Two of the most surprising developments of the NFL season are the mediocrity of both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Los Angeles Rams. Neither team thought they’d be below .500 entering Week 9 — and neither team made a noteworthy move at this week’s trade deadline.
The past two Super Bowl champions will compete for a much-needed win on Sunday in Tampa, Fla.
The Rams (3-4) have lost three of their past four games, including a season sweep at the hands of the rival San Francisco 49ers. They were outscored 21-0 in the second half of last week’s 31-14 home loss to San Francisco.
“They made some big plays that they were able to capitalize on, scoring opportunities, and then there was a couple instances where we had chances to be able to make plays and didn’t quite deliver,” coach Sean McVay said. “That’s where things get out of whack and you don’t end up finishing the game the way that you want.”
Multiple reports said the Rams attempted to land Carolina Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns at the trade deadline by offering multiple first-round picks, but were rebuffed.
The defending champs can still rely on a fearsome defense without Burns — the Aaron Donald-anchored unit ranks fifth in yards allowed per game. But the Rams are fifth from the bottom in the NFL in scoring offense at just 16.9 points per game. Matthew Stafford has thrown eight interceptions, tied for second-most in the league, to just seven touchdowns.
Still, Los Angeles catches Tom Brady and the Buccaneers (3-5) at an opportune time.
Tampa Bay is 1-5 in the past six games, including losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers, two of the weakest teams in the league. The Bucs have had extra time to regroup after playing on “Thursday Night Football” last week, when their comeback effort fell short in a 27-22 home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Though Brady has a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and leads the NFL in completions (224) and pass attempts (340), he’s averaged a substandard 6.7 yards per attempt and the offense is tied for 25th in third-down efficiency (34.6 percent).
Brady and Stafford aren’t getting any help from their respective running games, the least productive in the league. Tampa Bay (61.9 yards per game) ranks dead last; Los Angeles (68.4 ypg) is 31st.
Bucs coach Todd Bowles alluded to the notion that his team wants more balance on offense.
“You’d like to say that, but if they’ve got nine guys up there, you’re going to have to throw the football,” Bowles said. “We’re going to take what they give us, but we’re definitely going to try to run it more.”
For the Rams, disgruntled running back Cam Akers hasn’t played since Week 5 but he returned to practice this week.
There’s a chance he could play Sunday, McVay said.
“We’re a better team when (Akers) ends up being the guy that we know,” McVay said. “Sometimes you got to be able to work through things and have good conversations. … The most important thing for us is he’s back.”
The Rams also could get rookie running back Kyren Williams (ankle) back soon after he returned to practice last week.
Star wide receiver Cooper Kupp (ankle) is expected to play against the Bucs, as are center Brian Allen (knee) and receiver Van Jefferson (knee).
On Friday, the Buccaneers ruled out safety Antoine Winfield (concussion), receiver Russell Gage (hamstring), guard Luke Goedeke (foot) and tight end Cameron Brate (neck).
–Field Level Media