Welcome to another installment of Enemy on the Ship, a series of articles where I am graciously given the time and effort of a writer or blogger for the teams the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face in 2013, and they share their thoughts on the team they cover, and how they’ll do against the Bucs in 2013.
Taking a look now at the Saint Louis Rams, I am joined by Brandon Birkhead, who is an editor for Turf Show Times, the SBNation Rams’ website. You can find Brandon on Twitter by clicking here. Here is what he has to say about the Rams and Buccaneers rematch this season.
Leo Howell – The Rams enter 2013 as a dark horse team in the eyes of many, including multiple people on the staff here at The Pewter Plank. What has changed since last season that could catapult the Rams into the upper echelon on the NFC, and what negative changes have happened since the Bucs and Rams last met?
Brandon Birkhead – Let’s start with the negatives. First, losing Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson will hurt. Both were not overly talented players, but they had a rapport with Sam Bradford, and were productive players. Danny Amendola is one of the very best short yardage WRs in the NFL, but he just can’t stay healthy.
Bradley Fletcher and Quintin Mikell were both solid contributors to the defense, but with the Rams cap situation, they weren’t able to keep them. The younger players in the secondary will have to step up. Trumaine Johnson should be able to replace Fletcher, but the Rams are depending on a 3rd round rookie in TJ McDonald to take over for Mikell. Time will tell if that gamble paid off.
What will hurt the Rams the most of course is losing Steven Jackson. Jackson’s skills have been declining, particularly his speed. He still managed to be an effective player due to his great power. The all time leading rusher for the Rams was a tremendous running back, but more importantly, he was a great leader and the face of the franchise. The team was his for the last 5 years. Now it’s up to Sam Bradford to fill that role.
Now for the additions. The offense finally has some legitimate weapons. That’s what happened. Chris Given was one of the top rookie WRs last season and he should only improve with more seasoning. Brian Quick did not contribute much, but he has good size and hands, and he should contribute this year. Jared Cook will allow the Rams to attack the seam of the field to great effect. Stedman Bailey has great hands, and knows how to get open. He’s very dependable. Most importantly, the Rams brought in Tavon Austin. Tavon is the most talented receiver the Rams have had since Torry Holt, and Tavon might be even more talented than Holt was.
Combine all these weapon with a very good defense, and an offensive line that should be solid with the addition of Jake Long, the Rams have a great chance to compete for the playoffs, which they haven’t made since 2004, though playing in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks and the San Fransicso 49ers will be extremely difficult for such a young team.
LH – The Rams have some very interesting young players on both sides of the football. But none has drawn more hype recently than Tavon Austin. Give us your impression as to how the Rams will use Austin, and if you believe he’s going to be a success in the NFL.
BB – Tavon will line up all over the field. He will play X, Y, and Z receiver, and a little bit of running back to change things up. The Rams are going to try to get the ball in his hands often. The Rams will look to get the ball to Tavon quick and let him go to work and get yards after the catch. Screens, short options routes, and quick “hand-off” throws are what I’m expecting to see. Using these will also allow Tavon to use double moves to take the top of the defense off. He will do a bit of everything, including returning kicks and punts.
Tavon Austin for my money is the most talented Ram player since Marshall Faulk. He has everything you want in a receiver minus the size. He is one of the fastest and quickest players I have ever scouted. He is stupid good.
The size is where people become concerned, but for me, it’s not anything to worry about. Tavon Austin has not missed a practice since his freshman year of high school. There is no player with a better record of health than that. Yes, one big hit could injure a player who is so small, but Tavon knows he is small and plays like it. He avoids big hits. One stat that is very telling is that Ausin has 16 TDs his senior year. On all but one of those, he was untouched on the play. Good luck catching him for a good hit.
I think Tavon Austin will be a blue chip player in the NFL, and he is the player I am most excited to see play in all the NFL.
LH – Sam Bradford is in a similar situation as Josh Freeman, as both promising college QBs have failed to deliver franchise quarterback level of play. But there is plenty of belief that Bradford is ready to take the next step in 2013, do you believe that to be the case? What are Rams fans expecting from their signal caller?
BB – Sam better be ready to take the next step, or the team could lose patience very quickly. He has the talent and the weapons around him now, so he looks ready to put it all together.
It impossible to really set any number expectations for Sam Bradford this next season, because we don’t know how the team around him will preform. He’s going to have to pass the eye test, and show more consistency this season. 4,000 yards would be a tremendous step up for Sam, along with getting his completion percentage up above 60%. Again, that depends a great deal on how the team performs around him.
LH – The Rams defense certainly has some talented players as well, as this unit held the Bucs in check very well in 2012. Tell us how you believe the Rams defense will stack up against the other elite defenses in the NFL in 2013.
BB – The Rams pass rush is scary. The defensive line is extremely talented. They lead the league in sacks last season, and I expect a similar performance in 2013. Chris Long and Robert Quinn are developing into a very nice tandem.
James Laurnaitis and Alec Ogletree are both athletic LBs who can cover a lot of ground and both are very solid tacklers. Cortland Finnegan is one of the most under appreciated CBs in the NFL, due to his “extracurricular” activities after the play.
The only concern is at safety, where the Rams are looking at starting Darian Stewart and rookie TJ McDonald, but many of the best defenses in the NFL also have weaknesses. No unit can be perfect.
LH – Finally, how do you believe the Rams will fare against the Bucs in 2013? Will it be a repeat of 2012? Or do you think a different, or at least closer, result is on tap?
BB – The Rams beat the Bucs on the road last year by 15. The Rams offense looks to be much improved, so I’ll have to say I see the Rams winning that game. It’s very late in the season, so anything can happen. This game may be an extremely important game for the playoff hopes of one, or both of these teams.