Assessing the three months since the two teams last played each other, Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians sees three variables that stand out about the Rams: New personnel additions, running the ball more and a defense playing as good as any unit in the NFL.
All of which is on his mind as Tampa Bay prepares to host Los Angeles on Sunday (12 p.m. pacific time; NBC, Peacock, Universo) in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
One of the (sort of) new pieces for the Rams added since that last meeting is running back Cam Akers, who returned from his torn Achilles injury in less than six months. He had 17 carries for 55 yards, plus a 40-yard reception, for 95 total yards in Los Angeles' Wild Card victory over the Arizona Cardinals Monday night.
"He can probably rehab a hell of a lot harder than I can," said Arians, who is dealing with his own Achilles issues. "It is amazing, sports science, what's going on in the world today, people coming back from ACLs in six months and Achilles (injuries), and things that were 16 months two years ago. I think it's just going to get better. With the things that we're inventing and different ways doctors are doing it, sports science amazes me. I wish I could do it."
Prior to Akers' return, the Rams lost wide receiver Robert Woods to a torn ACL the same week they signed wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. They also acquired outside linebacker Von Miller in a trade.
Between the regular season and playoffs, Beckham has scored six touchdowns in nine games as a Ram, while Miller has recorded at least one sack in five consecutive games.
All of that, of course, is in addition to a pass rush led by defensive lineman Aaron Donald and a passing offense with wide receiver and NFL triple crown winner Cooper Kupp as its most productive target.
"He's one of the best," Arians said of Kupp, who had nine catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns in Week 3. "I think he and (Bucs wide receiver) Chris Godwin, to me, are the best all-around receivers in the league because they block, they do everything – inside, outside. They're very comparable, and you know how I think about Chris. Cooper, he's a challenge. You can't double team him all day, that's for sure – they have too many other weapons. You just have to own up your guy and fight him. He's a hard tackle just like Chris is."
Given the rate at which Miller, Donald, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, defensive lineman Greg Gaines and others along the Rams' defensive front are putting pressure on the quarterback, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady's well-known quick release on throws becomes more important, especially with starting offensive linemen Ryan Jensen and Tristan Wirfs' statuses uncertain for Sunday.
"It helps a bunch, because they're going to be there sooner or later," Arians said. "That's for sure. You can only hold them out so long. You still gotta take some shots down the field. I mean, everything's not going to be dink-and-dunk. You just have to maximize how you're doing it and who you're blocking and who's got who. They're doing a good job. They bring five a lot so it's hard to double-team anybody."