THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – For a team with high standards and high expectations both internally and externally, there is no better opportunity to measure where they stand than an early-season matchup against the defending Super Bowl champions.
That's what's in front of the Rams this weekend when they host the Buccaneers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium (1:25 p.m. pacific time, FOX).
"It's an amazing opportunity," Rams defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said earlier this week. "Amazing, amazing team. Great offense, their defense, very well balanced, and obviously they have an amazing quarterback, a future Hall of Fame quarterback (in Tom Brady). It's gonna be an awesome challenge for sure."
Part of the reason that's the case: The amount of carryover from last year's championship squad for Tampa Bay.
Normally there is natural attrition on a Super Bowl-winning roster the ensuing offseason, but after re-signing running back Leonard Fournette on March 31, the Bucs became the first Super Bowl-winner in the salary cap era (since 1994) to return all 22 of their starters the following year, according to ESPN's Field Yates.
Collectively, that personnel contributed to the NFL's No. 7 total offense (384.1 yards per game) and No. 6 total defense (327.1 yards allowed per game). Within that production, the Bucs had the league's No. 2 passing offense at 289.1 yards per game, and allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league at 80.6 per game.
The Bucs and the Rams met in Week 11 last year, a 27-24 Rams win in Tampa sparked by big games from wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp and then-rookie safety Jordan Fuller's pair of interceptions.
"I feel like we know it's a great challenge just from playing them last year," Rams head coach Sean McVay said earlier this week. "But it's our third game and it's an important game because it's our next game. Obviously, they've been playing incredible football for their first two games this year. They finished on an amazing streak. Really, we're going to be worried about doing a great job with our process and getting ready to try and do everything we can to come away with the result that we want."
Tampa Bay last year accomplished what Los Angeles will be looking to achieve this year: Winning a Super Bowl on their home turf.
"For us to just go out and compete, high-caliber game, all four quarters, I know the guys are looking forward to it, I know we're all looking forward to it, just to go up and compete against the highest level," Rams wide receiver Robert Woods said Monday.
Others Rams players like quarterback Matthew Stafford recognize the moment but are also treating this like any other game.
"Is Tampa playing as good of football as anybody right now? Absolutely," Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said Wednesday. "Are they a really talented team, Super Bowl champs, all those things? Absolutely. So, it'll be a big test for us. But every time we go out there, whether it's a Wednesday practice or Sunday, it's a measuring stick for us when we've got to go out there and prove it every time."
Wide receiver Cooper Kupp, meanwhile is focused on the present.
"This is 2021. They're an incredible football team," Kupp said Wednesday. "They were an incredible team last year, but 2021, they're a great football team and that's what it is. It's a great opportunity to go against a really good football team, good outfit across the board – offense, defense, special teams – and we were excited about that challenge."