The Los Angeles Rams have been known for their offensive prowess in recent seasons, and Tom Brady’s glittering resume is among the best in NFL history.
However, when the Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Rams on Monday night, the club’s defenses could take center stage.
With two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald (nine sacks) leading the way, Los Angeles ranks second in both scoring defense (18.7 points per game) and total defense (296.4 yards per game). The unit also rates third in passing defense (199.7) and fifth in rushing defense (96.8).
While Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians sees a lot of stellar defenders in Rams uniforms, it is Donald who causes the most nightmares.
“Tasmanian Devil,” Arians told reporters of how to best describe Donald. “He is nonstop, great get-off. He has a toolbox of moves that are second to none. He’s a hell of a football player.”
The Buccaneers aren’t too shabby themselves as they lead the NFL in rushing defense (76.6) and rank third in total defense (300.3). Tampa Bay stands eighth in scoring defense (22.6) and ninth in passing defense (223.7).
Jason Paul-Pierre (7.5 sacks) is fueling the defensive charge for Tampa Bay (7-3), which is looking for its fifth win in six games. The contest is the first of three straight home games for the Buccaneers, who play four of their last six games at Raymond James Stadium.
The game is also a crucial one for the Rams (6-3), who are just 2-2 since winning four of their first five.
Los Angeles first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has been highly successful this season but is looking forward to Monday night’s big test.
You see, the 37-year-old Staley was just a teenager when Brady entered the NFL with the New England Patriots in 2000. He said he has envisioned drawing up schemes to confuse Brady for two decades.
“Every day,” Staley told reporters Thursday. “Every day of my life, I’ve been thinking about an opportunity like that.”
Staley will be eyeing a 43-year-old quarterback who doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Brady has passed for 2,739 yards, 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first season on Florida’s west coast, and the Buccaneers rank seventh in the NFL in scoring offense (29.6).
Running back Ronald Jones II is flying high after dashing for a 98-yard touchdown as part of his career-best 192 rushing yards last Sunday in Tampa Bay’s 46-23 win over the Carolina Panthers. Jones ranks third in the NFL with 730 rushing yards.
And, of course, Tampa Bay is loaded at receiver since adding controversial Antonio Brown into the mix with receivers Mike Evans (eight touchdown receptions) and Chris Godwin as well as tight end Rob Gronkowski. Brown caught seven passes for 69 yards last week.
The Rams are just 19th in scoring offense (24.0), but quarterback Jared Goff has notched back-to-back 300-yard passing games. Goff has passed for 2,447 yards and 13 touchdowns against six interceptions.
Los Angeles coach Sean McVay is frustrated that the offense hasn’t been performing as well as the defense. Only once since September have the Rams scored more than 24 points in a game.
“I’ve been so pleased with how our defense has played,” McVay said on ESPN Los Angeles on Thursday. “I’m not going to make any excuses about (the offense). We’re just going to go to work and focus on getting better. We’re getting enough yards but not enough points.”
When the teams met last season in Week 4, the offenses combined for 982 yards as Tampa Bay registered a 55-40 win in Los Angeles.
“We have to play better,” Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “We can’t give up 40 points again.”
Pierre-Paul (knee) was limited in practice but should be good to go on Monday. Guard Ali Marpet (concussion) practiced on Thursday and is hopeful of playing after missing the previous two games.
The Rams lost standout left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) for up to eight weeks last Sunday in a 23-16 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Joe Noteboom will start in his place.
One unique aspect of Monday’s game is that there will be an all-Black officiating crew for the first time in NFL history. The crew will be led by 17-year NFL veteran Jerome Boger.
“Way too long coming,” Arians said. “I know a lot of those guys and they are great officials. … It is a historic night and I think it is fantastic.”
–Field Level Media
After watching the Washington Football Team lose the past three games by double digits, coach Ron Rivera is making a major change.
Rivera benched second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins, demoting him to third string, and named Kyle Allen the starter for Sunday’s game against the visiting Los Angeles Rams. Alex Smith was elevated to No. 2 on the depth chart.
“I’m here to win,” Rivera said Wednesday. “Now’s an opportunity to find out if we can win.”
Haskins was the 15th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft, but Rivera told reporters on Wednesday that he wanted to field a quarterback with a better understanding of the offensive system put in place by Washington (1-3). Allen draws the Rams (3-1) before a stretch of games against NFC East opponents, including a pair against the winless Giants with a visit from the Dallas Cowboys (1-3) in between.
Allen played the past two seasons for Rivera in Carolina, starting 13 games.
Allen got off to a strong start last season after taking over for injured starter Cam Newton in the third game. He threw seven touchdowns with no interceptions and won his first four starts, but he and Carolina faded in the second half, losing their final eight games.
The Rams have a winning record through the first four games for the fifth straight season and can finish 4-0 against the NFC East with a win against Washington.
Los Angeles is coming off a 17-9 win vs. the New York Giants on Sunday. They also beat the Philadelphia Eagles (37-19) on Sept. 20 and the Dallas Cowboys (20-17) in the season opener.
There’s plenty of room for improvement.
“This is nowhere near our best on both sides of the ball,” Rams cornerback Darious Williams said after his late interception sealed the win against the Giants. “I just see a ton of growth happening in these next 12 games.”
The Rams are racking up the airline miles early in the season. Since opening SoFi Stadium in Week 1, they’ve played at Philadelphia and Buffalo and head to Maryland this weekend. They still have trips to Tampa and Miami on the schedule.
Whether cornerback Jalen Ramsey is along for the trip this week is up in the air. The Rams are not planning to share publicly any discipline handed down to Ramsey for the on-field fight with Giants wide receiver Golden Tate after last week’s game. The NFL could still have a word in the matter.
“It was really more along the lines of ‘Let’s be smart. Let’s make sure we don’t let this take away from what we just were able to accomplish as a team,’” Rams head coach Sean McVay said.
Haskins is likely to be inactive when Jared Goff and the Rams visit FedEx Field.
Smith, 36, is a 14-year veteran who started the first 10 games for Washington two years ago before severely breaking his leg on Nov. 18, 2018. He has not been active since.
Haskins was coming off one of his better performances this season, completing 32 of 45 passes for 314 yards in a 31-17 loss to the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. He didn’t throw any touchdowns or commit a turnover. A week earlier, he committed four turnovers in a 34-20 loss to the Cleveland Browns.
“I think our best chance to win is putting the ball in somebody else’s hands,” Rivera said. “I think our best chance to have things done in our offense is in somebody else’s hands. That’s what I’m doing. I’m doing that based on what I’ve seen. I just think right now, this is the decision I’m making.”
Washington second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin seemed in sync with Haskins. They were teammates at Ohio State. McLaurin caught a career-high 10 passes against Baltimore for 118 yards.
McLaurin, fifth in the NFL with 387 receiving yards, missed practice on Wednesday with a thigh injury, but is expected to play Sunday.
McLaurin will likely recognize at least one player in the secondary for the Rams.
Jordan Fuller, a rookie safety from Ohio State, is expected to return after missing Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury.
Los Angeles expects a boost to its strong running game with the return of rookie Cam Akers, a second-round draft pick out of Florida State who missed the past two games with a rib injury.
Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown have split the workload for the Rams, who are seventh in the NFL at 142.3 rushing yards a game. Akers provides another quality option.
Washington is allowing 129.8 rushing yards per game this season.
–Field Level Media