Los Angeles Rams: Can The Rams Stop Tom Brady and the Buccaneers Offense?

by Tommy Mo
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In Week 2, the Los Angeles Rams defense stepped up big time when it mattered the most. The defense ended the Colts’ first drive of the game, which quickly took them to 1st and goal on the one-yard line. The Colts’ offense couldn’t punch it in after three carries up the gut to Jonathan Taylor. On 4th-and-goal, Leonard Floyd didn’t bite on the play-action and sacked Wentz for a 10-yard loss, and turnover on downs.

This first series set the tone for the game as the defense bent but didn’t break when it counted. Helping the offense maintain a small lead for most of the game, and pressuring Wentz seemingly on every drop back. While there was a back and forth in lead in the fourth quarter, the defense again stepped up when it mattered most. The defense essentially sealed the victory as Jalen Ramsey intercepted Jacob Eason. The Rams won 27-24 and are currently 2-0 with their toughest test of the season so far in Week 3 against the Buccaneers in Los Angeles.

The Buccaneers Offense

The returning Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers are once again lead by Tom Brady and have all of their starters returning from 2020. They have come out of the gate fast, going 2-0 and scoring a total of 79 points. The Bucs offense is currently 13th overall in total yards, with Tom Brady ranked 5th overall in passing yards (655). However, their run game has struggled and is currently 31st in rushing attempts per game (17.5), 30th to last in rushing yards per game, and 23rd overall in rushing yards per attempt (3.8).

The Offensive Line

While Tom Brady and the receivers are the face of the team, and get all the accolades, the real strength of the team is the offensive line. My affinity for the players in the trenches is clear. As a former collegiate defensive tackle, but I’m not biased when I say that Tom Brady would not still be playing if he didn’t have a fantastic offensive line protecting him. That’s exactly what he has.

Despite a lack luster run game, the offensive line is first in adjusted line yards (5.29) and 2nd in stuffed rate (10%) according to Football Outsiders. In the passing game, they rank seventh in adjusted sack rate (4.0%) with three sacks given up on the year.

Brady has also been blitzed 19 times, yet has only been hurried twice, and hit four times. His time in the pocket has been on his career average with 2.3 seconds, and his time to throw is 2.46 seconds. This translates to the OL giving him an adequate amount of time in a clean pocket to release the ball with little pressure in his face.  The offensive line hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve been damn good.

The offensive line will be stout against this Los Angeles Rams defensive line. Everyone for the Bucs offensive line is currently healthy as no member of this unit has been on the injury report. The strengths are guard Ali Marpet and second year tackle Tristan Wirfs. However, all five starters returned in 2021. The greatest factor in offensive line success, is continuity. The Buccaneers offensive line across the board will be the toughest test the Los Angeles Rams defensive front has faced this year.

The Run Game

The run game for the Bucs has been virtually non-existent. On the year, Ronald Jones has rushed 10 times for 41 yards, no touchdowns and one fumble that got him benched in Week 1. Leonard Fournette has rushed 20 times for 84 yards, 0 TDs and 1 fumble (not lost) in Week 2.

The longest run for either running back is 10 yards. With the OL numbers examined above, the running backs should have holes to run through. However, looking deeper at the numbers, the run game is 14th in second-level yards and 30th in open field yards.

Despite the offensive line moving the opposing defensive line backwards, the running backs are still not getting up to the next level or breaking away on runs. With Tom Brady operating so efficiently and effectively with the pass, it doesn’t look like the Bucs are going to push the run as it’s simply not working right now.

The running backs are doing just enough to keep other teams honest but with a run/pass ratio of 37-63 which is third lowest in the league. The Buccaneers offense is going to focus on the pass.

Although the rushing production of the running backs has been mediocre at best, the one area they are playing well at is in pass protection. You can see in the clip above how Fournette takes out 2 blitzers after the play-action fake. He gets low and delivers a hit that knocks 54 into the other linebackers. There’s more than one way to get on the field and while neither Fournette or RoJo are pulling away in yardage, it looks like Fournette is the more reliable pass blocker.

The Passing Attack

The strength of this offense, if you haven’t picked it up by now, is the passing attack. Tom Brady is dominating. Brady has completed the ball to 10 different receivers in the first two weeks. The target share is lead by Chris Godwin with 24.69%, followed by Mike Evans (18.52%), Rob Gronkowski (16.05%), with Fournette and Antonio Brown tied at 12.35%.

Godwin and Evans both have a pair of touchdowns already. However, Gronk has returned to his dominating self and leads the team with four. While you may expect Gronk to lead the team in red zone targets due to the touchdowns, Godwin also leads that category with 30% of the red zone targets. Even through Gronk and Brady have been playing together for a long time, when it gets down where it counts, TB12 is looking to Godwin to score.

The one flaw in Brady’s game so far this season is that he has yet to push the ball downfield. He has employed a relative dink and dunk style this season as the majority of his passes are within 15 yards or less. When he does throw the ball downfield, he’s been more successful on deep throws to the right on first and third downs. On second downs, deep throws to the center and left have been more successful. With Godwin playing the Z position that is normally on the right side of the offense, it makes sense that Brady is targeting the right side of the field more often.

Within 15 yards, Brady spreads it around evenly amongst all downs. To stop this potent passing attack, you have to make sure everyone is locked down because there are many mouths to feed and Brady has a lot to serve up.

Defensive Game Plan

The Game Plan for this week is the exact opposite of Week 2 vs the Colts. The Los Angeles Rams want the Bucs running game to beat them. As good as the Rams secondary is, they do not want to let Tom Brady get time to pick a part the defense with multiple proficient pass catchers. The key will be to try to shut down Tom Brady through the air and in the pocket.

In order for the Rams to be successful in Week 3 they’ll need a complete defensive effort. The defensive line needs to get pressure on Brady, with help from excellent edge rushers Leonard Floyd and Justin Hollins. The linebackers need to be stout in the middle and scrape over the top to stop the outside run game.

In the secondary, the Rams will need to lock up each receiver individually in order to allow the safeties to provide support over the top. Having to double team any one receiver will leave another capable pass catcher open. A cover 2 man scheme with two high safeties on passing downs would help slow the passing attack.

The X-factor in this game could come down to the matchup between TE Rob Gronkowski and Safety Jordan Fuller. If you watched highlights of the Buccaneers games from the past two weeks you may have seen Gronkowski put on a clinic against opposing defenders. If Fuller and company can lock down Gronk, then the exceptional play of the cornerbacks are good enough to lock down the Buccaneers wide receivers and give the offense opportunities to win the game.

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