It’ll be special if the Rams (6-3) and Buccaneers (7-3) somehow top the 95 points and 982 total yards they combined for in Week 4 a year ago. But tempered hopes for a statistical explosion aside, the potential for another classic is there given the talent involved.
Both teams differ in several key ways from 2019, but one way they’ve remained the same is in the amount of disruptors that’ll be looking to make a statement on Monday Night Football.
Here are four storylines to watch for when the Rams and Bucs clash on MNF (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN):
Will L.A. succeed if it gets a first-half lead?
Since 2017, Sean McVay’s Rams have been the standard for what it means to “start fast,” going 31-0 when leading at halftime. Five of their six wins in 2020 have come after taking a lead into the second half. On the flip side, all of L.A.’s losses have come after it found itself trailing early. For the Rams’ run-heavy offense, facing the NFL’s top-ranked run defense might translate to a heavier dose of Jared Goff, who’s been efficient with fewer pass attempts, to avoid falling behind early. And, should Goff be put into that position, L.A. must convert scoring opportunities which it’s struggled to do. Their 24.0 PPG are the second-fewest, behind the Eagles’ 22.6, among NFC teams currently in the playoff picture. This Bucs squad likes to score in bunches, though, so it’d be a great time for Goff to repeat the effort he gave in last year’s shootout when he set career highs in completions (45), attempts (68) and yards (517). Only, with a different outcome this go around.
Are the Bucs due for a prime-time turnaround?
When it comes to performing in prime time, the Bucs have played as if they’ve had a bit of stage fright. In every other setting, Tampa has been dominant, scoring 28 or more in six of its wins and limiting opponents to less than 300 total yards on three of those occasions. But, with the lights at their brightest, the Bucs are 1-2, their lone win coming in a much tighter-than-expected Week 8 MNF game versus the lowly Giants. The first of the Ls came six weeks ago in Chicago, the site of Tom Brady’s “fourth down?” blooper. The second occurred three Sundays ago at the merciless hands of the Saints. They were held to under 25 points in both defeats. Brady’s struggles have been a recurring theme in each marquee matchup. He has posted some of his lowest prime-time numbers in years, including completion rate (63.0), passer rating (78.4) and pass YPG (247.0). You can rest assured that Brady and his super offense, appearing in only their third game together, will do everything in their power to make up for those shortcomings.
Who will hold up better against pressure? Brady…
Here’s a fun fact from NFL Research: Of all the QBs Aaron Donald has faced multiple times, Brady is the only one against whom he’s failed to register a sack or a win. Granted, MNF will be only the third time the two have shared a field but it’s scary to think that the guy TB12 will see this time is even scarier than the one he saw in 2016 and Super Bowl LIII. Pass rushers have broken through Tampa Bay’s front a little more frequently in Weeks 8-10 so the O-line, which will be without Ali Marpet (concussion) for a third straight game, better be ready for Donald, his demolition brother Leonard Floyd and the Rams frontline. Same goes for Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette. The Bucs’ ability to run like a well-oiled machine will depend on those guys and, of course, if Brady has a clean pocket to step up in. The veteran admitted last Friday that improving his deep ball is among his priorities. It’ll certainly be fascinating to see if that process can begin with Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams lurking nearby.
Jason Pierre-Paul, Ndamukong Suh and a plethora of versatile linebackers await Goff and an O-line that will be without leader Andrew Whitworth (knee) for the first time since 2017. The sample size for Goff’s production without Whitworth in the lineup is obviously small but it’s no secret that losing a multi-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl talent hurts any unit. Among 33 qualified QBs, Goff is among the worst against pressure; Next Gen Stats ranks him bottom-five in completion rate (36.8) and passer rating (37.1). As fate would have it, Tampa ranked second in sacks (32) and QB pressures (120) entering Week 11. Goff improving his 1-3 TD-INT ratio when under duress will be tough against a young secondary that features Carlton Davis who, like Williams, is one of just five corners with four or more picks this season.
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