Pat Higgins

The Bucs and Rams will square off on Sunday in what could be an NFC Championship preview.

This Week 3 matchup of two of the NFC’s most complete rosters has the makings of a shootout at SoFi stadium. The Rams and Bucs rank 5 and 6 in offensive DVOA and feature passing attacks that rank 7 and 5 in passing yards per game, respectively.

Neither team has had much success establishing the run game through the first two weeks of the season, relying heavily on the passing game to move the ball and score points. The Rams rank 25 in the league in rush yards per game with just 88 through 2 games, while the Bucs have struggled even more to establish a ground game, ranking 30th in the league with just 67 yards on average from Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones.

The Rams are thin at running back after losing Cam Akers for the season to an Achilles injury, while Darrell Henderson is dealing with a rib cartilage injury he suffered in the Week 2 matchup with the Colts. Akers’ injury forced the Rams to trade for Sony Michel late in the preseason. When you compound the Rams’ lack of depth in the run game with the Bucs’ success in stopping the run (#2 in the league in run defense, 58 yards / game) and lack of success in pass defense (#30 in the league in pass defense, 342 yards / game), the Rams are likely going to move the ball through the air throughout the game against Tampa.

Dallas threw the ball 58 times against Tampa in Week 1, while Atlanta threw the ball 48 times in Week 2. Both totals are an indication of opponents’ hesitation to attack the Bucs’ on the ground and rather with volume in the passing game.

On the opposite side of the ball, the Bucs are facing a Rams’ secondary that is going to offer a much bigger challenge than Dallas and Atlanta provided in Weeks 1 and 2. The Rams held Brady to just 216 yards on 26-48 (54%) passing alongside 2 TD’s and 2 INT’s in Week 11 of 2020. In total, the Rams posted just 251 yards of offense and 3.7 yards per play at home against the Rams in that matchup. Meanwhile, Jared Goff had one of his best performances of the season, passing for 376 yards and 3 TD’s on 39-51 passing, leading the Rams to a 27-24 victory on the road.

Carlton Davis said this week that the Rams got a “bigger arm and a deep ball” when they swapped Jared Goff for Stafford in the offseason. Despite Goff’s issues against pressure and pushing the ball down field, he targeted Davis a total of 21 times in his two meetings with the Bucs in 2019 and 2020, completing 15 of those passes for 201 yards.

Sean McVay is known for his ability to isolate specific matchups on the defensive side of the ball. The Rams will likely attack Carlton Davis and Ross Cockrell with Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson. Kupp is off to a hot start in 2021 with a clear connection with Stafford – he’s racked up 16 catches on 21 targets for 271 yards and 3 TD’s through two weeks. He’s also racked up 146 yards after the catch, underlining McVay’s ability to use play action to get him open in space.

The Bucs are the second most penalized team in the league in 2021, with 190 yards of penalties through two games. They’ve also turned the ball over 5 times. The Rams are the second least penalized team in 2021 and have turned the ball over just once. This game is likely going to be one of the best of the weekend and will be won with attention to detail. Given the Rams’ balance on both sides of the ball, ability to avoid mistakes and turnovers and McVay’s tendency to isolate specific matchups against opposing defenses, I like the Rams to win this one and like them even more as a leg on a teaser, taking the +1 / +1.5 up to +7 / +7.5.