Rams vs. Buccaneers: 6 key matchups to watch on Sunday

Rams vs. Buccaneers: 6 key matchups to watch on Sunday

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The defending Super Bowl champions will visit SoFi Stadium on Sunday afternoon as the 2-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the undefeated Los Angeles Rams. The Bucs have won 10 straight dating back to last season and look even better than they did a year ago when they won it all, which makes this arguably the toughest game on the Rams’ schedule.

Tom Brady is playing as well as he ever has, the defense continues to dominate against the run and the Bucs’ receiving corps is unmatched talent-wise. The Rams have looked like Super Bowl contenders themselves, but this game presents some difficult matchups.

Here are the six biggest to watch on Sunday afternoon when the Rams and Bucs square off.

Jalen Ramsey vs. Mike Evans

Bruce Arians said this week that he’d be surprised if Ramsey wasn’t on Evans for a majority of the time. The Rams have been moving Ramsey all around the defense so far this season, so he probably won’t shadow Evans, per se, but it makes sense for the Rams to put their All-Pro corner on the big wideout. Darious Williams and David Long Jr. are both smaller corners, which could make it difficult for them to match up with the 6-foot-5 Evans – especially in the red zone when jump balls are so often utilized. The Rams’ plan could be to keep Ramsey in the slot for the most part before moving him outside to Evans on key third downs and red zone plays.

Brian Allen vs. Vita Vea

Allen has held his own so far this season, but he’ll really be tested against arguably the best nose tackle in the league. Vea is powerful, quick and extremely difficult to block, even for the best linemen in the league. He can walk blockers back into the quarterback and make it look easy, which is why this is such a tough matchup for Allen. He’s not the biggest or strongest center so he could have some trouble keeping Vea away from Matthew Stafford, as well as preventing him from making tackles for loss in the running game. The Bucs have a clear edge in this battle.

Andrew Whitworth vs. Jason Pierre-Paul

Pierre-Paul missed the first practice of the week and is considered day-to-day, so he’s not certain to play against the Rams. But assuming he does take the field, he’s a dangerous pass rusher for Tampa Bay despite being held without a sack and with only four pressures this season. Whitworth has allowed three pressures and one sack so far this season but he’s once again been solid at left tackle as he approaches age 40. Shaq Barrett will be a handful for Rob Havenstein on the other side, so it’s paramount for the Rams to protect Stafford from the Bucs’ edge rushers.

Raheem Morris vs. Tom Brady

When you’re facing Brady, it’s always a chess match. Blitzing him is an exercise in futility because he’s going to find his open receiver and pick apart the defense. Rushing three is nonsensical because even with eight defenders dropping back, he has the arm strength and accuracy to fit balls into tight windows. Morris has to come up with a game plan that disrupts the rhythm of Brady and causes him to feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Fortunately, he has a guy named Aaron Donald at his disposal, which is a huge plus. But he can’t beat the Bucs on his own and the Rams need to generate pressure from other sources – like with Leonard Floyd and Justin Hollins.

Rams safeties vs. Rob Gronkowski

When the Buccaneers get into the red zone, they’re a nightmare to defend. Brady is excellent in the red area, and it helps that he has the likes of Evans, Gronk, Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown at his disposal. When it comes to Gronk, the Rams must keep him out of the end zone. He’s scored two touchdowns in each of the first two games this year, feasting on smaller defenders around the end zone. Taylor Rap and Jordan Fuller will be asked to cover him on Sunday, as will Kenny Young and Troy Reeder, most likely, but it’s the safeties who have to prevent Gronk from having a big game. With all the receivers L.A. has to account for, it’s easy to forget how important Gronk is and the chemistry that he has with Brady.

Leonard Floyd vs. Tristan Wirfs

Floyd sat out Wednesday’s practice with an ankle injury, which came as a surprise. There was no indication that he got hurt against the Colts, so hopefully this is just a precaution. Wirfs has allowed five pressures in two games and has a pass-block grade of 66.0, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the worst of any Bucs lineman, while his 48.4 run-block grade is also the lowest on the team. Floyd was almost unstoppable against Julien Davenport last week and while there’s no doubt Wirfs is a much better player, this is still a game that Floyd can impact as a pass rusher by pressuring Brady. With Donald wreaking havoc on the interior, Floyd should have at least a few shots to sack the less-than-mobile Brady.

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