NFL fans are in for a treat on Sunday as the 2-0 Bucs take on the 2-0 Rams in Los Angeles in a potential NFC Championship Game preview. Defensively, Tampa Bay has two players on the Rams offense they are most focused on – quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
Los Angeles traded for Stafford this offseason and it has paid off quite well through two games. He’s completed 69 percent of his passes while throwing for 599 yards and five touchdowns. The Rams were looking for an upgrade at quarterback to replace Jared Goff and the experienced Stafford has been a perfect fit.
Rams WR Cooper Kupp – Photo by: USA Today
“Matt’s got a high IQ,” Bruce Arians said. “He can spit the football out. He’s just got so much experience versus every coverage. Now, what did we call it, what do you call it? You get through that pretty quickly. So yeah, I think he’s one of the few guys – I know I’ve said it in the past – I like going out and watching warm up because he’s got such a tremendous arm and I have a ton of respect for him.”
Stafford has been an upgrade for the Rams, especially due to his ability to throw the deep ball. But outside of who’s playing quarterback, the Los Angeles offense has remained the same.
“He’s got a little more experience,” defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “But offensively, I don’t think they’ve changed what they’re doing. He makes the same decisions. They got some more wideouts in, and they’re doing things a lot crisper right now. They’re playing good football. He’s been a good quarterback for a long time. Not that (Jared) Goff isn’t, but [Stafford] just brings more experience so he sees things quicker.”
“Yeah, he likes to take shots,” said safety Mike Edwards. “Especially in the opening series. He likes to take shots and keep the defense on their toes. So we’ve got to be ready for that, keep everything in front of us and limit their explosive plays.”
Then there’s the situation with wide receiver Cooper Kupp. He’s had a great start to the year with 271 receiving yards, third most in the NFL, as well as three touchdowns. As one of Stafford’s top targets on Sunday, Kupp will be the primary weapon the Bucs must account for.
“He’s a good route-runner,” Edwards said. “He runs a lot of option routes. He’s real shifty and he can run after the catch. So, we’ve got to do a good job of tackling and get him to the ground when he does catch the ball. But we’ve got to limit those explosive plays and limit his choice of route-running. We’ll be good.”
So how will the Bucs stop Kupp? Cornerback Carlton Davis will be relying on the man who calls their defensive plays.
Bucs OLB Joe Tryon – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
“Just by playing the defense that [Todd] Bowles has us playing,” Davis said. “He has a good scheme, not just for Cooper Kupp, but just for the whole offense in general. Bowles is great at what he does, so as long as we believe and execute the plan, I think we will be good.”
“I feel comfortable that he’s gotten a lot of reps and he’s been here from day one along with Nelson,” Bowles said. “So if we have guys that have to play in case somebody can’t play, we feel comfortable putting anybody in whether they’re rookies or vets.”
It’s a lot to ask a rookie in his third career game to play a huge role, but that’s exactly what Tampa Bay has preached to everyone. That starts with leaders on this defense such as Ndamukong Suh.
“Honestly [the defense] shouldn’t lose anything (with Pierre-Paul out),” Suh said. “We expect Joe to step up. It’s something that we’ve talked about all the time. At any point during the season, we’re going to have to have a young guy, or somebody that’s technically a backup to start the season, to be a starter and play in a role that’s expected for them to have no drop off. At the end of the day we’re definitely going to miss JPP if he’s not playing. But we expect guys to step up and fill that role.”