Tampa Bay Buccaneers In a game that is heavy with playoff implications and that features a red-hot Bucs offense against one of the NFL's stingiest defenses, Tampa Bay will try to reverse its prime-time fortunes against a serious NFC playoff contender Scott Smith
With the NFL's scheduling rotation matching the NFC South teams up with the NFC North, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drew only one opponent each from the conference's East and West divisions in 2020. Getting a matchup with an NFC East team this season seems like an advantage, with all four of those teams still well below .500. And, indeed, the Buccaneers have already played and won that game, beating the New York Giants in the Meadowlands on Monday Night Football in Week Eight.
The NFC West is a different story.
Certainly the best division in the conference in 2020, and competing with the AFC North for the best in all of football, the NFC West offers a pick-your-poison buffet of challenges. There's chef Russell Wilson and the NFL's highest-scoring team in Seattle. There's rising phenom Kyler Murray in Arizona with his new pal DeAndre Hopkins. And there's the defending NFC Champions in San Francisco, if a heavily-injured version of that Super Bowl squad.
The Buccaneers don't face any of those teams in 2020 but they do get the Los Angeles Rams, whose defense has developed into one of the stingiest and scariest crews in the league. That defense is led, as always, by Aaron Donald, who might be steaming towards his third Defensive Player of the Year Award, but now it also includes shut-down corner Jalen Ramsey and complementary pass-rusher Leonard Floyd.
And, as with their game in New Jersey three weeks ago, the Buccaneers will take on this challenge under the bright lights of Monday Night Football. That stage has been its own sort of challenge for Tampa Bay, which has suffered two of its three losses in front of a national prime time audience, with their one win over the Giants coming in nail-biting fashion. To combat that night-time malaise, the Buccaneers are holding two evening practices this week, both starting at around the same time kickoff will be on Monday.
Mostly, Head Coach Bruce Arians wants to get his team ready to play at a high level right from the moment of that kickoff.
"We've got to try something because we've had really, really poor starts in night ballgames," said Arians. "We're going to try practicing at that game time [on] Friday and Saturday night [and] do some more stuff, actually, Monday morning than we've been doing. We've got to try something, so luckily we have an indoor facility and we can work at night. We're going to do that and hopefully get a better result to start a ballgame at night."
A fast start on Monday night would help propel the Buccaneers to a strong finish to the season, as there will be only six weeks and five games for Tampa Bay after Week 11 concludes, and a crowded NFC playoff field remains. Monday's game will be one of the most important ones of the week for the conference, as the Rams are 6-3 and tied for first in their division while the Buccaneers are 7-3, a half-game behind New Orleans in the NFC South and currently possessed of the top Wild Card spot. The Buccaneers, who currently own a 4-3 record against NFC teams, badly need more wins in that department for potential tiebreakers at the end of the season.
Los Angeles will be led into Raymond James Stadium by Head Coach Sean McVay, once a Buccaneers assistant under Jon Gruden and the architect of a creative offense that drove Los Angeles all the way to the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. The Rams' offense still features Jared Goff distributing the ball evenly to a trio of receivers - in this case, Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp and Josh Reynolds - and a strong rushing attack even after the departure of Todd Gurley.
However, the numbers suggest that this could be more of a defensive struggle. The Rams and Buccaneers rank second and third, respectively, in team defense and have allowed the second and eighth-fewest points in the league. The Rams are coming off a win over Seattle in which they were essentially the first defense all season to shut Russell Wilson and D.K. Metcalf down, and the Buccaneers are coming off a win over Carolina in which they allowed just 187 yards, including just 35 after halftime.
Whatever style of game breaks out, a slugfest or a shootout reminiscent of the memorable Monday-nighter between these two teams in 2000, the team that comes out on top is going to have a much clearer path to the postseason.
GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS Los Angeles Rams (6-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) Monday, November 23, 8:15 p.m. ET Raymond James Stadium (capacity: 65,618...roughly 25% capacity will be in attendance) Tampa, Florida Television: ESPN TV Broadcast Team: Steve Levy (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analyst), Louis Riddick (analyst), Lisa Salters (reporter) Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter) ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES
The Buccaneers decades-long history with the Rams includes the highest-scoring game in franchise history, the most thrilling Monday Night Football victory in team annals and a pair of NFC Championship Games, neither of which went the right way for Tampa Bay.
