Monday Night Football reaction: Rams' defense is legit, Buccaneers are overrated

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady is chased by Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald
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Andrew Ortenberg


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Well that was definitely one of the best Monday Night Football games of the season. Two NFC heavyweights went head to head, and the Los Angeles Rams emerged with an upset victory on the road over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was a massive win for the Rams, while at the same time a devastating setback for the Bucs in their quest to keep pace with the Saints in the NFC South.

We learned a lot tonight about both sides, and while each is still looking like a sure bet for the playoffs, they also each have a lot to work on. The clearest takeaway is that it was a huge test passed for the Rams in what was a very difficult spot, traveling across the country after a win over the Seahawks. Here are the two main things that jumped out to me:

This Rams defense is legit

This Rams defense has been one of the best in the league metrically, but their detractors argued they hadn’t played anyone too tough. That’s all changed the past two weeks, and the Rams have now shut down Russell Wilson and Tom Brady in back to back games. It’s long past the point of denial, the Rams have arguably the league’s best defense. The Bucs scored 24 points on Monday but even that number is very misleading, as they only put up 251 yards of total offense.

Los Angeles held Brady to just 4.5 yards per attempt on 48 passes, a truly horrendous figure. No one seemed to have noticed, but the Rams were already best in the league in yards per attempt allowed coming into this night. What first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley has done here is truly incredible.

Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are playing like their usual All-Pro selves, but there are also some unheralded finds making major contributions. 2018 undrafted free agent Darious Williams has been playing like one of the best corners in the league, and had two interceptions of Wilson last week. Then on Monday night, sixth-round rookie Jordan Fuller intercepted Brady twice.

When you throw in stud safety John Johnson, this secondary is starting to look unbeatable. Donald is a one-man wrecking crew getting after the quarterback, and free agent signing Leonard Floyd has been very productive as a pass-rusher himself with seven sacks. If Jared Goff can just play at an average level, the Rams are going to be very hard to beat with this defense.

The Buccaneers are overrated

I also think it’s clear this Buccaneers team just isn’t the elite squad many in the media want to make them out to be. Most of the times they’ve been tested, they’ve failed. They’ve mostly beaten up on weaker competition, and only two of their seven wins have come against teams with records better than 4-6. They’ve also had some close calls against bad teams, like when they barely squeaked by the Giants by only two points on Monday Night Football a couple of weeks back.

This isn’t anything that new, and I said as much when they got embarrassed by the Saints two games ago. Obviously, one win over the Panthers last week didn’t magically solve all their issues. Their vaunted defense has now given up at least 23 points in four straight weeks, and their young secondary has proven to be heavily exploitable.

When their pass-rush can’t completely take over a game, their defense isn’t actually all that special. The offense has been maddeningly inconsistent, and it’s looked awful when playing against the league’s best defense. That’s a recipe for dramatic failure come playoff time.

Brady just doesn’t seem to be on the same page with Bruce Arians, and with only five games left before the playoffs they’re running out of time to solve all these problems. They’re now a game and a half back of the Saints in the division, and lose the tiebreaker there. It’s looking almost certain that they’ll be hitting the road for the playoffs, assuming they make it in, and this team just doesn’t belong in the conversation with legit Super Bowl contenders right now.

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