Rams-Bucs is the biggest game of Week 3 of the NFL. On one hand, we have the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, and on the other lies arguably the most talented team in the NFC. These teams met last year in Week 11 of last season with the Rams taking the victory by a score of 27-24. Tom Brady struggled in that game, completing just 54.2 percent of his passes for 216 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. Jared Goff, meanwhile, threw for 376 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks, while completing 76.5 percent of his passes. Obviously, a lot can happen on any given Sunday and this game from last season shouldn’t be too much of an indicator for predicting how this weekend will unfold. What should be more carefully looked at though is the absence of Antonio Brown for this game.
Antonio Brown joined the Bucs during Week 9 of the 2020 NFL season. The game against the Rams was his third game with Tampa. In that game, Brown paced the Buccaneers in targets, receptions, and yards as Brady’s main weapon out of the slot, and it’s very possible that weapon will not be available on Sunday due to COVID concerns.
Slot receivers have been a constant pain in the side of the Los Angeles Rams. Despite the Rams being one of the best teams at maintaining high-level performance out of the slot receiver position, they don’t seem to defend it very well. A lot of that probably has to do with the presence of Jalen Ramsey on the outside. Most teams line up their best receiver on the outside, not in tight at the slot position. Jalen Ramsey tends to shadow opposing teams’ best receivers. In the game against Tampa Bay last year, Ramsey was lined up across Mike Evans on almost every single play. Ramsey’s presence forces opposing quarterbacks to look at their other receivers and that could be a big reason why slot receivers tend to do so well against the Rams, just sheer volume from the lack of passes thrown to their top receivers. However, there’s bound to be something bigger at play as well, right?
Whether it’s a tight end or receiver lining up in the slot, the Rams seem to struggle against receivers in the middle. Since the start of 2020, Rams opponents have seen either their tight end or primary slot receiver lead their team in receptions and/or receiving yards in 40 percent of their games. That may not sound like a big number, but keep in mind that the Rams are in the same division as the Cardinals and Seahawks — two teams that almost never use their tight ends and whose biggest threats all line up on the outside. Normally, against the Rams it’s guys like Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder, and tight ends like George Kittle who do serious damage.
In this Buccaneers offense, Brown is one of the most dangerous slot receivers in the NFL. His probable absence on Sunday is going to make it all the more difficult for Tampa Bay to take advantage of the Rams’ shortcomings. If only there was someone capable of stepping in for Brown! A slot receiver capable of being a serious threat who hasn’t been used nearly as much as he should because of how deep this Tampa Bay wide receiver corps is.
Scotty Miller is fast, not blazing, but fast. He ran an unofficial 4.36 40-yard dash while at Bowling Green. Still, Miller was confident enough to challenge Tyreek Hill to a race last season. He’s a good receiver too, when given the chance. In 2020, Miller had a catch rate of 62.5 percent and an average depth of target nearly 16 yards downfield. What that means is that Miller is a deep threat. On just 33 receptions in 2020, Miller accrued over 500 yards through the air, and he did it all out of the slot.
While it’s easy to think that Brown’s absence should mean more targets for the likes of Rob Gronkowski, Gronk doesn’t line up in the slot very often in this Tampa Bay offense. He’s being used more as a checkdown option and someone who can go out for short routes after a chip block on an edge rusher. This leaves the door wide open for Miller to take a huge leap this week.
Miller did have “breakout” type games in 2020 similar to what I’m expecting. In Week 4, against the Chargers, Miller went for five receptions, 83 yards, and a touchdown, and in Week 7 against the Raiders, Miller crossed the century mark, accruing 109 yards on six catches and one score. So, a big game against LA isn’t absurd to think, and I’m certainly not the first person to point out Miller’s importance in the absence of AB, but it’s worth noting just how important a strong inside option is against LA. Scotty Miller is certainly no household name, but he’s proven that he can come up clutch when his team needs him to.
The Rams are one of the most complete rosters in the NFL, but so is Tampa Bay. The Bucs’ defense isn’t as stout as it was last year though. Sure, they’ve been phenomenal against the run, but they’ve allowed huge games from both Dak Prescott and Matt Ryan to start the season. Matt Stafford has the best supporting cast to put up a good fight against Tampa, so the Bucs will need to pull out all the stops in order to remain undefeated. Miller could be the ultimate ace up their sleeve.