The Los Angeles-and then St. Louis-and then Los Angeles again Rams hold a 14-9 edge in the all-time series with Tampa Bay but the Buccaneers have the most recent victory in hand. In Week Four of last season, the Buccaneers played in L.A. for the first time in 26 years and celebrated with a 55-40 win that set team records for most points scored and most combined points by both teams. Six different Buccaneers scored touchdowns in the game, with Chris Godwin notching two among his 12 catches for 172 yards. Former Ram Ndamukong Suh ended the Rams' late comeback attempt with a 37-yard fumble return for a touchdown after a Shaq Barrett sack and forced fumble.
That win snapped a five-game winning streak in the series by the Rams, which in turn had come after the Bucs had won five of six between 2000 and 2010. However, Los Angeles will come to Tampa with a three-game winning streak at Raymond James Stadium intact.
The second of the two Bucs-Rams NFC Championship Games came at the end of the 1999 season, pitting St. Louis' "Greatest Show on Turf" against a stifling Buccaneers defense. That defense carried the day for most of the game's four quarters until Ricky Proehl's 30-yard touchdown catch in the final five minutes gave the Rams an 11-6 lead. The Bucs had one more chance to take the lead back but stalled well into Rams territory after an overturned reception that led to the famous Bert Emanuel rule. Coincidentally, the Bucs and Rams had also met in the NFC Championship Game in 1979, in Tampa Bay's first-ever foray into the playoffs. Los Angeles won that game, 9-0.
The most famous non-playoff game between the Bucs and Rams occurred the season after their second NFCC meeting. In Week 16 of the 2000 campaign, with both Tampa Bay and St. Louis fighting for playoff spots, the two clubs staged an incredible shootout on Monday Night Football at Raymond James Stadium. Marshall Faulk scored four touchdowns for the visiting Rams but Warrick Dunn countered with three rushing scores of his own, including the game-winner on a one-yard dive with 48 seconds left. That final drive was kept alive by an incredible bit of ad-libbing by Dunn, who got out of a tackle for a loss by flipping the ball back to quarterback Shaun King. King ran around the end for a first down and a late-hit penalty tacked on 15 more yards. The Bucs held on to their hard-fought 38-35 win when John Lynch intercepted Kurt Warner's last pass.
NOTABLE CONNECTIONS The Rams' Sean McVay, who became the youngest head coach in NFL history when the Rams hired him in 2017, was even younger - 22, to be exact - when he kicked off his NFL career as an assistant on Jon Gruden's staff in 2008. Tampa Bay defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh played one season for the Rams before joining the Buccaneers in 2019. Suh helped the Rams reach Super Bowl LIII at the end of the 2018 campaign. Aaron Kromer, the Rams' run game coordinator/offensive line coach, also spent time on Gruden's staff in Tampa, first as a senior assistant in 2005 and then as a senior assistant/offensive line the following two seasons. Rams Assistant Head Coach/Linebackers Joe Barry has had two stints on Tampa Bay's coaching staff, first joining Tony Dungy's staff as the linebackers coach in 2001. Gruden retained Barry when he took over in 2002 and Barry remained in that roll through the 2006 campaign. After leaving to become Rod Marinelli's defensive coordinator with the Lions for two years, Barry returned to Tampa for another one-year stint coaching the linebackers under Raheem Morris. Los Angeles Safeties Coach Ejiro Evero also broke into the NFL with the Buccaneers, coming aboard Gruden's staff in 2007 as a defensive quality control coach. He remained in that role for three seasons, the last one under Morris. Eric Yarber, in his fourth season as the Rams' wide receivers coach, held the same role for two seasons (2010-11) under Morris. Rams kicker Kai Forbath, who was signed in October and has handled the team's placekicking for the last two games, went to training camp with the Buccaneers in 2012. Los Angeles running back Raymond Calais was the second of Tampa Bay's two seventh-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. He was waived in the final round of roster cuts and was headed to the practice squad before the Rams claimed him for their active roster. Kevin Demoff, the Rams' Chief Operating Officer, took over his current post as four seasons with the Buccaneers, working as a consultant and a senior assistant. SENIOR COACHING STAFFS
