At 2-0, Bucs still seek improvement

by Gary Shelton on September 24, 2021

in general

Rams will be the Bucs' biggest challenge./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

Another challenge awaits the Tampa Bay Bucs this week. An old one, too.


And the Los Angeles Rams.

For the Bucs, both opponents are daunting. The Rams have Matt Stafford and Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. The expectations have critics and cynics and early impressions. Whether the Bucs can measure up to either remains to be seen.

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Expectations are difficult. Take the Rams. So far they are 2-0, and the world is set to applaud their off-season acquisition of Stafford. Never mind that the Rams were 2-0 at this point last year (and ended up 10-6 and second-round playoff losers).

But the Bucs? They're 2-0, but they barely got past Dallas and struggled before pulling away from Atlanta. So far in a young season, they have been a team that has struggled to maintain focus throughout a game. Now the Bus face their toughest test in a Rams' team that has a dangerous offense and a steady defense.

Bucs' quarterback Tom Brady has noticed the uneven play, too.

“I think (it's) just consistency (and) attention to detail," Brady said. "We’ve worked hard at it, but we’ve got to keep communicating. The only way to do it is communicate, go out and execute it and then learn from it and work hard to improve it. You have to figure out what the problems are in order to solve them. I think we’re learning things every day. I don’t think we are ever a finished product. Football is a very challenging game in that there is so much coordination that needs to happen between a lot of people. What may seem like a really simple thing of a throw from a quarterback to receiver actually requires great blocking schemes and a great design so that other people are getting open.

" One ball to Mike [Evans] could be because the linebacker took an underneath route and that underneath route had to happen at a certain moment, and we had to pick up the protection, the back had to figure that out and we had to sort through that in communication with the line. So there is a lot that goes into it. This week is really challenging because they’ve got good players in the secondary, they have a good front and we lost to them last year. They’re one of the top-rated defenses in the league. They have one of the greatest defensive players of all time. Everything about this week is challenging – really good defense, really good offense, we’ve got a long way to travel. It’s a big game for both of us.”

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich talked about being more consistent.

“I think converting third downs, having better first and second downs so we aren’t in third-and-longs and just executing what’s there," Leftwich said. "I think we’ve missed some layups, and what I mean by that is layups that aren’t the big plays – just the simple plays. We missed a bunch of simple plays here and there and it comes to bite you sometimes and that pushes you into third-and-long situations. So, we just need to clean that type of stuff up, really. Clean that type of stuff up. Do we feel as though we left a lot out there the first two games? Yes, but it means nothing really going into this game. We’re just going to try and go out and execute better this week and hopefully we don’t say that after this game.”

Give credit to the Rams. They were a good team behind former quarterback Jared Goff. They won 10 regular season games and reached the second round of the playoffs. But on a roster with Donald and Jalen Ramsey and Cooper Kupp, the Rams wanted to strike while they could.

The Rams' defense isn't as vaunted as the offense, but it's solid.

“They do a good job in both facets," Brady said. "I think they’re very good against the run and they’re one of the top-ranked teams against the pass – last year they were. It’s just a very challenging team because they do a good job disguising coverages, but they’ve got a great pass rush. You can’t really pick up on anything pre-snap because they’re holding disguises and, at the same time, they have a pass rush that gets home really quick. The corners do a great job of locking onto receivers and I think they do a good job of all having their eyes on the quarterback and reacting to where the quarterback is looking. So there are not a lot of chances to go to second reads and so forth because if you look one way, chances are the ball has got to come out just because of how fast that pass rush gets home.” 

Said Leftwich: "They have been shown to play a lot of zone, so it allows them to move Jalen [Ramsey] around. But the problem is how good they are, how good of a football team they have, especially on that side of the ball. It’s not just those two though. They have good players really all over there in every position. That’s what I think may get overlooked. You don’t play defense at the level they played it with two good guys. They do a good job collectively together, playing good team defense, keeping the ball in front of them, all those types of things. All the things you teach defense to do, they do well. We’re preparing ourselves for a good football team on Sunday.”

It will be the Bucs' first road game of the season. The Bucs may have to play without Jason Pierre-Paul and Antonio Brown, who are both on the Covid list.

For Brady, Thursday celebrated the 20-year anniversary of him replacing Drew Bledsoe as quarterback of the Patriots.

“20 years ago – time flies," Brady said.
It goes pretty fast. It’s been a long time since that’s happened. A lot happens in 20 years. I don’t think anyone thinks 20 years ago where their life would be. I certainly don’t think in my wildest dreams I could’ve imagined what’s happened. I am just very appreciative and grateful for all of the different things that have happened over time. It’s been a great journey."

The Bucs will play at the Rams at 4:25 p.m. on Sunday.

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