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When the NFL schedule maker slotted the Los Angeles Rams for a visit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday there were probably expectations of this game having major implications:
Playoff seedings being decided.
A division lead perhaps becoming insurmountable.
Maybe offering a preview of the NFC Championship game.
All of those could legitimately be imagined, even expected, for a game between the past two Super Bowl champions.
Are Buccaneers And Rams Bad Teams?
The Rams visit the Bucs on Sunday and this one is instead looking interesting for all the wrong reasons. It’s a measure of which sad team might be more of a bad team.
It’s a team that hasn’t met expectations versus a team that hasn’t met potential.
Call it the Disappointment Bowl.
“I mean we’re right in the middle of the year, here in the thick of the fight, and it just has not…we just haven’t played well enough to get our record to a point where we can be super-excited about where we’re at,” Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady said.
“Losing ain’t a good feeling,” Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. “It definitely gets you in a mood you don’t want to be in. But you’ve got to stay locked in. There’s a lot more football left. So for us to get to where we want to get to, it’s all in front of us. We control that right now. There’s a lot more games left so we can turn things around and that starts this week.”
Both these teams (shocked face emoji) are under .500. The Buccaneers are 3-5 and on a three-game losing skid while the Rams are 3-4 after losing three of their last four games.
Why the Buccaneers Struggle
And there are reasons for the trouble.
The Bucs have myriad problems on offense.
Tampa Bay is inconsistent with its run blocking, pass blocking, and timing in the passing game. The Bucs no longer utilize the tight end as a major weapon, a staple when Rob Gronkowski was on the team. Playmakers have not been healthy.
And opponents are consistently outscoring the Bucs in the second half.
That last one speaks to coaching. Opposing coaching staffs have obviously been making halftime adjustments while the Buccaneers coaching staff has found no adequate response.
And that has put offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich under the microscope.
“It’s something we’re thinking about – something we’re working on,” Leftwich said of the second-half scoring deficit. “If it was something we could put our finger on, we would try to fix it. We’re just trying to get better, really. We’re trying to get the ball and do a better job, really, of scoring whenever we get it.”
There have been questions about Brady: What’s his role in the offensive problems? Has the divorce distracted Brady?
Is Brady falling off the elite pedestal before our eyes?
“When you lose, everything is questioned,” Leftwich said. “I just think we all need to be better. We all need to be better – playing, coaching it – we could all be better.”
Brady is dealing with swirling questions — folks, give him protection up front and he’ll be fine — but he came to the defense of linebacker Devin White this week.
White jogged rather than ran to the ball on a screen during the team’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens. That embarrassing All-22 film moment has gone viral.
White, by the way, has not played well in spurts this season and while it’s not all on him, the Buccaneers run defense has slipped from one of the best in the NFL to a bottom-10 unit.
Rams Looking To Save Season
The Rams have obviously also had their problems.
Their offense is the Matt Stafford to Cooper Kupp show and not much else. Their defense has not consistently pressured opposing quarterbacks. Help for Donald has been only sporadic.
The Rams’ inconsistency and other problems led to them getting swept by the San Francisco 49ers and left them looking up at the surprising Seattle Seahawks in the standings.
Despite the problems, optimist coach Sean McVay believes teams revert to mean. That would drop teams playing surprising well. That would raise teams playing surprisingly poorly, like his own.
“I think what you look at with the NFL in general, but especially this year, you got to play each game as its own separate entity and records throw them out the door,” McVay said. “Because I think things will start to balance themselves out as this season continues to progress.”
Let the balance between two struggling teams begin.
Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero