NFC West: Lavonte David

Rams vs. Buccaneers preview

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET

It's tough to call the second game of the season a "must-win" situation. But that might not be far off what the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing this week.

Both teams are coming off embarrassing losses that could set the tone for disastrous seasons. But a victory in Week 2 could save a season -- at least for the moment.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas take a look at this matchup:

Yasinskas: Nick, let's cut right to the chase. Are the Rams as bad as they looked against the Vikings in the opener?

Wagoner: I don't think the Rams are as bad as they were in Week 1, but I can understand why some might view it that way. That isn't to say this team just had an off-day and is about to string 15 wins together. The issue in Week 1 boiled down to the Rams failing to do the things they believe they will do well this year. Namely, this is a team built to run the ball to set up play-action on offense and dominate defensively, but they didn't control the line of scrimmage well enough on either side of the ball to do that. On paper, this looked like an offensive line that could be really good if everyone is healthy -- but even healthy, it looked like an aging group unable to block basic four-man rushes.

Still, I expect the Rams to be more competitive this week, so long as they have veteran quarterback Shaun Hill back from a quad injury.

I suppose the best option now is to redirect back at you: The Bucs disappointed in Week 1 against a backup quarterback, and either way, they're going to see another this week against the Rams. Are they as bad as they showed against the Panthers? How do they bounce back?

Yasinskas: The Bucs were horrible offensively for more than three quarters. Their defense, which is supposed to be a strong point, wasn't much better against Carolina backup Derek Anderson. There weren't a lot of good things to come out of the opener, and I'm not trying to make it out to be more than it was. But the Bucs did score 14 points in the fourth quarter, and they made it a game. It took a long time, but their offense finally showed some rhythm in the fourth and they had a chance to win at the end. Maybe this offense isn't that good, or maybe it just took some time to get things going in the right direction.

I know hopes were high with Sam Bradford, and that all changed with his injury. How much of a difference will it make if Hill is able to play?

Wagoner: Let's be honest here: It's not like the Rams are choosing from a quarterback trio of Elway, Marino and Montana. But of the three they have on the roster, it's pretty clear Hill gives them the best chance to win at this point. He's a steady hand and actually got off to a pretty good start against the Vikings last week before a dropped screen pass and a bad throw that resulted in an interception just before the half. For what it's worth, Jeff Fisher said Hill was trying to throw that ball away but couldn't get it out of bounds because of the quad.

Either way, the Rams need Hill under center because the options behind him -- Austin Davis and Case Keenum -- simply aren't going to get the job done. Of course, it won't matter who is under center if the offensive line doesn't perform better than it did the past week. That group has to give Hill time to throw and open some holes in the run game for this offense to have any chance of success against that Tampa defense.

Speaking of that defense, Lovie Smith once coordinated the group in St. Louis, and we all have a pretty good idea of what he likes to do. But now that he's back with the Bucs as the head coach, what are some wrinkles he's bringing to the table, and how good can that group be with guys such as Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David in the system?

Yasinskas: McCoy and David are two excellent cornerstones around which to build the defense. But as we found out against Carolina, the Bucs need more than that. The key to a Smith defense is getting pressure from the front four, and the Bucs didn't do that against the Panthers. They came up with one sack (by McCoy) and got no pressure on the outside. Defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Michael Johnson have talent, but they have to be more productive for Smith's defense to really work. If the defense gets pressure, the turnovers will flow. If it doesn't get pressure, the defense will be nothing more than ordinary. McCoy and David are the stars of the defense, but the Bucs need Clayborn and Johnson to really make things click.

Tampa Bay's offensive line is a huge question, and the Bucs might be without injured guard Logan Mankins. Like any quarterback, Josh McCown is going to struggle if he's pressured. Are the Rams capable of putting a lot of pressure on McCown? If so, that will stall Tampa Bay's offense.

Wagoner: The strength of the Rams' defense is certainly found in the front four and the pass rush in general. Of course, that wasn't all that evident this past week against Minnesota. The Vikings only allowed one sack, and that came because of a botched snap. But Minnesota had a good game plan and made it a point to get the ball out quickly, which negated the Rams' pass rush. In fact, Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel averaged the fewest air yards per attempt of any quarterback in Week 1.

