Rams vs. Buccaneers: Breaking down the matchups and which team will win
A look at how the Rams (3-0) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-2) match up heading into their game Sunday:
When Rams have the ball
It’s tough to find fault with a team that has started the season with three victories, and yet … something seems to be amiss with the Rams’ offense. Coach Sean McVay admitted as much this past week when he said: “Three weeks is a small sample size, but nonetheless, no excuse. We’ve got to do a better job.” The Rams have failed to score a first-quarter touchdown, and the offense has not been able to put an opponent away late in a game. Quarterback Jared Goff has completed 63% of his passes, four for touchdowns, with three interceptions. The two-time Pro Bowl selection has made some big plays but has not played a complete game performance-wise. Against the Browns, he failed to take advantage of a secondary that was devoid of every starter because of injuries. McVay has cut back on the use of star running back Todd Gurley, who rushed for 97 yards in the opener against the Caroline Panthers but was not much of a factor against the New Orleans Saints or the Cleveland Browns. Tight end Tyler Higbee and right guard Austin Blythe are expected to return to the lineup after sitting out against the Browns because of injuries. The Buccaneers feature edge rusher Shaquil Barrett, who has a league-leading eight sacks. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is no doubt eager to face the team he played for in 2018.
The Rams get another test against a former No. 1 pick in facing Jameis Winston, a big-bodied quarterback with a penchant for throwing longer passes.
When Buccaneers have the ball
Jameis Winston has one of the strongest passing arms in the NFL and has no qualms about airing it out. That could play to a Rams’ secondary eager to swing momentum with interceptions. Winston has completed 60% of his passes, five for touchdowns, with four interceptions. His favorite target is Mike Evans, a 6-foot-5, 231-pound receiver who signed a five-year, $82.5-million contract in March. Evans has 14 receptions, three for touchdowns. Chris Godwin also has 14 receptions and has scored two touchdowns. Godwin sat out most of the week because of a hip injury but practiced Friday and was listed as questionable. Running back Dare Ogunbowale and tight end O.J. Howard are other receiving threats. Former USC running back Ronald Jones struggled as a rookie but is off to strong start this season. Jones is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. The Rams defense has carried the team to its last two victories over the New Orleans Saints and the Cleveland Browns. Linebacker Clay Matthews has four sacks for a unit that waged a game-clinching defensive stand against the Browns and ranks third in the NFL in total defense. Tackle Aaron Donald got his first sack against the Browns. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters will attempt to neutralize Evans.
Double-teams on Aaron Donald have enabled other Rams to thrive. Linebacker Clay Matthews has four sacks; Dante Fowler, two and Michael Brockers, one.
When they kick
Greg Zuerlein has made seven of nine field-goal attempts. He kicked two field goals against the Browns but missed from 48 yards. Punter Johnny Hekker is averaging 46.9 yards per kick. JoJo Natson returns kickoffs and punts. Buccaneers kicker Matt Gay has made seven of nine field-goal attempts but missed the game-winner a week ago. Bradley Pinion averages 43 yards per punt. T.J. Logan returns kickoffs, Bobo Wilson punts.
Gary Klein’s prediction
The mantra from the Rams all week was that the Buccaneers could easily be 3-0. Sure, the Buccaneers might not be as bad as their 1-2 record indicates, but they don’t have enough to defeat the Rams at the Coliseum. The Rams could make it easy on themselves if the offense starts to click consistently.
RAMS 34, BUCCANEERS 20
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