The playoffs are no longer on the horizon, and the Buccaneers focus must shift to avoiding total collapse. The team has shown visible frustration over the past couple of weeks, and that emotion in the team will have a greater impact if allowed to resonate over the offseason. That’s why this final home game against a fellow middle-of-the-pack NFC team is more important than the average game of mediocre conference foes.
The Rams are in a different situation, building momentum after a strong start. They have plenty of young talent, and the Buccaneers mustn’t look past them for even a moment. Let’s take a look at five keys to a Buccaneer victory:
1. Run. The. Ball.
Seriously, guys. Run the stinkin’ football. 30-40 times, preferably. Use DJ Ware and Legarrette Blount if you want to conserve Doug Martin’s legs a bit. But there is no reason not to run all over this team. 620 WDAE out of Tampa reported this week that Donald Penn and the O-Line noticed the Rams play the pass first on defense, and that there is likely room to run against them. Even if a play or two doesn’t work in the running game, the Buccaneers cannot continue to overload Josh Freeman and force the struggling QB to put the team on his shaky shoulders..
2. Stop the run, too!
The Rams have two talented backs in Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson, and the Buccaneers allowed a surprising amount of opportunities to the Saints in the running game last week. This is something the Buccaneers must correct this week, as that’s the lone identity of the team that stayed strong all year. The strong run defense, led by an active front four and Lavonte David, must step up and make a statement, holding the Rams running game down.
3. Don’t allow Danny Amendola to run circles around Mark Barron.
As I pointed out in my recent article about Greg Schiano, players on the Bucs defense are left out to dry on occasion. No player is more often put in a compromising situation than rookie Mark Barron, who often finds himself the target of the route of the best wideout the other team has to offer. Sunday, Wes Welker-esque Danny Amendola will undoubtedly be targeting Barron’s area of the field, and it will be up to the Buccaneers to defend the middle of the field and disallow the shifty slot receiver to get into open space too often.
4. Don’t give up yet.
This is much more of an abstract key than a practical one, but the Buccaneers must not give up on this season, and have to show resolve this week at Raymond James Stadium. A 6 game losing streak to end the season would chip away at whatever foundation had been built earlier this year, and with a season ending tilt against the Falcons, the game against the Rams is the more likely win. Make your fans proud, bring morale back up, and build some momentum to prove to yourselves you can win going into next season.
5. Be the better team.
The Buccaneers have a tendency to start off games well, and then let off the gas. The Saints game excluded, the Buccaneers have held first half leads in many of their games this season only to abandon the aggressive start in favor of a conservative approach that often let leads slip away. If the Buccaneers are able to come out and score in the first quarter and take an early lead, don’t let up at all. This Rams team is perfectly capable of winning; there is no need to be comfortable with a lead. Instead, continue to attack and build up a belief that the Buccaneers are the better team on the field, which could be accurate in this matchup, assuming the Buccaneers execute a sound game plan and don’t stray from it.