The Bucs know exactly what the Rams' pass rush can do after Robert Quinn gave them all kinds of headaches in the past year's meeting. But the Rams have to be better in coverage on underneath stuff if they want their pass rush to take off as it should.

McCown had some success throwing against the Rams last year when he was with the Bears, and the Bucs have a couple big, physical receivers on the outside. If things are going how the Bucs want, what type of challenges do they present to the Rams' defense?

Yasinskas: Let's assume for a second the offensive line plays a decent game. If that's the case, McCown will have time to throw, and he has some nice targets to work with. Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are all at least 6-foot-5. That creates all sorts of matchup problems for a secondary. Evans and Seferian-Jenkins are only rookies, but they can be impact players. Jackson is a proven receiver who probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves.

But like I said, the offensive line will be the key. If McCown has time to throw, he can be an efficient quarterback. If he doesn't have time, he'll show why he's been a backup most of his career.

Mike Glennon and Kellen ClemensGetty ImagesMike Glennon's Bucs and Kellen Clemens' Rams have remained competitive down the stretch.
The St. Louis Rams will wear their throwback uniforms Sunday when they take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The old school blue and yellow is intended to spark memories of the famous NFC Championship Game the two sides played after the 1999 season.

It's also going to serve as a reminder of how far both teams have to go to get back to a place where they're competing for Super Bowls. The Rams are 6-8 and Tampa Bay is 4-10, leaving both squads on the outside looking in for the postseason.

Despite the knowledge they'll be home in January, both teams have remained competitive which should make for an interesting matchup when they renew acquaintances at the Edward Jones Dome.

ESPN.com Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas discuss Sunday's game.

Wagoner: After a rough start, it seems the Bucs have somewhat righted the ship here (pun unmercifully intended) toward the end of the season. How have they been able to do that, and do you think Greg Schiano has made a case to keep his job?

Yasinskas: The amazing thing is, despite the 0-8 start, the Bucs never stopped playing hard. That's led to wins in four of their last six games. That's happened mostly because the defense has played very well and the offense has played just well enough. Still, it remains to be seen if Schiano has done enough to keep his job after this season. My personal opinion is the ownership likes him and likes how he's cleaned up the locker room, but I think he needs to win these final two games to have any chance of staying.

The Rams obviously aren't going to the playoffs either. What's left for them to play for?

Wagoner: Nothing particularly tangible is out there save for a chance to finish .500 for the first time since 2006 and only the third time since 2004. In St. Louis, that does represent progress given the last decade has been such a disaster in terms of wins and losses. Since Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead arrived, they've quietly targeted 2014 as the breakout season for this young team. Any progress they can make toward that is a good thing. It would serve them well to engender confidence among the fan base that the 2013 team is better at the end of the year than the 2012 team was.

You mentioned the work of the defense in keeping the Bucs competitive this year. It seems linebacker Lavonte David is quietly having a huge year and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is also enjoying a second straight big season. You see those guys every day. Are they receiving proper credit for the job they've done or is it lost in the mix of a losing season?

Yasinskas: McCoy went to the Pro Bowl last year, so he's not a complete unknown. He should go to the Pro Bowl again this season. He already has eight sacks and is shooting for double digits. David isn't nearly as well known outside of Tampa Bay, where fans already are comparing him to Derrick Brooks. David is having a phenomenal season. He has six sacks and five interceptions. That makes him just the seventh player in NFL history to have at least five sacks and at least five interceptions in the same season. There even has been talk of David as a defensive player of the year candidate. I think his play makes that a legitimate possibility. But Tampa Bay's losing record probably will work against him.

Speaking of defensive player of the year candidates on non-playoff teams, St. Louis defensive end Robert Quinn deserves to be in the conversation. Do you think he's earned a chance?

Wagoner: With two games to go, I think a legitimate argument can be made that he should not only be in the mix but also win the award. He's become the dominant and disruptive pass-rusher everyone expected him to be and he's drastically improved as a run defender, which allows him to stay on the field for all three downs. And he's not just doing it against bad teams. He is second in the league in sacks, first in forced fumbles and has countless quarterback pressures and hits. He's done a lot of that damage without the benefit of a lead and ample pass rush opportunities to boot. He's also two sacks from tying Kevin Carter for the most in a season in the history of the St. Louis version of the Rams.

