Keys to the Game Revisited: Tampa Bay

Posted Dec 23, 2013

The Rams produced their fifth home win of the season with a 23-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, matching the franchise’s best home record since 2003. Here’s how they fared in three key areas highlighted this weekend.

Rams Receivers vs. Tampa Bay Secondary

Success in this area could prove much easier said than done against one of the league’s best at creating turnovers through the air. Despite entering Sunday with a record of 4-10, the Buccaneers have intercepted 21 passes, second-most in the NFL. They also allow just 6.2 yards per pass play, which ranks   Rams QB Kellen Clemens has been particularly effective in protecting the football in recent weeks, as he has thrown just five interceptions all season, including only three in his last six starts. He will receive what may be his best test through the air this year come Sunday.

“It’s a very good defense,” said Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. “I think it starts up front. Obviously, you’ve got (DE Adrian) Clayborn, (DT Gerald) McCoy. They fit those guys in there with those linebackers. I think Lavonte David is one of the best young linebackers in the league. I know he leads the team in tackles, I think he leads in interceptions, and second in sacks. So, the front seven’s excellent. Then of course, you’ve got those two safeties with (Mark) Barron and (Dashon) Goldson. And of course, I’m pretty familiar with (CB) Darrelle (Revis).”

The Answer: While Clemens passed for just 158 yards on Sunday, he did establish a new career-best completion rate of 80 percent, on 16-of-20 passing. Rookie WR Stedman Bailey proved the most impactful of the Rams receivers, nabbing three catches for 44 yards, including a 28-yard grab on 3rd-and-10 to move the Rams into the red zone in the second quarter. Bailey’s best work, however, came in the running game, as he ran a double reverse near the far sideline for a 27-yard touchdown run, the first scoring play of his NFL career. The play call was one the Rams had prepped all week for, according to Bailey.

“I felt like it was a pretty good play all week,” Bailey said. “We’ve been practicing it and I felt like we had a pretty good chance for it to be an explosive play, but it actually was open for me to just walk into the end zone. It was a great call.”

The Key: Rams Coverage units vs. Buccaneers Return Team

With the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense, Tampa has relied heavily on its return teams for favorable field position. The Buccaneers rank fifth in the NFC with 23.9 yards per kickoff return. Their 11.2 yards per punt return is also fifth-best in the NFC. Conversely, kick coverage has been a strength for the Rams all year. K Greg Zuerlein has drawn touchbacks on 63.8 percent of his kickoffs this season, the sixth-highest rate in the NFL. P Johnny Hekker has also posted a banner year in his second NFL season, leading the NFL with a net punting average of 43.8 yards.

The Answer:

On a day when RB Zac Stacy ran for 104 yards and the Rams piled up seven sacks, the performance of the Rams’ kicking and coverage teams went largely overlooked. Tampa’s return game was essentially rendered inactive Sunday, as Zuerlein recorded touchbacks on each of his six kickoffs. P Johnny Hekker did not allow a single return on his two punts, averaging 44 net yards per punt. The success in the kicking game provided the Rams a large advantage in field position throughout the game. The Buccaneers’ average starting field position was their own 22-yard line, while the Rams’ average start was their own 42.

The Key: Rams Pass Rush vs. Buccaneers Offensive Line

Entering Sunday, the Buccaneers have allowed 38 sacks, the sixth-most in the NFC, despite dropping back for the sixth-fewest passes in the league. Sunday, they’ll face one of the league’s best four-man fronts against the pass, as Rams defensive linemen have combined for 38 of the team’s 42 sacks on the season.

The unit is led by DE Robert Quinn, who enters the week leading the NFC with 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles. Buccaneers Head Coach Greg Schiano weighed in on Quinn’s ability to alter a game during his Wednesday conference call with St. Louis media.

“You’re not going to stop him the way he’s playing right now,” Schiano said, “But certainly we’d like to make sure he doesn’t take over the game.”

The Answer:

For all intents and purposes, Quinn and the rest of the Rams’ front seven did take over the game. Quinn finished the afternoon with three of the Rams’ seven sacks, equaling a team-best set against Seattle on October 28. The seven sacks came on just 33 drop-backs from Glennon on the day, who completed 16 of 26 passes for 158 yards, his third-lowest passing yardage total on the season.

Aside from piecing together a couple early drives through the air, Glennon remained on the move for the majority of the afternoon.

S T.J. McDonald collected his first NFL sack near the Buccaneers goal line, narrowly missing his first career safety. Linebackers James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree combined for two sacks and two forced fumbles.