Greg Schiano and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers insist on treating each week of the campaign as an individual "season," and each season has its own specific challenges. Perhaps the most pressing issue of the "St. Louis Season:" the Rams' perimeter defense.
That's actually two challenges, in a way, because Schiano is referring to the Rams' dangerous edge rushers and their outstanding starting cornerbacks. Or break it down further and it's four challenges: Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.
"Their two defensive ends are very, very good players," said Schiano. "Their two corners are exceptional players. So they're good on the perimeters on defense and [James] Laurinaitis is a very good middle linebacker. They're a good football team."
Quinn and Long, both former high first-round picks, have 17 sacks between them, helping propel the Rams to 41 as a team, the fourth-best mark in the NFL. Meanwhile, Finnegan and Jenkins are tied for the team lead with three picks each and have returned half of those for touchdowns. That's most definitely a two-sided problem for opposing quarterbacks, and today that quarterback is Josh Freeman.
Freeman will be trying to rebound from his worst game of the season, a four-pick performance in New Orleans that represents the only time all season he has thrown more than two interceptions in one outing. He had just eight before that game and, in general, has satisfied Schiano with how well he has protected the football.
"I thought it was only really last week," said the coach of his passer's turnover issue. "I thought he was protective of the ball before that. He'd been doing a really good job of that, one of the best in the National Football League, and then last week we had a bad game. As long as we don't have two in a row we can move forward from it, and that's the key. We need to go out today and play Buccaneer football the way we've played it all year. That's protect the ball and take the ball away."
In a way, the specific challenge of Rams Season is a matter of strength on strength. St. Louis may rack up the sacks, but the Buccaneers' offensive line doesn't allow many of them. In fact, Freeman has yet to be sacked more than twice in any game this season, a 14-game streak that is the longest in team history within a single season. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's perimeter pass-catchers – Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams – are having excellent seasons in their own right, combining for 2,025 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns.
In other words, the Rams' defensive perimeter may pose a serious test to Freeman in this Week 16 matchup, but fortunately he's got a lot of help to pass that test.
He also has a mostly healthy roster, excluding the players already lost to injured reserve. Heading into the weekend, the Buccaneers had one player expected to miss Sunday's game, but DE Aaron Morgan was placed on injured reserve Saturday and replaced by DE Markus White. CB LeQuan Lewis was questionable on Friday's injury report and indeed was deactivated for the third straight game due to a knee injury.
As such, Tampa Bay's seven inactive players are mostly healthy scratches: Lewis, RB Michael Smith, G Roger Allen, WR Chris Owusu, WR David Douglas, DT Corvey Irvin and DT Matthew Masifilo.
Meanwhile the Rams did list Finnegan as questionable on their injury report but he has been cleared to play and St. Louis also has nobody out specifically due to injury. Their seven inactives are QB Austin Davis, WR Steve Smith, RB Terrance Ganaway, TE Cory Harkey, LB Sammy Brown, T Joe Barksdale and DT Matt Conrath.
And, finally, both teams have the perfect day to meet on the gridiron, a cool, clear afternoon that is practically the definition of "football weather." It's the perfect setting for Tampa Bay's final home game of 2012.
"Yeah, it's exciting," said Schiano. "It's a beautiful day, crisp, real football weather. It's going to be fun. We're going to go out there and play Buccaneer football."
The Bucs and Rams will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on radio through the Buccaneers Radio Network and its flagship station, US 103.5 FM. That radio broadcast will also be carried live on Buccaneers.com. Buccaneers.com will post a running blog of all the action on Sunday, and will also provide coverage of the team's postgame press conferences.