The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked impressive in their first defense of their Super Bowl championship with a convincing 31-15 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild card round last week. This week's opponent will present a much tougher challenge.
The Los Angeles Rams are coming off a convincing win of their own over the Arizona Cardinals and have already defeated the Buccaneers this season. Tom Brady threw for 432 yards, but was also the Buccaneers leading rusher with 14 yards -- not exactly a recipe for success. Matthew Stafford threw for 343 yards and four touchdowns in that Week 3 matchup, which the Rams built a 14 point second half lead and held on for a 34-24 victory. The Buccaneers defense allowed a season worst 6.5 yards per play, four passing touchdowns, and allowed the Rams to finish 10 of 15 on third down.
The 34 points allowed were the second-most by Tampa Bay all season and was just one of three games which the Buccaneers didn't force a turnover (the other two games were against New Orleans). Tampa Bay went 0-3 in those games which it didn't force a turnover.
How do the Buccaneers avenge the early season loss to the Rams and get back to the NFC Championship Game? There's a formula toward beating the Rams in the divisional round.
Tom Brady should have a lot of passing yards
Brady has his case for MVP of the league this season, finishing his 2021 campaign completing 67.5% of his passes for 5,316 yards with 43 touchdowns and 12 interceptions (102.1 passer rating). Brady was the first player since Peyton Manning in 2013 -- and just the third player since 1991 (Drew Brees is the other, in 2008) -- to lead the league in completions (485), attempts (719), passing yards (5,316), and passing touchdowns (43).
Brady already has the most passing yards (12,720) in playoff history, having an opportunity to significantly improve that total against a Rams defense that allows a lot of passing yards. Los Angeles has allowed 4,435 passing yards this season (ninth-most in the NFL) and 414 completions (fourth-most in league), an easy opportunity for Brady and the Buccaneers can drive down the field.
Scoring in the red zone will be the challenge for Brady, as the Rams pass defense has allowed just 16 touchdowns and forced opposing quarterbacks to throw 19 interceptions. The 16 pass touchdowns are the second fewest in the league while the 19 interceptions are tied for the fourth most. If Brady doesn't force feed his receivers in the red zone and takes care of the football. The Rams could be in for a long afternoon.
The wide receiver effect
The Buccaneers will be down Chris Godwin (out for season) and Breshad Perriman (hip) at wide receiver for Sunday's game, yet they still should be able to take full advantage of a Rams secondary that allows a lot of yards to wide receivers. Los Angeles has allowed 240 receptions (third-most in NFL) to wide receivers and 2,950 receiving yards (fourth-most in league) -- an opportunity for Mike Evans and Cyril Grayson to take over the game.
Evans had a season-high in receptions (nine) and receiving yards (117) in Sunday's win over the Eagles, and his 15 receiving touchdowns this year (including playoffs) are the third-most by a player from Brady in a season. Grayson will be relied upon to catch the deep ball (assuming he plays, listed as questionable for the game with a hamstring injury) while Tyler Johnson and Scott Miller should have the underneath routes covered.
With the Buccaneers allowing the fewest pressures in the NFL this season (tristan Wirfs is also questionable with an ankle injury), Brady will have time to get in his spot and hit his receivers. Evans and company have an opportunity to take over the game with all the targets and extra receiving yards they can get once the ball gets in their hands.
Return of Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul
The Philadelphia Eagles arguably have the best offensive line in football, yet Barrett and Pierre-Paul were able to make an impact in their return from injury in the wild card round. Barrett had an interception on fourth down in the win while Pierre-Paul had two pressures for Tampa Bay, making an impact for a Buccaneers defense that held the Eagles to zero points through three quarters.
Barrett plays on both sides of the line, so Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein will be tested against him throughout the afternoon. Barrett finished with 75 pressures, 22 quarterback hits, and 10 sacks on the year -- a true impact player on Tampa Bay's defense. Pierre-Paul had just 2.5 sacks and five quarterback hits in an injury-plagued year -- and didn't play in the Week 3 loss to the Rams. His presence on the edge will draw some attention off Barrett and Vita Vea in the middle.
The Rams offensive line allowed just 172 pressures this year (fifth fewest in NFL) and the 26.8% of pressures allowed was the third-best in the league. The Buccaneers had the most pressures in the league with 272, and are at their best with Barrett and Pierre-Paul on the edge. The Rams will certainly be tested through four quarters, which will play into the Buccaneers hands as the game rolls on.