Head Coach Bruce Arians Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong
Head Coach Sean McVay Offensive Coordinator Kevin O'Connell Defensive Coordinator Brandon Staley Special Teams Coordinator John Bonamego Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Aaron Kromer Pass Game Coordinator Shane Waldron KEY 2020 ROSTER ADDITIONS
QB Tom Brady (UFA) WR Antonio Brown (FA) RB Leonard Fournette (FA) TE Rob Gronkowski (T-NE) T Joe Haeg (UFA) WR Tyler Johnson (5th-round draft pick) RB LeSean McCoy (FA) DT Steve McLendon (T-NYJ) C A.Q. Shipley (FA) K Ryan Succop (FA) RB Ke'Shawn Vaughn (3rd-round draft pick) S Antoine Winfield, Jr. (2nd-round draft pick) T Tristan Wirfs (1st-round draft pick)
RB Cam Akers (2nd-round draft pick) S Terrell Burgess (3rd-round draft pick...currently on injured reserve) OLB Leonard Floyd (FA) K Matt Gay (FA) WR Van Jefferson (2nd-round draft pick) OLB Terrell Lewis (3rd-round draft pick) K Austin MacGinnis (FA) DT A'Shawn Robinson (UFA) ADDITIONAL 2020 CHANGES OF NOTE
Though it is noted in the "Roster Additions" section above, it's worth further elaborating on the extremely dramatic change the Buccaneers made at the game's most important position. After five seasons, the team moved on from Jameis Winston, the first-overall pick in the 2015 draft, and filled the starting quarterback spot with the man many consider the G.O.A.T., former Patriot Tom Brady. Brady brings 20 years of experience and six Super Bowl championship rings to Tampa in one of the most notable free agent signings in NFL history. Brady's move to the Buccaneers also prompted former Patriots star tight end Rob Gronkowski to come out of retirement and he was promptly traded to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round draft pick. Another former teammate of Brady's, albeit for just one game, arrived in late October when the Buccaneers signed WR Antonio Brown. Tampa Bay debuted new uniforms in Week One in New Orleans. The uniforms are largely inspired by the ones the team wore during its Super Bowl era and overall from 1997 through 2013. Some elements of the uniforms introduced in 2014 remain, such as the sharper, more detailed skull-and-crossed-swords logo and the larger flag on the helmet (though not as large as before). The uniforms debuting in 2020 also include an all-pewter version that is completely unique in team and NFL history and was worn for the first time in Denver in Week Three. The Buccaneers have two new additions to their coaching staff in 2020: Defensive/Special Teams Assistant Keith Tandy and Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach Cory Bichey. Tandy worked at the high school and college levels in 2019, the latter at his alma mater of West Virginia, but he begins his NFL coaching career with the same team that drafted him in 2012. Tandy spent six seasons in Tampa as a safety and special teams standout before finishing his playing career in Atlanta in 2018. Bichey comes to the Buccaneers from Mississippi State University, where he previously worked under current Buccaneers Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Anthony Piroli. The Buccaneers used their franchise tag during the 2020 offseason for the first time in eight years. That tag was employed to retain outside linebacker Shaq Barrett, who went from a rotational reserve in Denver to the NFL's 2019 sack leader after signing with the Bucs as an unrestricted free agent. Barrett's 19.5 sacks in his first year with the Buccaneers broke Warren Sapp's single-season franchise record and made him one of the team's top priorities in the offseason. Barrett and the Bucs were unable to reach agreement on a long-term deal during the 2020 offseason, in part due to the uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, so Barrett will play on the tag's one-year contract this fall. The Buccaneers lost one of their key defensive players in Week Five when third-year defensive lineman Vita Vea suffered a broken leg and was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. Vea recorded 2.0 sacks through the first five games and was a key member of the team's league-leading run defense.
