The Rams offense started slowly vs. the Buccaneers when the teams first faced off in Week 3, but quarterback Matthew Stafford and head coach Sean McVay managed to get their squad on schedule and ultimately pummel Tampa Bay.
Though there was a lot of ugly in that tape, I think the good outweighed the ball in terms of the Bucs’ hopes in Round 2.
Here are my keys to the game for the Buccaneers’ defense to hold up against the Rams’ offensive juggernaut.
Slow down the Rams' stars
All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp scored a pair of touchdowns and moved the chains three times in Week 3, all of which were frankly perfect calls that put defenders in no-win situations.
Kupp thrived on out routes against off coverage, designed pick plays when Stafford caught the Bucs in man coverage with one-high safety, and a virtually indefensible route in the low Red Area.
Despite Kupp’s productive day, I thought the Buccaneers defended him well for most of the game.
Though each call and executed play deserved a tip of the cap, the consecutive slot fades can be corrected with better depth from Tampa’s corners. The low Red Area is also a situation you simply need to avoid with a team as talented as the Rams.
The Bucs also prioritized Kupp’s presence over the middle (sometimes to their detriment), didn’t let him slip away for first downs on screens or quick-hitters, and used contact to throw off his rhythm with Stafford multiple times.
If the Bucs can avoid giving away too many freebies, it could be a relatively quiet day for Kupp vs a re-stocked Tampa defense. Tyler Higbee, however, may prove a bigger problem for the Buccaneers than his Triple-Crown teammate.
Tampa Bay had no answers for screens to the athletic tight-end, who also picked up a huge 3rd down that kicked off a 2-minute scoring drive for LA.
Though Higbee ultimately wasn’t a huge part of the Rams’ game plan in Week 3, he was able to slip away from the Buccaneers' safeties multiple times and looked like the biggest mismatch on LA’s offense.
McVay could look for more opportunities to get Higbee involved vs. his hometown team.
Kupp and Higbee are too talented to stop. McVay and Stafford will get them the ball in opportune moments. It’s up to the Buccaneers players and coaches to anticipate, learn from previous mistakes, and ultimately out-execute in those situations.
GTFB (and pray)
Or as Bill Belichick puts it: “Get the F*** Back!”
There’s a reason Stafford is putting up video game numbers despite teams knowing LA will go deep as often as possible.
Few players in history have been as effective as Stafford at anticipating downfield windows, manipulating coverage to create necessary space, and delivering accurate passes on low-percentage throws.
Even when Tampa called coverages to specifically take away deep shots, Stafford made defenders think he was throwing to one area of the field before coming back to a receiver streaking behind coverage elsewhere.
DeSean Jackson and Stafford weren’t able to connect on all of these opportunities, but the QB has shown rapport with Odell Beckham Jr. and much-improved downfield chemistry with Van Jefferson.
Though depth and discipline will be key for Tampa’s secondary, there will be reps where the outcome will ultimately come down to whether or not the Rams execute.
Stafford’s making the big bucks for a reason.
Avoid Cover 1 and corner blitzes
In some passing situations during their first meeting, the Buccaneers played Cover 1 to take away the middle of the field and man-up the Rams’ receivers.
Tampa’s coverage paid in similar fashion to their first matchup with the Chiefs in 2020. Sean McVay had plays ready for the Bucs’ single-high man and Stafford capitalized mercilessly.
If the Buccaneers want to use man coverage in passing situations, their best bet is sticking with 2-deep safeties so corners can shade inside and undercut routes.
Tampa only used this coverage a couple of times in the 3rd quarter, but it slowed down the Rams both times.
Stafford also anticipated two blitzes from the Bucs’ outside corners and threw the ball to uncovered receivers for 1st downs. Bottom-line, juice ain’t worth the squeeze against a passer with Stafford’s experience.
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and other NFL news and analysis. Follow along on social media at @SIBuccaneers on Twitter and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.