomed to. But the story isn't written yet."
Week Nine against the Bucs marks a new chapter. Through the first five games of the 2021 season, the Rams averaged 28.2 in points per game, 408.2 in total yards per game and allowed only four sacks on Matthew Stafford. In contrast, through the first five games of the 2022 season, Los Angeles is averaging 16.0 points per game, 299.8 total yards per game and has allowed 21 sacks. The Rams rank 31st in yards per play over the first four weeks of the 2022 NFL season and in Week One (Bills) and Week Four (49ers), the Rams averaged under 4.0 yards per play. Granted those two games were against two of the best defenses in the league; however, the Rams were not able to adjust and instead were susceptible. By both stats and the universal eye test, the Rams have looked off this season.
A contributing factor to the offensive woes lies with the inconsistencies on the offensive line. Entering Week Eight against the San Francisco 49ers (bye in Week Seven), the Rams fielded their seventh different combination along the line. Since Andrew Whitworth's retirement, the Rams have experienced a rash of injuries. Center Brian Allen underwent a knee procedure and missed time while Coleman Shelton, who started at guard and moved to center in Allen's absence, will now be out for at least four weeks with a high ankle sprain. David Edwards missed Week Four's matchup against San Francisco with a concussion and both tackles Joe Noteboom and Rob Havenstein have been dinged up. No offensive lineman for the Rams has played 100 percent of the team's snaps this season. That shuffling has led to a lack of continuity and a dip in production. The struggles up front have led to an anemic run game. Half of the Rams' runs this season have been held behind the line of scrimmage and as a result, Los Angeles has been forced to become one-dimensional. As a result, the Rams have tried to manufacture creativity with wide receiver screens, option reads, misdirection and jet sweeps to generate yards after catch. On second and third-and-short, defenses still have to account for run looks, which opens opportunities for Cooper Kupp off play-action. In a similar scenario as the Buccaneers, with different personnel in 2022, winning will not come the same way as in years past. Several elements of the Rams' title run are gone including Whitworth, Von Miller, Odell Beckham Jr. and Robert Woods.
Many defenses around the league have begun employing a two-high shell to prevent offenses from creating explosive plays downfield; however, defenses against the Rams have keyed in on the intermediate area. Los Angeles has faced a lot of Cover 3 in 2022, as opponents have utilized a second safety to sit in the middle of the field as opposed to two deep, to try and take away the crossers and digs that the Rams were proficient in last season.
Having Van Jefferson back from injury will help fuel the offense, with his ability to stretch the field on posts and go-routes. Cooper Kupp is the route-running phenom and Stafford's favorite target, and he is adept at finding soft spots in zones to create. Brandon Powell is used as an X-hybrid running back, effectively running option routes out of the backfield. Allen Robinson II is a jump-ball aficionado, making tough contested catches.
On the opposite side of the ball, the Rams' defense has fared better than its counterpart. Predominately in 2022, the defense has lived up the lofty hype around star-studded names on every level: Aaron Donald in the trenches, Bobby Wagner manning the middle and Jalen Ramsey on the back end. At 3-3, the Rams ranked sixth in yards allowed, first in first downs allowed and second in red zone defense. Through the first seven weeks of the season, the Rams' defense ranks fifth in the league – seventh in run defense and 12th in passing. The unit's production dipped in the Week Eight clash against the 49ers, as Christian McCaffrey accounted for 183 of San Francisco's total 368 yards. He amassed touchdowns in three different ways, as the Rams could not find a solution for San Francisco's workhorse.
Prior to McCaffrey's move to San Francisco, the Rams' defense faced the dynamic playmaker while he was still with the Panthers in Week Six. That game ended with a tally in the win column for L.A. Carolina managed just 203 yards of offense in that game, with the bulk going to McCaffrey and his 158 yards from scrimmage. The Rams ultimately defeated the Panthers 24-10 at SoFi Stadium behind touchdowns from Allen Robinson II, Ben Skowronek and Darrell Henderson, combined with a stellar defensive outing, the Rams snapped a two-game losing streak heading into the bye week. The Panthers made a late comeback bid in the fourth when McCaffrey brought the Panthers to the Rams' 17 with a 49-yard catch and run, but several plays later, backup quarterback Jason Eason was intercepted by Nick Scott in the end zone. The Rams drained the remining time off the clock to secure the victory.