I'm curious about the guy Quinn and Co. will be chasing Sunday. It looked like the Bucs had quite a quarterback conundrum on their hands earlier this year, but the switch to Mike Glennon has calmed things quite a bit. What does Glennon bring to the table and do you believe he's done enough to cement himself as the guy moving forward?

Yasinskas: Glennon has been a pleasant surprise after the Josh Freeman mess early in the season. Glennon brings a big arm and is naturally poised. He's been slowed a bit recently as he ran into some good defenses (Carolina and San Francisco), but the Bucs still think his trajectory is pointing up. As for whether Glennon is the quarterback for the long term, a lot depends on what happens with Schiano. If there's a new coach, he might elect to bring in his own quarterback. But Glennon is Schiano's quarterback. Schiano tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit Glennon to Rutgers and has been infatuated with him ever since.

Speaking of rookies who are having a big impact, tell us what running back Zac Stacy has brought to the St. Louis offense.

Wagoner: Simply put, Stacy's emergence in the run game has been the key to the Rams' turning it around after one of the worst rushing starts to a season in franchise history. He's not going to wow anyone with his speed or flashy moves in the open field. But he's physical, intelligent and extremely patient. When the Rams have success on offense, it's a direct result of the run game working, usually with Stacy as the centerpiece. He opens things up for backup quarterback Kellen Clemens in the pass game and helps keep defenses off-balance. He's been a revelation as a fifth-round draft choice.

Lavonte David and Russell Wilson  USA Today SportsThe key for Lavonte David and the Bucs is to try to pressure Russell Wilson and to attack a line that gave up seven sacks on Monday.
Despite getting outplayed in almost every statistical category Monday night at St. Louis, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Rams 14-9 and reached the midpoint of the season at 7-1 after a rough stretch of four road games in five weeks.

Now Seattle returns to CenturyLink Field against the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hoping to win at home for the 12th consecutive time. It looks like a mismatch, but so did the Rams game.

The Seahawks still have backups starting at both offensive tackle spots and now are missing receiver Sidney Rice, who tore an ACL on Monday night. Rice is in the last year of his contract with the team and probably has played his last game with Seattle.

Receiver Percy Harvin should return soon after undergoing hip surgery three months ago, but it probably won't be this weekend. Nevertheless, the Seahawks should win this game.

Blount: Pat, a lot of people thought the Bucs would have a new head coach by the time the team got to Seattle, but Greg Schiano is hanging on. If Tampa Bay comes here and loses by a big margin, is that the end for him?

Yasinskas: Terry, I've been pointing to the Seattle game for several weeks as a possible end for Schiano. I think he's still employed in large part because the Bucs are putting forth an effort. But I could see that changing on a long road trip against a good team and in a hostile environment. The interim route rarely works out well. But if this team lies down in Seattle, I can see ownership pulling the plug on Schiano.

Aside from the loss to Indianapolis, Seattle seems to have been nearly perfect. But there's no such thing as perfect in the NFL. What are the Seahawks' biggest weaknesses?

Blount: Without question, it's the offensive line. It's not just weak right now. It's awful. Obviously, missing Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini is a big part of it, but having to go with backups at the tackle spots is not the only issue. Neither starting guard has played well, and center Max Unger, who had an arm injury earlier this season, hasn't played up to his Pro Bowl level of last year. It will improve when Okung and Giacomini get back in a few weeks, which will enable the Seahawks to move Paul McQuistan back to one of the guard spots instead of being out of position at left tackle. But it has to improve dramatically if Seattle hopes to live up to the Super Bowl expectations.

Pat, speaking of the Seattle line, it's obvious right now that the way to stop the Seattle offense is to load the box and blitz like crazy against the backup tackles, along with the rest of the offensive line that hasn't played well. Russell Wilson didn't have time to breathe at St. Louis. Do you see this as Tampa Bay's strategy on Sunday?

Yasinskas: I think the Bucs will try a similar approach, but I'm not sure they'll have as much success as St. Louis did. The defensive line hasn't been generating much of a pass rush. Linebackers Lavonte David and Mason Foster have been effective as blitzers, and I think you'll see the Bucs use them as pass-rushers.

Terry, how much does losing Rice hurt the receiving corps?

