3TFO: Buccaneers @ Rams, Week 16
A pair of teams winding their seasons down without postseason hope, the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have found their way to securing a handful of recent wins. The Bucs, with all four of their W’s on the season coming in the last six weeks, are looking for a fifth but with one eye on the draft order as their 4-10 record has them in the mix for a Top 3 selection come May.
The Rams, winning three of five coming in, find themselves in more of a purgatory state – not in the playoff race and out of a Top-10 pick as well. Like Tampa Bay, the Rams share a division with a pair of contenders (possibly even three as the Cardinals state their case) and have taken to shape a defense capable of competing.
With pride on the line and a likely defensive lean to the game, here are a few points to focus on:
Stars at Three Levels
You’ll see many of the best defenses the NFL has to offer anchored by top talent at each of the three levels, but the difference between those D’s and the rest of the league isn’t just those key players, it’s the supporting cast that fills out the lineup. The Buccaneers have those important figures in place in the form of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Darrelle Revis, but the players around them haven’t proven to be worthy of even second-tier standing. With McCoy far and away the top-graded player among the league’s NT/DT position group, David the top true 4-3 outside linebacker (setting Von Miller’s hybrid role aside), and Revis leading all corners in overall grade once again, Tampa Bay has a star-caliber trio. Beyond that, though, it’s tough to find impact from anywhere on the defensive roster. Da’Quan Bowers ranks 32nd as a 4-3 end in Pass Rushing Productivity, Adrian Clayborn 41st. Mason Foster is 31st among inside linebackers in Run Stop Percentage. Dashon Goldson grades out as the 84th safety on a list of 88. As has often been the case for Tampa this season, getting something from the rest of the D could be what tips the scales.
Is Stacy Enough?
Coming off of his third 100-yard game of the year – his fifth graded in the green as a runner — rookie running back Zac Stacy may have to carry the Rams’ offense once again. With injured Tavon Austin likely taking his flash to the sideline for the second straight week, tight end Jared Cook being regularly bottled up, and Kellen Clemens proving inconsistent, Stacy’s play could be St. Louis’ hope. His 133 yards and 3.93 Yards After Contact average last week will be the kind of performance the Rams hope he can duplicate. The Buccaneer front doesn’t boast a bevy of run-stopping threats – even as good as McCoy has been in the middle, he finds pass rushing much more of a strong suit – so perhaps Stacy will find room to operate. Mark Barron, though, could factor in as he’s contributed 18 tackles and 11 run stops on the 101 run-play snaps he’s spent lined up as a box safety and, with little else to focus on, expect the Bucs to pour resources like Barron into making sure Stacy isn’t the one that beats them.
The Demar-Davin Dichotomy
Tampa Bay’s right side of the O-line is an interesting situation. At right tackle Demar Dotson is having a career year, currently graded as the top right tackle in the league with a +21.7 mark on 939 snaps with positives across the board. His running mate at right guard, Davin Joseph, however, has outdone all guards (bar Oakland’s Lucas Nix as his season for the ages) in the opposite direction, carrying a -33.6 grade on 913 snaps. As pass blockers, Dotson has surrendered 28 total pressures, while the man to his inside has given up 36 and Dotson’s Top-5 run blocking grade among right tackles weighs against Joseph’s bottom-of-the-barrel mark for guards. With center Jeremy Zuttah’s middling play failing to produce a safety net to bracket Joseph, this week’s matchup with the Rams’ Chris Long-Kendall Langford left side will be an interesting watch.
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