In Week Eight, the 49ers snapped their own two-game skid with an imposing 31-14 win over the Rams. Los Angeles managed to grab a 14-4 lead early on as Stafford led two methodical scoring drives, creating a sense of nostalgia for fans to the once offensive onslaught, however, they were unable to maintain the success. San Francisco pulled away by scoring 24 unanswered points throughout the reminder of the ballgame. Due to the Rams' lackluster run game, the 49ers made effective adjustments at the half marker. San Francisco heavily utilized Cover 2 over the top to mitigate L.A.'s screen game, and forced everything underneath. Receivers had to either create separation or win behind the coverage. This dared the Rams to run the football; however, they had little success on the ground. For San Francisco, McCaffrey was responsible for three of their four touchdowns, recording one passing, one rushing and one receiving. Stafford completed 22 of 33 pass attempts for 187 yards and one touchdown. Kupp became the connection on Stafford's lone passing touchdown, finishing with eight catches for 79 yards. Defensively, Leonard Floyd set the tone with two sacks. Ramsey allowed just two catches for 18 yards and forced two incompletions. He became a menace in the secondary, adding a forced fumble to the mix to go along with a run stop.
The "run it back" chant may be a distant memory at this point for the embattled Rams, but with McVay wearing the headset, Stafford and Kupp powering the offense, and Donald and Ramsey leading the defense, the Rams remain a formidable threat.
On this week's edition of the esteemed compilation of difference-makers featuring Rams' cast members, these five stand out. Many Hollywood headliners could have made the list; however, this bunch could help swing the game in favor of Los Angeles on Sunday:
DL Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald cannot be blocked – or at least, not by one person. He consistently commands double and triple teams as a representation of his reign of dominance at the three-technique position in the NFL for nearly a decade. In 2018, Donald recorded 20.5 sacks – the most ever in a single season by an interior defensive lineman. Donald capped off the Rams' Super Bowl victory by forcing an incomplete pass with ferocious pursuit of Bengals' quarterback Joe Burrow. The defensive icon's impact is undeniable. No player in the league on the defensive side of the ball has garnered more attention from offensive coordinators and gameplans around the league than Donald. No. 99 can wreck a game. Run schemes and pass protections are designed to account for him. From his jump chop-club to long-arm to swim, Donald disrupts with a vast array of pass rush moves. Donald's explosion off the ball, strength and leverage make him unstoppable. He is a transcendent player in the NFL – one that cannot be replicated. With rare hand placement and strike ability, Donald overpowers the opposition week after week. He is a technician and the Buccaneers' offensive line will have to beat Donald to the punch. In addition to his repertoire of pass-rush moves, Donald is an elite anchor in run defense. His ability to anticipate the snap and shoot gaps in a flash forces the opponent to alter their tempo. Tampa Bay will have to focus on Donald every single play because his sole focus will be to knock Tom Brady off his spot.
WR Cooper Kupp
The 2021 receiving triple-crown winner, Cooper Kupp was just 53-yards shy of becoming the NFL's first 2,000-yard receiver before capping off his season as the Super Bowl LVI MVP. In the modern era of the NFL, Kupp is among the hierarchy in precision on routes, ball skills and picking up yards after catch. With a cerebral approach and high football intelligence, Kupp exploits the weaknesses in opposing defenses. With savviness at the top of routes, Kupp baits defenders. In a storybook season in 2021, Kupp became Matthew Stafford's go-to target and a major contributing factor in the home team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in February at SoFi Stadium. Whether it's an option route out of the backfield, a drag or a jet sweep, the Rams scheme to get Kupp the football, complementing his ability to break tackles for additional yardage. He may be known for his prowess as a route-runner, but Kupp is also proficient as a blocker at the point of attack to open things up in the Rams' run game. With quick change-of-direction and burst out of breaks, Kupp imposes his will between the hash marks. He exploits soft spots in zone coverage and is a consistent playmaker. Kupp is a jack-of-all-trades and the Bucs' defense will have to know where No. 10 is lined up on every play.
