The Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick things off in what could evolve as an NFC championship preview.
While this will be the Rams' toughest test yet after wins over the Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts, coach Sean McVay is confident in how L.A. is poised to match up against the defending Super Bowl champions from a season ago.
"I feel really good about our secondary but have tremendous respect for their receiving core," McVay said Friday. "They got guys that can make plays all over the place. I think Antonio has been ruled out, I don't know for sure, but even with him out you still have (Mike) Evans, (Chris) Godwin, they got guys that can make plays. And they've got a quarterback that does as good of a job as anybody being able to recognize and distribute the ball. It's going to be a great challenge but feel really good about our guys ability to match up."
In weeks one and two, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has deployed All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey into various roles, moving him all over the defense. L.A. has had success in using Ramsey's versatility to its greatest extent, but they also haven't seen the firepower that the Tom Brady-led Bucs can showcase, who average 39.5 points per game.
While Brown is likely to be unavailable for Sunday's action as Bucs coach Bruce Arians said Friday, Tampa Bay still runs out the likes of Evans, Godwin and Rob Gronkowski as three dominant forces in the receiving game.
Gronkowski, who made his return to the NFL last year after retiring and sitting out all of the 2019 season, has busted out of the gates in 2021, hauling in four touchdown passes over the first two games.
Gronkowski has been a mismatch for opposing defenses for the better part of his 11-year career. And on Friday McVay was asked about stopping the big-body pass-catcher ahead of Sunday's slate.
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"You look at his ability to compete in the run game, he's making plays in the pass game, the rapport that he and Tom have has definitely been illustrated in these first couple weeks," McVay said. "I think it's being mindful when he comes alive, what are those situations, what are the types of concepts that they like to activate versus some of the structures that we're going to present. It's like anything else, guys being able to play their assignments, understand where they fit within the framework of the call and how we keep his impact to a minimum."
As McVay noted, being mindful of where Gronkowski lines up and playing their assignments will be a major factor in not letting him slip through the cracks. Most notably, identifying Gronkowski once Tampa Bay gets inside the red zone will be critical. All four of Grokwoski's touchdowns have come within the 20-yard line.
Currently, Tampa Bay orchestrates the league's top offense, meaning this will be an early-season barometer for how the Rams' defensive unit stacks up. And to counteract the Bucs' downfield throwing attack, the Rams' secondary of Ramsey, Darious Williams, David Long Jr., Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp have held opponents to an average of 216 passing yards.
Sunday's Rams vs. Bucs showdown will kick off on Sept. 26 at 1:25 p.m. PT on Fox's American Game of the Week.
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Nick Cothrel is the Publisher of Ram Digest. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel.