The St. Louis Rams hit the road this Sunday to meet the startlingly 3-2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who through five games have managed just 80 points and allowed 111. It'll be an interesting mix of ingredients—the Rams have struggled on the road; the Buccaneers have won their three games by a combined margin of 19 points and lost two by a combined margin of 50, giving them a Pythagorean Record that only a mother could love. Will the Buccaneers' problems finally catch up with them, or will the Rams' young team regress after beating the San Diego Chargers on both sides of the ball?
The Rams were buoyed last week by the sudden emergence of wide receiver Danario Alexander, who spent the first five weeks of the season on the practice squad and was rushed to the active roster after Mark Clayton was lost for the season. Sam Bradford connected with Alexander for four receptions, 72 yards, and a touchdown, just in time for him to be the topic of discussion at Mizzou homecoming parties across Columbia. The Rams also got a second consecutive 100-yard rushing day from veteran star Steven Jackson, who's dealt with a groin injury for much of the last month. He'll get to line up against the Buccaneers' run defense, which is second-to-last in the NFL.
The Rams' defense also reemerged last Sunday, after their terrible week off against the Detroit Lions. Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers found himself on the turf seven times that day, a performance that earned Chris Long Defensive Player of the Week honors, and James Hall blocked a field goal in addition to accruing two sacks of his own. The Rams will have cornerback Ron Bartell on Sunday, although he's missed two practices this week.
The Buccaneers have enjoyed a solid sophomore season from quarterback Josh Freeman, who threw 10 touchdowns against 18 interceptions in 2009. This year that ratio's six to three, and he's boosted his completion percentage up to sixty percent. Averaging 32 attempts per game, seven fewer than Sam Bradford, he's nevertheless the most effective part of their offense to date. What's hindered the Buccaneers' offense are the struggles of Cadillac Williams, whose startling return to NFL effectiveness in 2009 has been matched by an equally startling fall from grace. Through five games he's averaged just 2.5 yards per carry, the lowest average of any running back with at least 40 carries this season. In the Buccaneers' loss last week to the New Orleans Saints, Williams managed just 18 yards on 10 carries but also caught seven passes for 63 yards.
The Buccaneers have the best record, but through six weeks the Rams have played much better football. It will be interesting to see if the Rams' Road Field Disadvantage is enough to make up for that gap.