Three things: Rams-Buccaneers

December, 21, 2013
12/21/13
12:30
PM ET
ST. LOUIS – Three things to keep an eye on in Sunday’s game between the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Keep it simple

There’s nothing fancy about it but week in and week out, winning the turnover margin is the single biggest factor in shaping the outcome of games all over the league.

No team knows that better than the Rams. In their six wins this season, the Rams are plus-17 in turnover margin. In their eight losses, they’re minus-seven.

We’re not exactly splitting the atom to say it would serve the Rams well to win the takeaway battle against the Bucs, but it certainly could take on more meaning against a team like Tampa that has been so adept at taking the ball away in 2013.

The Bucs are third in the league with 29 takeaways and they’re plus-11 in margin for the season. Much like St. Louis, Tampa Bay has a pronounced advantage in the category in its four wins. The Bucs are plus-11 in their quartet of victories.

As always, the first priority for both teams will be to win the turnover battle. The one that does will likely walk away with a win.

Keep it simple, part two

The blueprint for the Rams since losing starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season-ending knee injury has had two easy to understand steps. The first is the aforementioned turnover battle. The second is winning the ground game.

In other words, stopping the run on defense and running effectively on offense.

Tampa Bay is 22nd in the league in rushing and 24th in yards per carry at 3.9. Since losing Doug Martin to injury, the Bucs have leaned heavily on Bobby Rainey but his production has been hit or miss.

Meanwhile, the Rams' run defense has made great strides in recent weeks. They’ve climbed to 12th in the league in that category, allowing 105.43 yards per game.

On the other side, the Rams' offense has run it well when facing average to bad rush defenses and struggled against elite units save for Seattle. The Bucs qualify in the average category, allowing 109.64 rushing yards per game, 15th in the league.

Tampa’s run defense has sagged in recent weeks, and the Rams should be able to get the ground game rolling again. If they can slow Tampa’s rushing attack and keep their own run game humming, it would go a long way toward a victory.

Focus on finishing

The Buccaneers are 30th in the league in scoring offense, averaging just 16.8 points per game. They also rank near the bottom of the league in total yards per game.

Still, Tampa Bay has found a way to play a number of close games. The reason? The Bucs have been one of the best in the league at keeping opponents out of the end zone and holding them to field goals or no points at all.

The Bucs are eighth in the league in red zone defense, allowing scores 49 percent of the time. The bend but don’t break approach has allowed Tampa Bay to stay in games against superior opponents, let alone ones it matches up better against.

The Rams are 19th in red zone efficiency on offense, scoring touchdowns on 53.5 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20. Early in the season, the Rams rated near the top of the league in that category but haven’t maintained that level in recent weeks.

To put the pesky Bucs away, the Rams' offense must finish drives with touchdowns instead of field goals.

Nick Wagoner

ESPN St. Louis Rams reporter

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