Rams-Buccaneers: How St. Louis Will Win in Week 7
Great bounce-back week for the Rams in Week 6!
With a strong showing and victory against San Diego, the Rams moved past the debacle in Detroit and kept pace in the NFC West.
At this point in the season, some truths are emerging:
* The Rams have a good defense that can pressure opposing passers with consistency.
* Sam Bradford, though still a rookie getting on-the-job training, must be accounted for or he can burn you.
* The combination of Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola, Mardy Gilyard and Story of the Week Candidate Danario Alexander might just be enough to get the Rams through this season.
* Steven Jackson is still a beast.
Rams fans should not get too far ahead of themselves, but the optimism is unavoidable and undeniable.
When was the last time the Rams were approaching the middle of the season and still looking at the division standings?
When was the last time the Rams could seriously think about the playoffs?
When was the last time the Rams were so clearly a "team on the rise?"
The Reality Police might caution that rough times (with a bear of a second half schedule) might still be ahead. But for Rams fans today, there is anticipation without fear.
So can the Rams keep the run going in Tampa?
Let's take a look at the matchup.
The Story: On the Road Again...
The Rams started the year with a list of hurdles.
Some have been cleared.
Win a game (Week 3 vs. Washington).
Win a division game (Week 4 vs. Seattle).
Beat a 2009 playoff team (Week 6 vs. San Diego).
A big hurdle remains: Win a road game.
Tampa could be a good place to get that first road win.
The Bucs certainly don't have an "aura of invincibility" at home (currently they are 1-2 in Tampa).
The crowd noise at Raymond James Stadium is average.
The weather should be perfect.
The Bucs are beatable.
The Subplot: Big 12 Rivalry Renewed
Two years ago, two young QBs battled in a matchup of high-powered offenses.
Josh Freeman, the field general of K-State, threw for 478 yards and three TD passes (and three interceptions).
Sam Bradford, the future Heisman winner, contributed 255 yards and three TD passes (0 interceptions) and a TD run.
The Sooners won the shootout, 58-35.
Fast forward to 2010, and these Big 12 rivals are now starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Freeman has developed nicely and become an efficient, if not particularly prolific, passer.
Bradford has hit the ground running and quickly earned the praise of his opponents.
While I believe Bradford has far more upside, this weekend the two are both young QBs trying to get to the next level.
It should be fun to watch the first of what may be several matchups between these two players over the next decade.
The Key Matchup: Bucs Defensive Line Vs. Rams Offensive Line
Bradford's old teammate Gerald McCoy was, along with second-year man Roy Miller and fellow rookie Brian Price, supposed to bring back the glory days of the Tampa defense.
So far, it has not happened.
The Bucs are dead last in two key statistical categories: yards/carry allowed and sacks.
If those trends continue, the Rams offense should have a very good day.
Expect the Rams to give the ball to Steven Jackson early and often. Jackson is over his groin injury and coming off an impressive (particularly the last drive) performance against the Chargers.
Likewise, if the run is working and Tampa can't pressure Bradford, Sam should find his comfort zone and make plays down the field.
The Rams' offensive line has been fairly effective, opening a reasonable number of holes for Jackson and keeping Bradford's jersey relatively clean.
Look for the Rams to make effective use of play action passes this week, as the threat of Jackson will be ever-present.
The Forecast: Rams 27, Bucs 16
I like this matchup for St. Louis.
I think the team will understand the importance of getting its first road win, and they should be able to take advantage of Tampa's weaknesses.
Steven Jackson will have his third consecutive 100-plus-yard rushing performance.
Sam Bradford will be efficient and make one or two big plays off the play-action pass.
The Bucs will continue to have trouble running the ball effectively, which will play into the Rams' blitz schemes on 3rd-and-long.
The Rams' defense will force at least two fumbles, likely on hits by the secondary on the Bucs WRs.
The Rams will get out in front early and never look back.
That's how I see it.