ReFo: Rams @ Buccaneers, Week 16
Tis the season to give, and the St Louis Rams were grateful recipients of that famed Tampa Bay Buccaneers generosity. Batted passes, receivers falling over and ill advised throws by Josh Freeman all contributed to a win that was never really in doubt once Sam Bradford completed his second touchdown pass of the afternoon in the third quarter.
That said they were far from impressive on offense and needed some timely plays from their defense (as well as some timely mistakes from the Bucs) to stay out of reach of a Tampa Bay team looking woefully out of sorts. The saddest thing for Tampa Bay is that inevitable comparison will be drawn with what they did a year ago, yet this wasn’t a game where they dominated or were put to the sword.
Let’s take a look at some of the most noteworthy performances.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
A Coverage Linebacker
It’s easy to see why James Laurinaitis (+4.2) is the only defensive player in the league to have played every snap for his team. Able to play on every down he was all over the field here, making a series of crucial plays. He’s not the type of player to wow you by consistently getting off blocks and making plays, but he has a nose for the ball and drops smoothly when in coverage. His interception with 3:38 to go in the second quarter was a game changing play and he followed that up with another pass break up. Sometimes guys stick out for the mistakes they make but not Laurinaitis clearly wasn’t one today.
The Unanswered Question
Every time I come away from seeing Sam Bradford (-0.6) play I always feel a little disappointed. I’ve seen enough to know he’s capable yet why does he make me think he’ll never lift up to his draft status? He was far from terrible here and did a particularly nice job exploiting the aggressive Bucs for two play action touchdowns. Indeed with 32 quarterbacks assessed so far this week his 53.8% adjusted accuracy percentage is second lowest as his accuracy was once again shaky.
I can’t be the only one asking, in this age of players adapting to the NFL quickly, when Bradford is going to take that next step?
Rookie Cornerbacks Show Up
At times this year both Janoris Jenkins (+1.8) and Trumaine Johnson (+4.6) have looked a little out of their depth. Johnson struggled in the two games he saw his most significant action (Weeks 10 and 12) while Jenkins has developed a knack for giving up as many big plays as he makes.
Well, if yesterday was a glimpse to the future it looks like the Rams are going to be in good hands with both men in the lineup for years to come. Josh Freeman was eager to get after both men and attempted 17 balls combined into the coverage of the pair. Unfortunately for him the result was just seven completions for 75 yards with two picks and a pass break up. Real nice days to build on for 2013.
Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note
I have this theory about Donald Penn (+5.4). When all eyes are on him he ups his game and plays like one of the elite left tackles in the league, swallowing up whichever defensive end comes at him. When the national glare is away from him however he has lapses. Take last week where he helped make Will Smith look like a serviceable defensive end for example.
Well anyway, that theory kind of went out of the window in this one. In a game that wasn’t the most hyped he decided Robert Quinn (or Eugene Sims) was not getting anything on him, and he even made some nice aggressive blocks in the run game. All told he gave up no penalties and not one piece of pressure.
I’m used to hometown scorers building up their leading tacklers (hello Mr. Patriots scorer) so I found myself a little surprised that the Bucs scorer (who was so intent on crediting James Laurinaitis with everything) would only give Lavonte David (+2.4) nine tackles when he actually made 12, with eight of them being for defensive stops.
Still, that shouldn’t take away from another fine performance from a linebacker who is going to make Bucs fans happy for a long time. Showing an ability to not let linemen engage with him, to get off blocks when they do, and knife through traffic at ease, David is like a homing missile with his target the ball and whoever is holding it. On 25.9% of his running plays he was responsible for a defensive stop, once again showcasing his disruptive ability.
So how about that 2009 class of quarterbacks? When the Bucs were winning we weren’t among those buying into the Josh Freeman (-3.2) hype. With the running game struggling to get going and the team forced to play catch up, his flaws have been all too visible.
His decision making is at times ponderous, his accuracy erratic and his chemistry with Mike Williams suggesting something of a turbulent relationship. He threw the ball over 10 yards in the air on 22 occasions yet completed just six of these passes. It was as if he came into the game saying he was going to attack two rookie cornerbacks despite what the coverage was like. His 55.6% completion percentage flattered him and he finds himself in a position where next year is a truly massive year for him.
– Sam Bradford completed only 4-of-12 attempts when he had 2.6 seconds or longer to throw.
– The Rams offensive line gave up just five combined sacks, hits and hurries on 27 passing plays.
– Three of Josh Freemans’ picks came when throwing to Mike Williams. Yet their QB-WR rating was 48.8, better than the 43.2 Freeman had with Vincent Jackson (who he targeted 15 times for only seven receptions and one pick).
If Trumaine Johnson wilted under the attack of Josh Freeman this game would have been very different. He didn’t and the Rams continue to end the season on a high.
Follow Khaled on Twitter: @PFF_Khaled