Sean McVay has been the Rams' play-caller since he was hired as head coach in 2017 and that remains true in 2020, but he did enlist some added help with game-planning in 2020. Last year, McVay's staff had a run game coordinator in Aaron Kromer and pass game coordinator in Shane Waldron, plus an assistant offensive coordinator in Jedd Fisch. While Kromer and Waldron remain in those roles, Fisch was not retained and the Rams hired Kevin O'Connell, formerly of the Washington Football Team, to be offensive coordinator. O'Connell assists with the formation of game plans and also helps tutor the quarterbacks. The Rams actually made moves at all three coordinator positions early in 2020. Brandon Staley, formerly the Broncos' outside linebackers coach replaced the departed Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator while long-time Rams assistant John Fassel left for the Cowboys and was replaced as special teams coordinator by John Bonamego. Other assistants from McVay's 2019 staff who did not return in 2020 included Skip Peete (running backs) and Matt Daniels (assistant special teams). Los Angeles also installed Justin Lovett as their new director of strength training and performance. The Rams unveiled new uniforms for 2020 in the spring that emphasize yellow and royal blue, with a newly-stylized horn logo on the helmet. Earlier in the offseason they had also put out a new logo that featured the Ram horn growing out of the A in LA. The franchise intends to unveil one new alternate uniform in each of the next two seasons, as well. The Rams made one of the biggest changes a franchise can see in 2020, moving into their new home, the $5 billion SoFi Stadium, which is also where the Los Angeles Chargers now play their home games. The stadium and its surroundings in Inglewood is described as an "entertainment complex" and it features a fixed, translucent roof and an ovular videoboard dubbed "The Oculus." The stadium holds approximately 70,000 fans but can be expanded by 30,000 seats. The Rams' offense got a new look in 2020 due to some significant subtractions, as running back Todd Gurley was released and wide receiver Brandin Cooks was traded to the Houston Texans. The Rams have reworked their backfield into something of a committee, with Darrell Henderson getting 102 carries so far, Malcom Brown 81 and second-round draft pick Cam Akers 45. Kicker Greg Zuerlein was also not re-signed and the team drafted Sam Sloman to take the veteran's place. However, Sloman was waived in October and replaced by Kai Forbath. The Los Angeles offense also recently suffered another significant subtraction, this one not by design. In the team's 23-16 win over Seattle on Sunday, stalwart left tackle Andrew Whitworth was lost to a knee injury, with Joe Noteboom stepping in to take his place. Whitworth appears to have avoided a season-ending ACL tear but is still likely to spend some time on injured reserve. Prior to his injury, Whitworth had not missed an offensive snap this season. TOP STORYLINES
Back Onstage - This was already discussed in the introduction above, but if you don't think the Buccaneers' prime-time struggles in 2020 is the team's most prominent storyline right now, watch any of the Zoom interviews of Buccaneers players and coaches this week. They're all right here. Originally scheduled to have a team-record five games played in the evening before national audiences this season - thanks, Tom Brady! - the Bucs saw one of those moved to the afternoon in Week Seven due to COVID-19 concerns with the Raiders. Tampa Bay dominated that game, winning 45-20. The other three prime-time games stayed put and resulted in a Week Five Thursday night loss in Chicago, a Week Eight Monday night squeaker of a road win over the Giants and the Bucs' worst game of the year, a Sunday night thrashing by Green Bay in Week Nine. In each case, the Buccaneers started the game slowly on both sides of the ball, and only once were they able to recover well enough to win. The issue seems to be the long wait to play on game day, and the ability to stay focused and be at the optimal energy level when kickoff arrives. Obviously, that's an issue for both teams in any prime-time game, so the Buccaneers haven't handled it as well as their opponents so far. The night practices on Friday and Saturday and the increased team activity on Monday morning may or many not help, but they probably can't hurt and are worth a try. Whatever the approach, inside linebacker Lavonte David says the team has to be ready this time: "When it's time to kick the ball off, you've got to be ready to play the football game. That's just something that we have to be able to do and that's something that we've got to get prepared for. I believe everybody in this locker room will be prepared for that and I think the coaching staff has a good plan in place. I think we'll be ready."
Getting Everyone Involved - The Buccaneers put up a season-best 544 yards in Week 10 at Carolina, their third-best single-game total ever, and the most encouraging thing about it was how many of the Bucs' skill-position players were involved. In addition to Ronald Jones' big day, the Buccaneers got 50+ receiving yards from Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski, plus touchdown catches from Evans, Gronkowski and Cam Brate. Tom Brady completed 28 passes for 341 yards but no single player had more than seven catches or 92 yards. The Bucs' flood of dangerous pass-catchers kept Carolina from doubling Evans, as several of Tampa Bay's opponents have done this year, and that resulted in six catches for 77 yards and a score for Evans, with a couple other big plays just missing. Just two weeks after Brown joined the team, it looks like the coaches have already carved out a productive role for the former Pro Bowler, as he was targeted eight times on just 39 snaps played, resulting in seven catches for 69 yards and a couple of key third-down conversions. The Buccaneers had their first-ever game with 300+ net passing yards and 200+ rushing yards. They likely won't have many more 544-yard outings - particularly against this Rams' defense - and they don't need to get 200 yards out of the rushing attack to make the overall scheme work, but a continued wide distribution of the football looks like the Bucs' best way to win with their deep group of skill-position players.
