Offense at a premium as Rams and Buccaneers meet in playoff rematch
The Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers meet in Week 9 in a matchup between two preseason NFC favourites who have spectacularly failed to live up to expectations.
Los Angeles and Tampa Bay produced a thrilling NFC Divisional Round playoff game last season, the Rams prevailing in overtime following a furious Bucs comeback en route to winning Super Bowl LVI.
Such excitement has been thin on the ground for both teams in 2022. They are a combined 6-9, with both of their offenses enduring significant struggles.
Last week, the Rams (3-4) were thrashed 31-14 by their NFC West rivals the San Francisco 49ers, who completed a fourth successive regular-season sweep of Los Angeles.
That defeat marked the fourth time this season the Rams have scored 14 or fewer points and lost by double-digits. From 2017 through 2021 (head coach Sean McVay’s tenure prior to this season), they had six such games. Five of those 10 games have been against San Francisco.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 187 yards on 33 attempts against San Francisco. It was the 11th time in his career that he has thrown the ball at least 30 times and finished with fewer than 200 passing yards. His teams are 2-9 in those games.
Stafford averaged 4.71 air yards per attempt in the loss to the 49ers, the Rams' offense relying largely on the screen pass and rendered impotent in the second half after San Francisco succeeded in taking that away.
Los Angeles' lack of counterpunches when the Rams cannot get the ball to Cooper Kupp should offer the Tampa Bay defense, which is allowing the fourth-fewest yards per pass play (5.7) in the NFL, confidence it can contain Stafford and Co. as the 49ers did.
The Rams' distinct lack of a running game -- Los Angeles' run success rate of 24.3 per cent is by far the worst in the league -- will only further Tampa Bay's confidence in that regard, and the Buccaneers appeared closer to solving their problems on offense in Week 8.
Though the Buccaneers (3-5) lost for the third consecutive game, suffering a 27-22 defeat to the Baltimore Ravens, Tom Brady threw for 325 yards and zero interceptions. In his career, he is 54-7 when throwing 300 yards and no interceptions but is 1-2 in such games this season.
Still, Tampa Bay's three-game losing streak is their longest such run since the Buccaneers lost four in a row between Week 5 and Week 9 in 2019. In addition, they have scored 28 points just once this season, in a 41-31 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Bucs were 12-0 when reaching that mark last season.
Both offenses appear likely to face plenty of third-and-long situations, and it may be the offense that does a better job of overcoming them that comes out on top.
The Buccaneers are five of 50 (10 per cent) on third down with six or more yards to go. That percentage ranks last in the NFL. The Rams' 17.5 per cent mark (7-for-40) is 28th in the NFL. Last season, the Rams were third at 35.0 per cent while the Bucs were 12th at 25.6 per cent.
It's a tale of two offenses experiencing a substantial downturn, but neither team is dead in the water, with the Buccaneers one game out of the NFC South lead and the Rams a game back in the loss column in the NFC West, which is led by the 5-3 Seattle Seahawks.
But time is running out for these teams to right their respective ships, and the loser of this game will be at significant risk of sinking out of contention even in an open NFC.