The 6-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a chance to get back to .500 with a win over 4-9 St. Louis Rams on Thursday. What are the six things PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds is looking for in Tampa Bay’s upcoming game? Find out right here in SR’s Pick 6.
Who: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at St. Louis Rams Where: Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, Mo. When: 8:25 p.m. ET – NFL Network Last meeting: 19-17 loss at Tampa Bay in 2014 Series notes: Rams have a 12-8 advantage over Bucs all-time
1. OVERCOME THE INJURIES
Perhaps no phrase has been uttered more this week at One Buccaneer Place than “next man up.” Tampa Bay’s defense has been depleted with injuries over the past month with linebacker Lavonte David battling an ankle injury, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy suffering a broken hand and defensive end Jacquies Smith rehabbing a hamstring injury. McCoy missed the Bucs’ win over the Falcons, but returned to action against the Saints with a cast on and was ineffective. David played well against the Saints and had 11 tackles, while Smith might return on Thursday after missing the last two games. But as fate would have it, the Bucs lost three more starters in Sunday’s 24-17 loss to the Saints. Nose tackle Akeem Spence and middle linebacker Bruce Carter suffered ankle injuries, while wide receiver Vincent Jackson re-injured his knee.
Carter’s injury and Kwon Alexander’s suspension means that Danny Lansanah must move over to the middle from his strongside linebacker role. Orie Lemon will likely replace Lansanah and start at the Sam linebacker spot. Tony McDaniel figures to get the start at nose tackle next to McCoy with Henry Melton and Will Gholston being used for depth. Newly signed Da’Quan Bowers will also get about 15-20 snaps to help shore up the interior of Tampa Bay’s defensive line. At wide receiver, Mike Evans will likely see more double coverage without Jackson, which means the Bucs need to have Donteea Dye and Adam Humphries step up and make a few clutch catches. Advantage: Rams
Rams RB Todd Gurley – Photo by: Getty Images
2. BUCS RUSH DEFENSE MUST RISE TO THE CHALLENGE
Tampa Bay enters Thursday night’s game with the NFL’s seventh-best rushing defense, allowing an average of 94.1 yards per game. But given the fact that the Bucs defensive front seven is so injury-riddled, don’t believe that stat. Tampa Bay couldn’t stop New Orleans’ Tim Hightower when it mattered most – late in the fourth quarter as he picked up 28 of his 85 yards on seven carries as the Saints picked up three first downs and ran the final 4:13 off the clock in New Orleans’ 24-17 win at Raymond James Stadium. What are the Bucs going to do against Rams rookie Todd Gurley?
Gurley, the 6-foot-1, 227-pound brute of a running back, is St. Louis’ first-round pick and he’s the driving force of the Rams offense. With 975 yards and eight touchdowns on 189 carries (5.2 avg.), Gurley helped the Rams snap a five-game losing streak with 140 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries (8.8 avg.) in a 21-14 victory over the Detroit Lions. The Rams have four wins this year, and haven’t won a game in which Gurley hasn’t gone over 100 yards. Gurley has five 100-yard games and if he tops the century mark against the Bucs on Thursday night the Rams may very well be on their way to a 5-8 mark. Advantage: Rams
3. DIAL UP THE DOUBLE-TIGHT FORMATION
The loss of Jackson hurts Tampa Bay’s passing game and puts more pressure on quarterback Jameis Winston and Dye and Humphries, a pair of rookie receivers that have had their ups and downs this season. The key to helping the Bucs rookie quarterback could be in deploying a two-tight end set on the field with Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Cameron Brate as pass catchers.
The Bucs have typically used offensive lineman Kevin Pamphile as an extra tight end on blocking plays to help Doug Martin get to the perimeter, but having Seferian-Jenkins and Brate on the field at the same time gives Winston two viable targets in the passing game as well as the threat of running Martin against the Rams’ base defense. Seferian-Jenkins and Brate aren’t as good at perimeter blocking as Pamphile or Luke Stocker are, but this is a formation that gives the Bucs’ a less predictable run-pass option and sets up Winston to use play action. Advantage: Buccaneers
Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo courtesy of the Bucs
4. WINSTON NEEDS TO WIN THE TOP ROOKIE AWARD IN PRIME TIME
Winston struggled to throw the ball in windy conditions at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, but weather and wind won’t be a factor in St. Louis’ domed stadium. Winston needs to be more accurate and put on a show in his first nationally televised regular season NFL game on Thursday Night Football – not only to help his team win, but to take home the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. That’s an award that you can only win once, and Winston, Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota and Gurley are all in contention.
If Gurley goes off for 150 yards and two more touchdowns against Tampa Bay, that would put him over 1,000 yards with 10 touchdowns on the year, as well as edge him closer to Martin (1,214 yards) and Adrian Peterson (1,251 yards) for the league’s rushing title. Winston could use a multiple touchdown game and to have Martin outgain Gurley to help his cause and stake his claim to the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award. If the Bucs accomplish that they’ll improve to 7-7 and still be in the postseason conversation. Advantage: Buccaneers
5. NO MORE YELLOW
There will already be enough yellow at Edward Jones Dome on Thursday night with the Rams’ garish all-yellow uniforms in the NFL’s latest Color Rush game. The last thing the nation needs to see is more yellow – as in penalties. Last Sunday’s game between Tampa Bay and New Orleans was a flag fest with the Saints getting flagged 12 times and the Bucs charged with eight infractions.
Tampa Bay still leads the league with 125 penalties for 1,027 – an average of nearly 10 per game for 79 yards. The Bucs have the fifth-most penalized player in the NFL at right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who has 10, followed closely by wide receiver Mike Evans and guard Logan Mankins, who each have eight. St. Louis is the fifth-most penalized team with 101 for 857 yards. The less-penalized team on Thursday Night Football should win because of the first rule of football is to not beat yourself. Advantage: Rams
Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photo by: Getty Images
6. DOUBLE-TEAM DONALD
There used to be a day when defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long were the most dangerous pass rushers in St. Louis. Now it’s second-year defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has 11 sacks on the year, including three in last week’s 21-14 win over Detroit. Long and Quinn, who is battling a back injury and hasn’t practiced this week, have seven combined sacks and have to be respected. But Donald needs to get the most serious attention from offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.
Indianapolis got a lot of pressure up the middle in Winston’s face against center Joe Hawley and right guard Evan Smith in a 25-12 loss on the road a few weeks ago, and the Colts’ interior defensive linemen weren’t as talented as Donald is. Ali Marpet is in the lineup at right guard, so that should help Hawley double-team Donald when he is lined up on the right side. If Donald is matched up against aging veteran Logan Mankins, who has lost some quickness, that could spell trouble for Tampa Bay. Advantage: Rams
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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