DB Jalen Ramsey
Jalen Ramsey spearheads the Rams' secondary. With back-to-back All-Pro honor seasons, Ramsey hit new strides in 2021 – ranking among the NFL leaders in passes defensed and tying for the lead among defensive backs in tackles for loss with nine. He is the tone-setter on the back end, playing with rare physicality and a feisty, competitive demeanor. A generational talent, Ramsey consistently positions himself to make plays on the ball with anticipation. Effective in both press-man and zone coverage, Ramsey holds his own against the NFL's top-tier receivers. He is explosive enough to break on passes underneath, separating the receiver from the football. With both downhill range and lateral movement, Ramsey flies around in the secondary. With the coveted combination of size, speed and instincts, quarterbacks have to know where Ramsey is at all times. He shines in out-of-phase coverage – where the defender has to make a play through the receiver's hands - and possesses the closing speed and leaping ability to win over the top, stifling downfield attacks. Ramsey is a wrap-up tackler in space, dropping running backs before they get to the line of scrimmage with quick diagnoses. He is a player the Bucs' offense will have to account for.
QB Matthew Stafford
The trade for Matthew Stafford created the Rams' win-now approach last season. At the conclusion of January 2021, the Rams and Lions agreed on a deal that sent Jared Goff to Detroit and brought Stafford to Los Angeles. Along with Goff, the Rams sent three draft picks to the Lions, including a third-round pick in 2021 and first-round selections in both 2022 and 2023. The move paid dividends, resulting in signing 34-year-old Stafford to a four-year contract extension in March. Stafford can manipulate defenses with his eyes, taking defenders out of the equation to deliver passes where he wants. Despite being undervalued for the majority of his career in Detroit, Stafford pioneered the side-arm and no-look pass. He maintains poise in the pocket and has a cannon for an arm, with zip on deep outs, and he puts enough velocity on the ball when rolling to the right. Stafford can get the ball into tight windows and effectively diagnoses blitzes on reads to evade pressure and hit the open receiver. He mastered methodical late game-winning drives against the Buccaneers and 49ers in their playoff run, along with the Bengals in the Super Bowl that ultimately led to a confetti celebration. The Bucs' defense will have to be prepared for Stafford's theatrics under center.
LB Bobby Wagner
In the quest for another Super Bowl ring, the Rams signed longtime Seattle Seahawks All-Pro linebacker, Bobby Wagner in March to a lucrative, five-year deal. Many teams around the league were in play for the hot commodity but Wagner opted to join Sean McVay in the NFC West, returning home to L.A. He is one of the NFL's most prolific off-ball linebackers. Wagner is a tackling machine, whose production has not dipped with longevity/age. A six-time All-Pro in Seattle, Wagner has registered 10 consecutive 100-plus tackle seasons. He can do it all: play man-to-man, drop back in zone, blitz and play east-to-west paroling the field. Wagner has the versatility to play inside or outside and the skillset to never leave the field. With a relentless motor, Wagner has the instincts to sniff out a play, read the offensive line and hit the gap to meet a running back in the hole. The Buccaneers' offense will have to be aware of Bobby Wagner on every snap with his drive-stalling playmaking ability.
Here are some ways in which the Rams have excelled in 2022:
- The Rams defense is allowing the fewest first downs per game, giving up 16.6 per game on average. The unit has been effective in pushing offenses into disadvantageous second and third-down situations.
- Matthew Stafford's go-to target, Cooper Kupp currently leads the Rams in receptions (64, second in the NFL), receiving yards (686, fifth in the NFL), and receiving touchdowns (5, tied for fourth in the NFL). He elevates the Rams' aerial attack with his dynamic ability out of the slot.
Negative factors hindering the outcome of games for the Rams in 2022, most notable:
- The Rams ground attack ranks 31st in the league, averaging 68.4 rushing yards per game in 2022. With an inability to create a balanced attack, Los Angeles has been forced to manufacture a running game to open up play-action passes.
- Matthew Stafford is tied for second in the NFL in interceptions thrown with 8.
New Faces in 2022
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. 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). Rookie right guard, Logan Bruss, the Rams' first selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, has missed the entirety of the 2022 NFL season after suffering a torn ACL and MCL during a preseason game against the Texans. He was a player expected to contribute immediately but instead, he has not played a snap in the regular season.
After winning a Super Bowl, a team's 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 becoming 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 a repeat.