Keys to the Game: Tampa Bay

Posted Dec 20, 2013

The Rams will conclude their 2013 home slate of games Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This will be the third meeting between the two teams in the last four years, but will also be Tampa’s first visit to the Edward Jones Dome since 2004. Here are three keys matchups to observe during Sunday’s game.

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).”

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.

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.”