This game could easily be billed as the letdown bowl even though neither one of these teams really should have had huge expectations coming into the season. Still both the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had their postseason hopes dashed a week ago and that can seriously demoralize a team when they go from playing with everything on the line to virtually nothing in a matter of days.
From the Rams side of the story however, this club still has some attainable goals remaining in their first rebuilding year under Head Coach Jeff Fisher. Two wins to close out the season will give the franchise its first winning record in nearly a decade and that can’t happen without getting a win in Tampa this weekend. Here are three areas where the Rams need to focus if they want to keep their dream alive after week 16.
Despite a rocky start to the 2012 season, Steven Jackson is just 92 yards away from his eighth consecutive year with 1,000 yards or more on the ground. He is still averaging 4.0 yards per carry which is very respectable given the start that he got off to and the fact that he turns 30 in less than a calendar year. The Bucs may boast the league’s top rushing defense, but the Rams have to maintain a certain dedication to the running game to keep them honest.
GIVE BRADFORD TIME
This has been the mantra all year long for the Rams, but they have struggled to do so not only in 2012, but for all of Sam Bradford’s career in St. Louis. Just providing that extra millisecond for Bradford to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike downfield to one of his pass catching targets will be extremely beneficial this week with the Bucs having the worst pass defense in all of football. Bradford is well within reach of a few milestones himself already tied for a career-high in touchdowns with 18 and just 259 yards shy of a career-high in that category as well. This could be a great confidence-building outing for Bradford if the Rams offensive line can just give him that extra second to survey the field.
KEEP MARTIN UNDER WRAPS
The Rams had a difficult time with Adrian Peterson last week, but what team hasn’t this season? Rookie Doug Martin had his lowest output of the year a week ago and if the Rams can keep him in check that will force the ball into the hands of quarterback Josh Freeman. While Freeman has had some stellar performances this year, he has also had some stinkers and when he is asked to carry the team, throws tend to get forced and turnovers start to happen.
Expectations may have been low coming into this season for both of these teams, but going into 2013, look for many to be picking one of these two as a legitimate sleeper in the NFC.
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