By Tom Krasniqi
The 4-10 Buccaneers hit the road when they visit the 6-8 St. Louis Rams today at 1pm (620 WDAE, 95.3FM, 103.5FM). The Bucs are reeling after a 33-14 blowout loss at home last week to the 49ers. On the other hand, the Rams are coming off their best win of the season—a 27-16 victory over the Saints.
The Bucs offense has hit rock bottom. Last week, they ran a no-huddle offense on two drives to score touchdowns. On 10 other drives, they totaled just 11 yards. Tampa Bay is now last in the NFL in total offense and passing offense. Today, they’ll try and rebound against an opportunistic Rams defense that sacked Saints quarterback Drew Brees four times last week and turnover him over three times. The Rams are led by DE Robert Quinn, who has 15 sacks and 7 forced fumbles on the season. He’ll be matched against Bucs LT Donald Penn, who had a tough time last week against 49ers OLB Aldon Smith. On the other side, DE Chris Long has 6.5 sacks and DT Michael Brockers has 5.5 sacks. The Rams have 42 sacks as a team so pass protection will be paramount for the Bucs. Getting the running game going with Bobby Rainey will also be crucial. The Rams are 12th against the run. If Bucs rookie QB Mike Glennon has time to throw, he might be able to do some damage against the Rams pass defense which ranks 27th in the NFL. Look for the Bucs to get WR Vincent Jackson involved by moving him around the formation. Jackson has topped the 1,000 yard mark for the 5th time in his career. TE Tim Wright has blossomed as a reliable weapon in the passing game as well. The rookie has 45 catches on the season with 4 touchdowns. The Bucs need to do a better job of sustaining drives. They are 6 for their last 35 on 3rd down conversions.
Defensively, the Bucs were on the field for nearly 40 minutes last week against the 49ers. They allowed the 49ers to convert on several key third downs last week. Today, they face a Rams offense that’s led by journeyman QB Kellen Clemens. St. Louis loves to run the football with rookie RB Zac Stacy, who’s had an impressive season. Last week, Stacy rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown in the win over New Orleans. Rookie WR Tavon Austin is questionable with an ankle injury. If he plays, he provides a dynamic big play option on offense and special teams. Bucs LB LaVonte David has 125 tackles and continues to have a superb season that should put him in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year honors. DT Gerald McCoy picked up his 8th sack last season and continues to play dominant football. The Rams offensive line is anchored by LT Jake Long, but McCoy should be able to wreak havoc against LG Chris Williams and C Scott Wells. If the Bucs can slow down Stacy, they have a chance at winning this game because Clemens has shown he can’t beat teams down the field. TE Jared Cook could be a matchup problem down the middle of the field after the Bucs got burned by Vernon Davis last week.
This game could come down to special teams. If Austin suits up, he’s a difference maker. The Bucs had a blunder last week on the ill-fated reverse on the kickoff return which resulted in a 49ers touchdown. Eric Page is on a very short leash.
The Rams lead the all-time series 10-8. Last season, the Rams beat the Bucs 28-13 in the regular season finale. TE Lance Kendricks had an 80-yard TD catch and run in that game. Before that game, the Bucs had won 6 of 7 from the Rams.
Prediction: With two games left, the Bucs are playing for respect and to save head coach Greg Schiano’s job. This figures to be a defensive battle with both offenses struggling to move the ball. Look for the Rams to apply plenty of pressure on Glennon with a defensive touchdown to boot. Rams win 19-10.