Another Aaron Attack - Back in Week Six, the Buccaneers became the first team this season to put the clamps on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who remains one of the leading NFL MVP candidates more than a month later. Rodgers was only able to complete 16 of 35 passes for 160 yards against the Bucs while being sacked four times and intercepted twice. Meanwhile, star Packers tailback Aaron Jones was limited to just 15 yards on 10 carries in the ground game. Having dispatched of that duo of Aarons, the Buccaneers now find themselves facing another one capable of taking over a game by himself. The Rams' Aaron Donald is once again the best interior defensive lineman in the league and he may be on his way to a third NFL Defensive MVP Award in the last four years. Donald currently ranks first among interior linemen with 9.0 sacks through just nine games, and among all players only Cleveland edge rusher Myles Garrett has more with 9.5. Donald is relentlessly disruptive, with the fastest get-off at the snap and the highest pressure rate of all NFL interior linemen, just as he was in 2019 and just as he was in 2018. And this year, the Rams have found an outside rushing complement to Donald in former Bear Leonard Floyd, who has already tied his career high with 7.0 sacks. It is not hyperbole to say that the Buccaneers' ability or inability to keep Donald away from Tom Brady has a good chance of deciding the game's outcome, as the Buccaneers are 7-0 this season when allowing 0-2 sacks of Brady and 0-3 when allowing three or more. Depending upon the progress of left guard Ali Marpet in the concussion protocol this week, the Buccaneers may have to face Donald and company with their shuffled line from last week, with Ryan Jensen sliding to left guard and A.Q. Shipley stepping in at center. Those two and the line as a whole had a fantastic outing in Charlotte but would face a much stiffer challenge this time around.
Can Rams Runners Rock the Bucs' Bedrock? - The most noteworthy example of a strength-on-strength matchup in Monday's game is the Rams' productive rushing attack against the Buccaneers' extremely stingy run defense. Los Angeles has used a backfield by committee to roll up 134.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL and they are adept at moving defenders around and creating lanes with pre-snap motion. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay's defense is first for the second year in a row in the rushing yardage rankings, giving up just 76.6 yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry. Getting the running game established with Darrell Henderson, Malcolm Brown and Cam Akers takes some of the pressure off quarterback Jared Goff and allows him to execute a quick passing game. The Buccaneers obviously know this; in fact, preventing teams from doing that is their first goal at the beginning of every game. This one is no different, and the Buccaneers know that their extended stay at the top of the defensive rankings only makes opposing teams with strong rushing attacks more determined to succeed. "No doubt," said Buccaneers Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers. "Any time you receive recognition for doing something, you kind of place a bullseye on you. But we talk about it all of the time - stopping the run is not a one-week thing. It's an all-week thing. It's a total defensive mentality, which kind of starts with Todd [Bowles]. The first thing we're going to talk about is how can we try to slow down the run before we get to coverages or any pass blitzes or anything like that. We really kind of [harp] on it a lot with the guys about how we have to take care of the run. That's just kind of a bedrock principle of ours."
Who Gets the Launch Codes? - As was also noted above, Monday's game is a key one in the crowded NFC playoff race, and the winner could launch itself to a higher trajectory in the path to the playoffs. Depending upon what happens on Sunday, either team could put itself in a significantly better position with a win, and they will know how the altered conference landscape looks before they kick off. The Rams come into the weekend in a three-way tie atop the incredibly competitive NFC West, sporting matching 6-3 records with Arizona and Seattle. Critically, the Cardinals and Seahawks play each other on Sunday. Arizona is technically in first thanks to its 2-0 record in the division, so a win would give them a tighter hold on that spot and that tiebreaker. However, the Rams just beat Seattle and are 1-1, so a win by the Seahawks would give the Rams a chance to claim the Week 12 hold on first place with a victory in Tampa. In that scenario, Seattle and L.A. would be tied at 7-3 and the Rams would have the head-to-head tiebreaker. Four of the Rams' last six games are against division opponents, so there is plenty of NFC West jockeying still to come, but the Rams would be much better off at the start of that run with a 7-3 record. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers will spend Sunday afternoon watching two of their division rivals, Atlanta and New Orleans, square off in the Superdome. This situation is more straightforward: If the 3-6 Falcons can pull off the upset over the 7-2 Saints, the Buccaneers will have a chance to take first place back in the NFC South with a win on Monday night. While that would qualify as an upset - the Saints are five-point favorites - it's far from inconceivable. The Falcons are 3-1 since Raheem Morris took over as the interim head coach, with their only loss a narrow 23-22 comeback win by Detroit in Week Eight. Atlanta will also be coming off its bye week, while the Saints will be playing without starting quarterback Drew Brees. In the late afternoon, the Buccaneers will be watching the Packers try to get out of Indianapolis with a win. Green Bay is 7-2 but the Bucs have a head-to-head win over the Packers, and if both teams end up as division winners that could come into play.
1. Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown vs. Rams CB Darious Williams
If the Rams choose to use Pro Bowl corner Jalen Ramsey to shadow one particular Bucs receiver, as he so successfully did last week against the Seahawks' D.K. Metcalf, they first have to decide which one that is, given all of Tampa Bay's pass-catching talent. It very well could be Mike Evans, given that he was easily the Bucs' most targeted player in Week 11, he's running and cutting much better with his ankle healed and he has been the target of such attention several times this season. The Buccaneers' most common grouping in Charlotte was with Evans and Brown on the outside and Chris Godwin in the slot, and Brown was targeted eight times on just 39 plays, pitching with a team-high seven catches for 69 yards. In just his second game with the Buccaneers, Brown seemed to have found a comfort zone in the Bucs' offense and clearly had a couple plays designed just for him. It would have been an even bigger day had he and Tom Brady connected on a deep post on which Brown had gotten a huge amount of separation. If Brown finds himself lined up opposite Evans on the outside, he'll likely be matched up with Williams, the breakout star on L.A.'s second-ranked defense. After an enormous two-pick day against Russell Wilson in Week 10, Williams now has four interceptions and 10 passes defensed, both team-leading totals. With quarterbacks inclined to stay away from Ramsey, Williams has seen a lot of passes come in his direction and he has been more than up to the challenge. The former undrafted free agent out of has started six games this season but he's been on the field a lot in every game because the Rams use five or six-DB packages on 85% of their defensive snaps.
2. Rams LT Joe Noteboom vs. Buccaneers OLB Jason Pierre-Paul
Noteboom, in his third season after being drafted in the third round in 2018, is expected to make his first career start at left tackle after Andrew Whitworth landed on injured reserve this week with a knee sprain. Noteboom has made eight previous starts at guard, including two this season, but this is a taller task, filling in for a four-time Pro Bowler who has the responsibility of protecting Jared Goff's blind side. Noteboom is getting the call from McVay over Tremayne Anchrum and Bobby Evans because he fared well when he took over at left tackle after Whitworth's injury last Sunday. The Rams drafted the 6-5, 312-pounder out of TCU with the idea of grooming him to eventually replace Whitworth, believing his size, length and athleticism are a good fit for the position. On Monday, the relatively inexperienced blocker will be tasked with slowing down one of the NFL's more experienced edge-rushers in Pierre-Paul. In his 11th season, Pierre-Paul is still going strong with a team-high 7.5 sacks, including at least one in seven of 10 games this season. He also has 10 quarterback hits and five tackles for loss and has been strong on the edge against the run, which is another area in which he and Noteboom will do battle on Monday. The Rams have given Goff good protection for most of this season, ranking sixth in sacks-allowed per pass play and only allowing 13 sacks in nine games. That will be tougher to maintain against the Bucs, who are second in the league with 32 sacks, and without Whitworth's contributions, but Noteboom will get a chance to show that he can be the team's left tackle of the future.
3. Buccaneers RB Ronald Jones vs. Rams ILB Micah Kiser
Jones is coming off a career game against Carolina, which included 192 yards on 23 carries, highlighted by just the fourth run in NFL history of 98 or more yards. That outing moved the third-year Buccaneers back all the way up to third in the NFL and second in the NFC in rushing, behind only Minnesota's Dalvin Cook and Tennessee's Derrick Henry. With a per-carry average of 5.1 yards and five touchdowns, Jones is rightfully starting to gain Pro Bowl buzz. (Vote here!) Jones showed the talents that made him a high-second round pick on that long run, with a sudden burst through the hole, a quick cut to glance off a diving defender and the open-field speed to stay ahead of his pursuers the length of the field. Head Coach Bruce Arians has made it a point to repeatedly express his confidence in Jones to the young back, and it appears as if he is indeed playing with a high level of confidence in his best season yet. After spending his 2019 sophomore season on injured reserve, Kiser is getting a chance to start at one of the Rams' two inside linebacker spots this year following the departure of Cory Littleton in free agency. While Littleton's claim to fame was outstanding coverage skills, Kiser has been strong against the run, with 45 of his team-high 71 tackles coming on running plays. An intelligent player who was named college football's top scholar-athlete in 2017, he is hard hitter and a sure tackler roaming the middle of the field. Kiser has also broken up three passes and forced a fumble. He was the NFC's Week Two Defensive Player of the Week after recording 16 tackles and a forced fumble in a win over Philadelphia.
4. Rams WR Cooper Kupp vs. Buccaneers CB Sean Murphy-Bunting
The Rams run more than 70% of their offensive plays out of a three-wide package and all three of the usual wideouts - Kupp, Robert Woods and Josh Reynolds - have played at least 20% of their snaps in the slot. However, Kupp is the most common of the three to line up there or tight against the line, with 67% of his snaps coming in those two locations. That makes sense, of course, because Kupp is one of the most productive slot receivers in the NFL. From the start of the 2019 campaign through the midway point of this season, Kupp trailed only Cincinnati's Tyler Boyd in receiving yards out of the slot, with 1,108 according to Next Gen Stats. Kupp, who runs a lot of crossing routes, leads the Rams in both receptions (53) and receiving yards (577) and he's even run four times for 33 yards. When Kupp is in the slot, he'll commonly be matched up with Murphy-Bunting, who has one interception so far this season but was the team's leader in that category with three in his 2019 rookie campaign. At least one of those three picks came out of the slot, as he tracked the Lions' Danny Amendola on an out and undercut the play for a 70-yard pick six. Murphy-Bunting has the foot quickness and loose hips to stay with shifty slot receivers on underneath routes and last week he helped hold Carolina's Curtis Samuel to just three catches for eight yards.
DNP: Did not participate in practice LP: Limited participation in practice FP: Full participation in practice NL: Not listed
S Mike Edwards (quadriceps) - THURS: LP WR Chris Godwin (finger) - THURS: FP TE Tanner Hudson (not injury related) - THURS: DNP G Ali Marpet (concussion) - THURS: FP WR Scotty Miller (hip/groin) - THURS: FP CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (groin) - THURS: FP
Night game: Mainly clear skies, evening low of 65, 20% chance of rain, 85% humidity, winds out of the NNE at 4 mph.
Head referee: Jerome Boger (17 seasons, 15 as referee)
BETTING LINE Favorite: Buccaneers (-4.0) Over/Under: 48.5 INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS
Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 90 Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 8 Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 2,739 Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 99.0 Rushing Yards: RB Ronald Jones, 730 Receptions: WR Mike Evans, 40 Receiving Yards: WR Mike Evans, 514 Interceptions: CB Carlton Davis, 4 Sacks: OLB Jason Pierre-Paul, 7.5 Tackles: ILB Devin White, 88
Points Scored: K Sam Sloman*, 42 Touchdowns: WR Robert Woods, 6 Passing Yards: QB Jared Goff, 2,447 Passer Rating: QB Jared Goff, 94.9 Rushing Yards: RB Darrell Henderson, 486 Receptions: WR Cooper Kupp, 53 Receiving Yards: WR Cooper Kupp, 577 Interceptions: CB Darious Williams, 4 Sacks: DL Aaron Donald, 9.0 Tackles: ILB Micah Kiser, 71
(* The Rams released Sloman on October 28.)
TEAM STAT RANKINGS
Scoring Offense: 7th (29.6 ppg) Total Offense: 14th (368.5 ypg) Passing Offense: 9th (264.6 ypg) Rushing Offense: 23rd (103.9 ypg) First Downs Per Game: 15th (22.2) Third-Down Pct.: t-14th (42.9%) Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 4th (3.63%) Red Zone TD Pct.: 7th (70.0%) Scoring Defense: 8th (22.6 ppg) Total Defense: 3rd (300.3 ypg) Passing Defense: 9th (223.7 ypg) Rushing Defense: 1st (76.6 ypg) First Downs Allowed Per Game: 2nd (18.4) Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 13th (39.5%) Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 5th (9.01%) Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 20th (65.6%) Turnover Margin: t-4th (+5)
Scoring Offense: 19th (24.0 ppg) Total Offense: 7th (395.6 ypg) Passing Offense: 11th (261.3 ypg) Rushing Offense: 8th (134.2 ypg) First Downs Per Game: 7th (23.6) Third-Down Pct.: 7th (46.0%) Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 65th (40.5%) Red Zone TD Pct.: 16th (62.9%) Scoring Defense: 2nd (18.7 ppg) Total Defense: 2nd (296.4 ypg) Passing Defense: 3rd (199.7 ypg) Rushing Defense: 5th (96.8 ypg) First Downs Allowed Per Game: 4th (18.7) Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 5th (35.4%) Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 4th (9.90%) Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 9th (57.7%) Turnover Margin: t-16th (0) WHAT TO WATCH FOR
* Barring an unusual development, ILB Lavonte David will play in his 132nd career game and make his 132nd start on Monday against the Rams. Both represent milestones. David's 132nd game played will tie former LB Richard Wood for the 10th-most in franchise history, and he will be the only player in the top 10 whose career began in the current millennium. David's 132nd start will tie John Lynch for the sixth-most in franchise annals.
