The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs. This week’s topic: What Rams Player Should Worry Bucs The Most?
Scott Reynolds: QB Matthew Stafford
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I know the popular choices are going to be Los Angeles’ All-World defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Pro Bowl wide receiver Cooper Kupp, but to me it all starts with quarterback Matt Stafford. He’s the new trigger man for Sean McVay’s offense. Stafford, who spent his first 12 years in Detroit, was acquired via an offseason trade that sent former Rams QB Jared Goff to the Lions. Stafford has the arm strength and accuracy to push the ball downfield, which was an aspect of McVay’s offense that was missing over the last couple of years.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp – Photo by: USA Today
Still, Goff lit up the Bucs secondary for 517 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s 55-40 win at L.A. in 2019. Last year in a 27-24 Rams win at Raymond James Stadium, Goff passed for 376 yards and three TDs. But Goff threw three picks in 2019, and fumbled, which was returned for a touchdown by defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Last year Goff threw a pair of picks. Stafford only has one interception in two games and isn’t prone to the kind of mistakes Goff was. That makes the Rams tougher to beat.
Stafford’s ability to throw the deep ball is also an edge he has over Goff. Van Jefferson has already caught a 67-yard touchdown, and Cooper Kupp has hauled in a 56-yard pass. With Kupp, Jefferson, Robert Woods and deep threat DeSean Jackson, Stafford has four dangerous wide receivers that can threaten Tampa Bay vertically or horizontally. And tight end Tyler Higbee is also capable of making big plays down the seam. Stafford, who has passed for 599 yards with five TDs, makes the Rams much more formidable this year. The Bucs will have to bring the pressure to slow him down, especially as Tampa Bay has the 30th-ranked pass defense and is down a starter in cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting.
Jon Ledyard: HC Sean McVay
I’m cheating, because this is important. In two games between Rams head coach Sean McVay and Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, Los Angeles has put up 67 points and 931 yards of offense despite Jared Goff’s six total turnovers. McVay has opted to throw the ball a whopping 121 times, while handing it off to running backs just 26 times. In short: he knows how to destroy Bowles’ typical defense up, down and sideways. If Bowles doesn’t change his approach, he’ll get shredded again.
Rams head coach Sean McVay – Photo by: USA Today
Very similar to stopping Sean Payton and Andy Reid in last year’s playoffs, Sunday is a massive opportunity for Bowles to avenge another offensive mind who has cooked him repeatedly. Yes, Cooper Kupp and Matt Stafford are the top two players Tampa Bay will need to limit on Sunday. But none of that will matter if Bowles isn’t better prepared to stop McVay schematically.
This game is a big deal for the Bucs. Players and coaches have said as much in interviews. Bowles is very aware that his unit has not fared well in two match-ups against McVay. I think we will see him pull out a few new wrinkles on Sunday, including more 2-high safety looks. Will it be enough? Can the players execute a different approach with one week of preparation? We’ll see.
Matt Matera: DT Aaron Donald
When you face a Top 5 player in the league, he must be accounted for at all times. Through two games the pass blocking of the Bucs has been okay, but not great. Tom Brady was sacked three times on Sunday and it doesn’t get any easier with Aaron Donald. Granted, some of the hits Brady has taken have come from the outside or due to a missed blocking assignment by the running back, but that all changes this week.
Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photo by: USA Today
The Bucs haven’t been able to establish much of a running game so far. While it causes a bit of a concern, they’ll ultimately rely on their passing game for offensive success anyway. Despite the lack of run production, the Bucs have crushed it in play-action, going 10-14 for 135 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. They will have to hold their blocks a little longer when executing play-action, so Tampa Bay want the same success off play fakes it will need to handle Donald.
Tampa Bay has been scoring 30 points a game despite not playing its best ball. There’s a good chance the Bucs will have to reach that mark again when they head out to Los Angeles. Through two games, Donald has 10 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, four quarterback hits and one sack. It’s just a matter of time before he dominates a game, and for the Bucs’ sake, hopefully that doesn’t take place this week.
JC Allen: WR Cooper Kupp
I know this is an obvious choice, but the last time these two teams met Cooper Kupp did everything a wide receiver can do but score. Kupp reeled in 11 receptions for 145 yards, including some key third down conversions to keep the chains moving. Oh, and that was with an intact secondary. In fact, in two career games against Todd Bowles and this Bucs defense, Kupp has 20 catches on 28 targets for 266 yards and a score.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp and Bucs S Antoine Winfield, Jr. – Photo by: USA Today
This time around not only is Sean Murphy-Bunting out for Week 3, but the health of corners Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis III is somewhat in question. Add in safety Jordan Whitehead, who is still coming back from a training camp injury, and this is a tough task for the Bucs secondary. It doesn’t help the defensive backfield that the Rams upgraded from the mistake-prone Jared Goff, to the big-armed Matthew Stafford.
Davis will likely draw the match-up with Robert Woods, who had 12 receptions, 130 yards and a score last year against the Bucs. That will leave Dean and perhaps the combination of Ross Cockrell and Mike Edwards with the responsibility of covering Kupp. If the trio can’t step up to the challenge, it could be a big night for Kupp once again.
Paul Atwal: QB Matthew Stafford
There’s no question – the Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford combination is frightening. Last year, it was like McVay used a pocket knife to slice and dice the Buccaneers’ defense. Well, he’s back now with a bazooka. After ranking 22nd in passing efficiency last season, only Patrick Mahomes’ Chiefs have thrown the ball more effectively than the Rams thus far in 2021. Stafford has transformed this offense from a fool-proof, plug-and-play attack to an expertly-crafted onslaught in full throttle.
The foundational pieces of the Rams’ offense are still the same: wide zone runs with play action bootlegs off of it. But the post-snap process has changed. In 2020, if the first read wasn’t there, Jared Goff would hit the check down in the flats for a minimal gain. Stafford isn’t interested in that. He’ll read the play out from one, to two, to three. And three isn’t even necessarily a check down – it might be the backside dig for 15 yards. That’s not all. Stafford is already using his eyes to make the primary read open. Eyes over here, sidearm flick over there.
This offense isn’t dependent on McVay playing quarterback through a headset anymore. Alerts are no longer just decorative, either.* Every play, every read, and every throw is available. Further, with the 2021 offseason having been more “normal,” Stafford seems to be fully acclimated to McVay’s system from the jump. I’m definitely not declaring the Rams offense unstoppable – it’s only been two weeks; McVay and Stafford are still tanned from their honeymoon. But yeah, if there’s one guy the Bucs need to worry about in Week 3, it’s No. 9.
*Alerts are routes that are technically not a part of the progression but are meant to be glanced at against specific defensive looks.