Blount: When Harvin gets on the field, assuming he's healthy, the Seahawks won't miss Rice. In fact, they'll be much better with Harvin's speed and versatility. Rice never has lived up to expectations here. He hasn't played nearly as well this season as receivers Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. But if Harvin still isn't ready to come back, it hurts Seattle's depth at the receiver spot and enables any defense to use more double coverage on Tate and/or Baldwin. But this also could be an opportunity for Jermaine Kearse to shine. He's been a big surprise this season in limited play.

Pat, obviously, the Bucs aren't going anywhere this season. They spent a ton of money to bring in some top players on defense like Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson. What do you see as the team's goal for the rest of the season, and what do the Bucs hope to accomplish going forward in 2013?

Yasinskas: It's been a hugely disappointing year for a team with eight players on the roster who have been to the Pro Bowl. This team's struggles aren't entirely due to a lack of talent. Schiano prides himself on being a disciplinarian, but this team has struggled with mental mistakes and penalties. The thinking is that playing smarter will translate into some wins. But those might be coming too late to save Schiano's job. There is a segment of the fan base that wouldn't mind seeing the Bucs go winless so that they get the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.

Terry, the Seahawks are third in the league in pass defense, and we've heard a lot about their secondary. Is rookie quarterback Mike Glennon walking into the ultimate ambush?

Blount: That's what everyone thought Monday night for Rams backup quarterback Kellen Clemens, but he played pretty well most of the game. Clemens made two overthrows that became interceptions but came within one goal-line play of upsetting the Seahawks at the end of the game. The Seahawks do a great job of mixing things up and disguising coverages, but they do take chances to come up with turnovers. If Glennon doesn't recognize things quickly, they will make him pay.

Patrick Peterson and Mike WilliamsGetty ImagesMike Williams will be called on to help jump-start Tampa Bay's offense, while Patrick Peterson will be charged with helping to keep him in check.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t the only NFL team practicing in the Tampa Bay area this week.

The Arizona Cardinals are practicing at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., as they get ready for Sunday’s game.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Buccaneers reporter Pat Yasinskas talk about Sunday’s game.

Yasinskas: Josh, I know IMG has great facilities. The Buccaneers used them during the lockout, and the Carolina Panthers worked out there last year to avoid the congestion from the Democratic National Convention before playing the Bucs. But why did the Cardinals elect to come east early?

Weinfuss: Having just adjusted to the two-hour time difference in New Orleans, Bruce Arians didn’t want his players’ bodies to get totally out of whack going back to Pacific time (technically, Arizona is on Mountain time, but the state doesn’t change its clocks when the rest of the country does) and then five days later fly cross-country to the East Coast, another three hours ahead. I’m tired from thinking about it. This way, the Cardinals can adjust their body clocks to playing what would be a 10 a.m. home game in Arizona. We’ll see whether it works. There’s a pretty significant contingent inside the locker room that's not a fan of this, but those players might be after they realize what their bodies would have gone through. And then there’s playing in the Florida humidity, which takes more than a day or two to adapt to. In Arizona, it’s a dry heat (yeah, I know, everyone doubts it, but it really is), and the Cards neither practice nor play outside, so the added time in the elements could help.

Speaking of elements, is the Bucs' locker room in as much disarray right now as the perception makes people believe?

Yasinskas: It might be in even more disarray than people realize. Wednesday's news that the Bucs are benching quarterback Josh Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon was just more evidence of how much dysfunction is going on with this team. Freeman and coach Greg Schiano never were firmly on the same page, and Freeman's fate was sealed the moment Schiano used a third-round draft pick on Glennon in April. But the fact that Schiano now is going with "his guy" isn't going to instantly solve all the problems. Freeman is a popular figure in the locker room, and some teammates might not agree with his benching. There also have been multiple reports about players not liking Schiano's militaristic style. The Bucs have denied those reports, but I think there's something to them. I believe that where there's smoke, there's fire.

Speaking of coaching styles, it’s early in the Arians era, but what is his persona and how has he been received by the players?

Weinfuss: He’s a no-nonsense type of guy, and the players love it. Well, maybe they loved it. Having a lackluster offense and starting 1-2 wasn’t what this team projected out of Arians. There haven’t been any signs of the players losing faith in their coach. They all raved about him during organized team activities, minicamp and training camp. The players appreciated his candidness with them. If they ever want to know where they stand, he’ll tell them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Whether they like it or not.

