Are the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers the two best teams in the NFL? Some would certainly say so – and the case to be made isn't that far off. In fact, the consensus says they are, according to the latest power rankings release.
As both teams enter the Week 3 contest with 2-0 records and talent littered up and down the roster, this could be a preview of what's to come once the playoffs begin.
I met with Zach Goodall, the publisher of All Bucs, to get an inside look at what to expect from Tampa Bay ahead of their matchup with the Rams.
Below, you can find RamDigest's five-question Q&A with All Bucs, covering quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Tampa Bay continuity on defense and more.
1. What is your overall assessment of Tom Brady at the age of 44 after two games in? Do you notice any drastic differences from last season?
ZG: I think he's been automatic. The Buccaneers passing game has been impressively consistent through two games as Brady's chemistry with the receiving corps has only gotten stronger since the playoff run. Pro Football Focus credits Brady with a completion percentage of 50% or better into 11 of the 12 throwing windows on the gridiron, only below that mark throwing 20+ yards down the right side of the field (2-of-7, including a 47-yard Week 1 touchdown to Antonio Brown and a Week 1 interception on an end-of-the-first-half Hail Mary). He's at 60% or better in 8-of-12 throwing windows.
Brady and the Buccaneers moved the ball well on play-action last year, but it's been on another level this season. Brady has a completion percentage of 75% on 20 PA attempts, throwing for 188 yards, four touchdowns and his only other interception - which was a well-thrown screen pass that running back Leonard Fournette bobbled into the air. Yet, Tampa Bay is calling play-action on 22.2% of Brady's dropbacks this season, a mere 0.9% more than it did in 2020. The Bucs need to utilize these calls more often because it's clear they can move the ball on play-action without a strong run game.
2. Rob Gronkowski has caught two touchdown passes in each of the first two games. Does he appear to be back to his old self, being one of the league’s more prominent red zone pass-catchers once again?
ZG: Gronkowski has been on a tear, particularly in the red zone as all of his scores have come within the 20-yard line. He's been targeted once on a pass of 20+ yards and it went incomplete, so the majority of his damage has been in the short-to-intermediate zones of defenses. However, Gronk hauled in nine deep balls last year, so he's surely still capable. He's on a record-setting pace right now, set to smash Randy Moss's single-season record of 23 touchdowns set in 2007. If he and Brady keep up this level of play, especially in a 17-game season, I think Gronk can definitely pass that mark.
3. The Bucs retained a lot of players from last year’s squad. Has that been noticeable through the first two games – that the continuity has helped Tampa Bay gel well together combined with having a full offseason?
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ZG: Offensively, without a doubt. The chemistry in the passing game has been obvious and the offensive line has kept Brady relatively clean, two indications that everyone is on the same page. The run game has yet to hit its stride with a confusing rotation at running back, but at least Tampa Bay's co-starters Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones are both averaging over four yards per carry.
Defensively, you can see the chemistry in flashes but it hasn't all come together quite yet. Tampa Bay's rushing defense remains as dominant as ever, giving up three yards per carry on 19 attempts per game. The pass rush put a ton of pressure on Dak Prescott and Matt Ryan, but was only able to post two sacks in those games, combined.
Coverage, however, has obviously been suspect as the Bucs rank 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game. Tampa Bay's secondary wasn't perfect last year but clicked at the right time, and while the hope was the unit could pick up where it left off in the Super Bowl, injuries have played a big part in the opposite occurring. Nickel cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting is currently on injured reserve, while cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean were banged up at separate times in Week 2 - even though both players finished the game. Strong safety Jordan Whitehead also missed the preseason and week one with a hamstring injury. This unit, in particular, is my biggest concern for the Bucs entering the game.
4. Sports Illustrated’s MMQB has the Bucs and Rams listed No. 1 and No. 2 in this week’s power rankings. Do you believe these are the two best teams, and who holds the advantage from your point of view?
ZG: I guess so? It's still tough to truly tell at this point of the season, although I understand the exercise. Both teams are stacked with talent and flash greatness, but each has its share of issues that will need to be ironed out before the playoffs come around. If this helps answer the question, the Bucs and Rams are my early-season favorites to make the NFC Championship. I'll give the Bucs the advantage solely because of their passing game chemistry that Matthew Stafford, although he's been really impressive, hasn't had enough time to create with his pass-catchers. This is going to be a shootout.
5. If Antonio Brown is unable to play as a result of COVID-19 protocols, do you think that changes the Bucs’ approach as they enter Week 3 against the Rams?
ZG: Not necessarily. Gronkowski still figures to be the primary red zone target, with Mike Evans offering a hand there as well. Chris Godwin has been really impressive in between the 20s, and Scotty Miller is a capable deep threat that can fill in for Brown in that department.
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Nick Cothrel is the Publisher of Ram Digest. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel.