The Rams' ability to win on the road this season will likely be the difference of them winning the NFC, or missing the playoffs once again. Either way, the 2010 season will likely mark major improvements within the organization. However, I'm sure the team, as well as the fans, would be thrilled to see more than just incremental improvements. If the team can win on the road, and somehow make the playoffs after going 1-15, then I suspect a certain coach will be winning the 'Coach of the Year' award, and a certain quarterback will be named 'Rookie of the Year'.
There is still a lot of football to be played, and dreams of winning the NFC West are nothing but speculation at this point. However, the next two games are huge for this team if they want to make those dreams a reality. The Rams will take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday, in Tampa Bay; and then they will take on the struggling Carolina Panthers in St. Louis. If the Rams can beat both of those teams, it will prove that they can win on the road, and it will send them into the buy week with a 5-3 record, which could potentially be the best record in the division at that point.
If the Rams win these next two games, then they should be widely considered the NFC West favorites; they would then just need to win three out of their four remaining divisional games, and just one game against their four remaining non-divisional opponents (Atlanta, New Orleans, Denver, Kansas City), to give them a 9-7 record (which could very possibly win the division). However, if they lose one, or both, of the next two games, then it will probably be an uphill battle for the rest of the season.
The Rams will play the Buccaneers at noon, in Tampa. The Bucs have a 3-2 record, while the Rams are sitting with a 3-3 record. The Bucs' only two losses have come against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. The Bucs have not won a home game all season, just as the Rams have not won a road game.
The Buccaneers run defense has been brutal to say the least. Their run defense is ranked 31st in the NFL, and they are giving up 157 yards a game on average. Last week, the Bucs gave up over 150 yards to the New Orleans Saints' rookie running-back Chris Ivory. Ivory was undrafted in 2010, and served as the Saints' third-string running-back before being promoted due to injuries. Tampa Bay's defense has not face an elite power running-back like Steven Jackson all season; and if they struggled against Ivory, then they will certainly struggle against Jackson
The Bucs' pass defense has only been a little bit better than their run defense. Though their pass defense ranks 16th in the NFL, it has been slowly falling apart. They lost their promising young safety Tanard Jackson to a season ending suspension. Jackson was able to play the first two games of the season for Tampa Bay before the suspension, but has been unavailable ever since. The Bucs' record is 1-2 without Jackson.
Tampa's poor run defense will likely result in a lot of carries for Steven Jackson. If Jackson is successful against the Buccaneer defense, then it will likely open up the possibility of effective play-action passing. If Tampa keeps multiple defensive-backs on the field, then Jackson will run them over; but if they stack up against the run, then Bradford will have the option of going deep to his new deep threat, Danario Alexander.
The Rams' defense should not be too overwhelmed. They rank 11th in average points allowed per game, and 17th in average yards allowed per game. Their defense might be a little too much for Tampa Bay to handle; Tampa's offense ranks 22nd in average yards per game on offense, with a 306 yard average; and their offense is ranked 31st in the NFL in scoring, putting up just 16 points per game.
The main reason for Tampa's poor offense is their lack of a running game. Cadillac Williams has been a non-factor all season, and they gave up on their 2009 free-agent running-back Derrick Ward, cutting him before the start of the 2010 season.
Their anemic rushing offense has held back second-year quarterback Josh Freeman, who has been playing at an acceptable level in 2010. Freeman has 6 touchdown passes, and 3 interceptions, for 1,043 yards, and an 83.4 rating. Freeman's favorite target has been rookie wide-receiver Mike Williams out of Syracuse, who has 23 receptions for 283 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Williams was likely a 1st round talent coming out of Syracuse, but he slipped to the 4th round due to the fact he quit the Syracuse football team because of a possible suspension.
The Rams and the Buccaneers were two of the worst football teams in 2009. The Rams finished with a 1-15 record, and Tampa Bay had a 3-13 record. However, both teams have been impressive in 2010. The Buccaneers are coming off a devastating loss to their division rival, the New Orleans Saints, so their ability to bounce back will be put to the test. Even though they have the home-field advantage, I just don't see Tampa beating the Rams, mainly due to their pitiful run defense, and their inability to score.
St. Louis Rams
CB Justin King (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Out
DT Clifton Ryan (Migraines)- Did not participate in practice- Out
S Darian Stewart (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Out
WR Mardy Gilyard (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Doubtful
CB Ron Bartell (Thigh)- Limited participation in practice- Questionable
LB Chris Chamberlain (Toe)- Limited participation in practice- Questionable
LB Na'il Diggs (Knee)- Full participation in practice- Probable
CB Kevin Dockery (Hamstring)- Full participation in practice- Probable
DT Darell Scott (Ankle)- Full participation in practice- Probable
CB Jerome Murphy (Hamstring)- Limited participation in practice- Probable
LB David Vobora (Hamstring)- Limited participation in practice- Probable
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DT Brian Price (Pelvis)- Did not participate in practice- OutC Jeff Faine (Quadricep)- Did not participate in practice- Out
CB Elbert Mack (Heel)- Did not participate in practice- Doubtful
RB Ernest Graham (Hamstring)- Did not participate in practice- Questionable
OG Keydrick Vincent (Back)- Did not participate in practice-Questionalbe
OG Davin Joseph (Knee)- Full participation in practice- Questionable
LB Barrett Ruud (Toe)- Full participation in practice- Questionable
DE Kyle Moore (Shoulder)- Full participation in practice- Probable
TE Kellen Winslow (Knee)- Full participation in practice- Probable
St. Louis Rams Att/Comp Yds Comp% Yd/Att TD INT Long Rating
Sam Bradford 133/234 1357 56.8% 5.8 7 8 49 69.3
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Att/Comp Yds Comp% Yd/Att TD INT Long Rating
Josh Freeman 94/159 1043 59.1% 6.6 6 3 46 83.4
St. Louis Rams Att Yds Yds/Att Long TD
Steven Jackson 127 507 4.0 42 2
Kenneth Darby 22 66 3.0 13 1
Keith Toston 12 25 2.1 8 0
Sam Bradford 9 18 2.0 11 0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Att Yds Yds/Att Long TD
Cadillac Williams 76 190 2.5 20 0
Josh Freeman 18 114 6.3 33 0
Ernest Graham 14 89 6.4 61 1
LaGarrette 10 30 3.0 12 1
St. Louis Rams Rec Yds Yds/Rec Long TD
Danny Amendola 36 322 8.9 36 0
Mark Clayton (Injury Reserve) 23 306 13.3 39 2
Daniel Fells 15 148 9.9 36 1
Steven Jackson 14 130 9.3 49 0
Brandon Gibson 11 150 13.6 30 1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Rec Yds Yds/Rec Long TD
Kellen Winslow 24 257 10.7 40 0
Mike Williams 23 283 12.3 37 3
Cadillac Williams 15 127 8.5 20 0
Sammie Stroughter 12 139 11.6 27 0
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