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Buccaneers vs. Rams Preview: Which Team Will Handle the Pressure?

Two NFC powerhouses with Super Bowl aspirations are set to go toe-to-toe as the 12-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the 12-4 Los Angeles Rams at Raymond James Stadium. The Buccaneers and Rams both looked dominant in their Wild Card wins, with the Buccaneers amassing a 31-0 lead over the Philadelphia Eagles through three quarters and the Rams completely neutralizing Kyler Murray en route to a 34-11 win. Can either team replicate their success this week? In a showdown between two of the NFL's top teams, let’s break down which team has the edge.


Buccaneers Offense vs. Rams Defense


Oct 24, 2021; Tampa, Florida, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans (13) celebrate as they score a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

According to Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, the Buccaneers offense led the NFL in total offense, ranking first in the pass and fourth in the rush. On the other side of the ball, the Rams defense finished fifth in total defense DVOA, ranking sixth against the pass and fifth against the rush.


Although the Buccaneers had the top-ranked offense in the NFL during the regular season, their offense is banged up and will face a difficult matchup in the Rams defense. With the season-ending injury to Chris Godwin and the departure of Antonio Brown, the Rams will be able to focus more attention on slowing star receiver Mike Evans with first-team all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey. In addition, the Buccaneers have the second-ranked offense line in the NFL according to PFF, but they face key injuries to first-team all-pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs and pro-bowl center Ryan Jensen. Both offensive lineman are trending towards playing, but they’ll likely be below full strength, which will be a huge blow against a dominant Rams defensive line with Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, and Von Miller. The Rams lead the league in pass rush win rate at 53%, and they should be able to wreak havoc in the offensive backfield. Despite all their injuries, the Buccaneers will have running back Leonard Fournette, also known as “Playoff Lenny," back for this game. Fournette was a key playmaker for the Bucs in their Super Bowl run last year, amassing 448 total yards and four touchdowns in four playoff games. However, the Rams lead the league in run stop win rate at 35%, so Fournette may not have much success against this Rams defense.


Dec 13, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald (99) celebrates a sack with defensive tackle Marquise Copeland (93) against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Luckily for the Bucs, Brady has one of the quickest releases in the NFL, which will neutralize the Rams’ powerful pass rush. During the regular season, Brady’s average time to throw was 2.50 seconds, second in the NFL. In last week’s Wild Card win against the Eagles, Brady’s average time to throw was an absurd 2.17 seconds as the Bucs leaned on the short passing game after Wirfs and Jensen suffered injuries. The Buccaneers offense will likely follow a similar script against this Rams defense. Even with a depleted receiving corpse, Brady knows how to make the most of what he has and he thrives by attacking the middle of the field, an area where the Rams are weakest.


Rams Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense


The Rams offense finished eighth in total offense DVOA, ranking seventh in the pass and 12th in the rush. The Buccaneers defense finished ninth in total defense DVOA, ranking 10th against the pass and 12th against the rush.


The Rams acquired star quarterback Matthew Stafford in the offseason with one goal in mind: winning a Super Bowl. Stafford clearly brings an explosive element to the Rams passing attack that Jared Goff could not bring, and Stafford’s arm has opened up the playbook for Sean McVay. Although the Rams lost Robert Woods to injury, they still have a plethora of receiving weapons including Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr, Van Jefferson, and Tyler Higbee. In the regular season, Kupp became the fourth-receiever in the Super Bowl era to capture the receiving triple crown, leading the league in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. In addition, the Rams miraculously got running back Cam Akers back from a torn Achilles last week, months ahead of schedule. The explosive running back already made a significant impact in the Wild Card game, amassing 95 total yards and a touchdown in his return. Unfortunately for the Rams, they will be without star left tackle Andrew Whitworth in this pivotal matchup.


Jan 17, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) and quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) celebrate after a touchdown during the second half of an NFC Wild Card playoff football game at SoFi Stadium. The Rams defeated the Cardinals 34-11. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Buccaneers will certainly look to capitalize on Whitworth’s absence, as they finished second in the NFL in pressure rate at 28.6%. The Rams lead the league in pass block win rate at 68%, but they may not fare as well without Whitworth. Like the Rams, the Buccaneers boast a dominant pass rush that held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to just nine points in last year’s Super Bowl win. The Buccaneers lead the league in blitz rate at 40.8%, but that won’t be the recipe for success against the Rams offense because Stafford leads the NFL against the blitz. Stafford holds a 139.6 passer rating and a 16-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio against the blitz, and when the Buccaneers and Rams faced off in Week 3, Stafford was 7-9 for 81 yards and a touchdown against blitzes.


On the other hand, Stafford is significantly worse under pressure. In Week 3, Stafford had a 39.6 passer rating when under pressure, going just 1-5 for 10 passing yards. In Week 16, Stafford threw three interceptions while under pressure against the Minnesota Vikings, who blitzed less than 25% of the time and still generated a lot of pressure. In order to slow down the Rams offense, the Buccaneers will need to generate pressure on Stafford without blitzing, and they should be able to against an offensive line without its star left tackle.


Oct 3, 2021; Foxboro, MA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Shaquil Barrett (58) and outside linebacker Lavonte David (54) and defensive tackle William Gholston (92) celebrates during the second quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

While the Bucs will try to disrupt Stafford and force him into turnovers, the key for Stafford will be to lean on the short game, just like Brady and the Bucs offense. Per PFF, the Buccaneers have the second-best coverage grade in the NFL, so they should be able to contain the passing attack of the Rams. On the other hand, the Bucs defense ranks 16th in yards allowed per rush, so the Rams may find success on the ground with their running back tandem of Cam Akers and Sony Michel.



Prediction


When these teams met in Week 3, the Rams took care of business and won 34-24 at home. However, both teams are very different now compared to four months ago, and I think this playoff matchup will look completely different as a result. With banged up offensive lines going up against menacing defensive lines on both sides, this game should be lower-scoring than their previous encounter. I believe that this game will ultimately come down to which team can limit negative plays and turnovers, and I trust Brady to take care of the ball and consistently make the right play under pressure more than I trust Stafford. I think Brady shows why he has seven rings and the Buccaneers prevail in a slugfest at home.


Buccaneers 24, Rams 14


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