WR Chris Godwin has 19 career touchdown receptions. His next one will tie him with Vincent Jackson for the 10th-most in team history. CB Carlton Davis has a team-high four interceptions this season. If he gets one more he'll be the first Buccaneer with a five-interception season since Lavonte David in 2013. TE Cameron Brate hauled in his 29th career touchdown pass in the Bucs' Week 10 win over Carolina, putting him in fourth place on the Bucs' all-time list in that category. Two more would pull him even with the man in third place, former WR Kevin House, who had 31 scoring grabs as a Buccaneer. Kicker Ryan Succop has made his last 16 field goal attempts. If he can stretch that streak to 17 in a row it will mark the second-longest streak in franchise history. Connor Barth set the record at 25 in a row during a run spanning the 2011-12 seasons. NOTABLY QUOTABLE Tight End Rob Gronkowski on Tom Brady getting the football to many different pass-catchers against Carolina in Week 10: "We just have so many players and so many great skill players just all around the board that it's tough. I can't even imagine being in that situation as a quarterback on who to get the ball to. We've got so many players, from the receiver group to the tight end group to the running backs, that can all make plays when they touch the ball. I would say it was a great example of distributing the ball to many different players last week, big time, but that may not be the case sometimes. It can always change up; you've just always got to be ready to do what you need to do when you're in. What's cool about this team is, a lot of the guys, we just want to win. And that's what it's all about, winning." Head Coach Bruce Arians on Tom Brady badly wanting to win in the coming weeks so that some long-time Bucs can experience the playoffs for the first time: "I think it's huge. It's really huge. And to have a couple guys, three or four guys that have been there and went to the Super Bowl ... it's just different. You can see the intensity in practice each week is picking up. Like told them, we're in the playoffs now, so the intensity should pick up. It's fantastic to have a leader that can do that with players." Inside Linebacker Lavonte David on if the upcoming two-game stretch against the Rams and Chiefs will be a good indication of where the Bucs' stand among the playoff contenders: "I think so. I think around November things get heightened, obviously. People start trying to put out their best effort. At the beginning of the season you get a lot of different things from different people, but around this time you know what you're going to get from different people and different teams as far as game plan situations. The playmaking and all that steps up big time. It's all about the preparation now. Opponents are going to come in and play their best A-Game [and] they're going to give you what they've been doing and what they've been successful at. The thing is, you've just got to be able to stop it. Running Backs Coach Todd McNair on how running back Ronald Jones has progressed as a runner in 2020: "Gaining a more solid understanding of the running game, blocking scheme and stuff like that. He's running really hard and really fast. He's got a tremendous amount of ability and it's coming out. I don't even think Ro understands how good he could be. He does stuff by accident and it's like, 'Woah.' He probably can't tell you what he did when he gets back to the sideline [but] he's got a tremendous amount of ability in his body. He's so unassuming of a person, so I think all that stuff is just starting to click with the age and the maturity. He's starting to see what he can truly become. Defensive Line Coach Kacy Rodgers on how defensive linemen Will Gholston has improved as a pass rusher in his ninth season in the NFL: "When you look at it - one, my hat goes off to him because last year, with [Ndamukong] Suh and Vita [Vea], they get a lot of attention, but Will started every game for us. When you talk about rush defense, he plays a major role in it. For a guy who's kind of under the radar, that's one thing we talked about in the offseason where he needs to improve his game which was to work on his rush, and he did. You can just kind of see the time and effort he put into it in the offseason. Now, with the injury to Vita, you get to see more Will. He's getting an opportunity to play more and he's making the most of some opportunities."