Feels like a must win game? A game with an uncertain outcome? Well, that’s because it is. The St. Louis Rams are surging and soaring after a 20-17 victory over the San Diego Chargers. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reeling after getting crushed by the New Orleans Saints. On paper, the Bucs should win easily, but momentum is not on their side. Unfortunately, with four of the next five games being on the road, pressure is. Here are the keys to this match-up:
- Can the Bucs defense stop Steven Jackson (a.k.a Busta Rhymes)?- The more appropriate question is “can they slow him down”? Jackson is coming off two straight 100-yard games and is fifth in the NFL with 507 yards. During that same stretch, the Bucs gave up 100-yard performances to Rashard Mendenhall (understandable), Cedric Benson (reasonable), and Chris Ivory (who?). If they can’t, at least, slow him down (as a runner and receiver), rookie quarterback Sam Bradford will have the time to utilize his accurate arm to get the ball to his receivers.
- Can the Bucs get to Bradford?- His fellow Sooner alum Gerald McCoy wasn’t allowed to hit him in college. Well, he better rock him today. The Bucs have four sacks this season and Bradford has shown that if he has time, he can be effective. He doesn’t show the nerves that a lot of rookie quarterbacks show. That’s why it’s imperative that the Bucs get to him early and often. If they can make him uncomfortable, they may be able to take the passing game out of the equation and more effectively stop Jackson and the passing game.
- Can the Bucs get enough from the running game?- They haven’t yet. And even though it’s the Rams, a good running game will be critical. The Rams are tied for sixth in the NFL with 17 sacks. They can get to the quarterback. If they think the Bucs aren’t a threat to run (and they’re not) they are going to come after Josh Freeman. Coach Raheem Morris plans to give a longer look at LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin. Neither name inspires confidence, but you never know. There could be a Chris Ivory-like performance in them.
- Can the Bucs continue to step on the NFL’s door mats?- They handled Cleveland Browns and gave their best performance against the Carolina Panthers. The Rams may be a different story. They are confident after a big win and the Bucs are coming off a game in which they were beat at every level. This is an important step for both teams. However, for as good as they looked against the Chargers, the Rams looked equally as bad in a 44-6 loss to the Detroit Lions. They also have a rookie quarterback, playing on the road. The Bucs have won the games they are supposed to win and lost the ones in which they were playing more talented teams. This game is tricky, but look for the trend to continue today.