He has been there for only three games, but is the Darrelle Revis acquisition working out and how has he changed the Bucs' defense?

Yasinskas: Revis has been everything the Bucs hoped for. They brought him in to fix a defense that led the league in passing yards allowed last season, and the early results have been good. Revis is the kind of player who makes those around him better, and his arrival really has helped strong safety Mark Barron. I’d imagine the Bucs will put Revis on Larry Fitzgerald for most -- or all -- of this game.

If Revis can neutralize Fitzgerald, do the Cardinals have enough other offensive weapons to win?

Weinfuss: That’s the $10,000 question. The short answer is yes, they do. The long answer is only if the other weapons -- most notably receivers Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts -- are not double-teamed. If they are and Revis can shut down Fitzgerald, it could be a long day for Arizona’s offense. But Arians is a smart enough offensive mind, so I’m sure he has accounted for this. Expect tight end Rob Housler to play an integral role Sunday, and look for the Cardinals’ stable of running backs -- Rashard Mendenhall, Alfonso Smith, Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor -- to come out of the backfield for passes and to create mismatches.

Aside from Revis, how has the rest of Tampa Bay’s defense looked?

Yasinskas: The defense has been a bright spot for Tampa Bay. In addition to the secondary, linebackers Mason Foster and Lavonte David, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy are off to very good starts. But the Patriots were able to run the ball against the Bucs, and Tampa Bay had trouble with the tight ends against the Jets and the Saints. The Bucs could be susceptible if Arizona can get some production from the running game or its tight ends.

710ESPN Seattle audio: Wagner's chances

December, 13, 2012
12/13/12
7:25
PM ET
The NFC West has produced playmaking defensive rookies in 2012.

St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins has three interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns. He scored another touchdown after picking up a loose ball during an overtime victory over San Francisco. Jenkins' teammate, defensive tackle Michael Brockers, has hit his stride recently after overcoming an ankle injury.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin, chosen one spot after Brockers in the first round, has eight sacks through 13 games. His teammate, second-round middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, has three picks and two sacks. He remains on the field for passing downs.

Which ones might be deserving for defensive rookie of the year?

Former NFL linebacker Dave Wyman made his case for Wagner before our conversation Thursday on 710ESPN Seattle. My colleague, NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas, recently advocated for Carolina's Luke Kuechly.

NFL scouts I've spoken with think Tampa Bay's Lavonte David deserves strong consideration for the award. David has played nearly every defensive snap. He leads the NFL in tackles for loss with 17. Kuechly has 10 and Wagner has 7.5.
OK, St. Louis Rams fans, here's the plan:

"Maybe if you do Justin Blackmon in the first round, maybe your second-round picks, if it falls need with value, maybe you get a real athletic outside linebacker who starts for you and maybe you get a defensive tackle."

That's what I told Bernie Miklasz during our latest conversation on 101ESPN St. Louis, anyway.

"(The defensive tackle) maybe has some questions about him -- you’re not going to get that perfect guy -- but look, the Rams know there are questions with defensive tackles when you taken them in the first round," my thinking went, with visions of Jimmy Kennedy and Adam Carriker.

The most talented defensive linemen tend to disappear in the first round, although some have projected Insider Michigan State's Jerel Worthy to the Rams at No. 33 overall.

"You're using a lower-round pick, still getting some guys with question marks," I offered. "With the big guys, it's usually about effort and motor and those things, but that's why you have coaches. That's why you have Jeff Fisher, who got something out of Albert Haynesworth."

OK, then. Using my logic, the Rams would draft Blackmon in the first round, Worthy atop the second and, say, Nebraska's Lavonte David with the 39th overall choice.

On a side note, the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans never used a second-round choice for a linebacker when Fisher was their head coach. They took one in the first round (Keith Bullock at No. 30), three in the third, five in the fourth, three in the fifth, two in the sixth and five in the seventh.

Perhaps Fisher breaks that trend in 2012. The Rams' general manager, Les Snead, was with Atlanta when the Falcons made Curtis Loftin the 37th overall choice in 2008.

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