Rams' pass rush might be only way to tackle Tom Brady, Buccaneers

Los Angeles, California January 17, 2022: Rams linebacker Von Miller sacks Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.

Von Miller has amassed more than 100 career sacks in the regular season, 7½ in the playoffs. The future Hall of Fame outside linebacker said this week that he could recall every one of the sacks he recorded against Tom Brady, the most successful quarterback in NFL history.

“It's just one of those things,” Miller said. “Whenever he decides to retire, those are the sacks that you are going to remember.”

Miller, lineman Aaron Donald, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd and the rest of the Rams pass rushers aim to create more memories Sunday when they play the Brady and the defending Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in an NFC divisional-round game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

The Rams’ pass rush, which also will include tackles Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson and at times rotational linebackers Obo Okoronkwo and Justin Hollins, is regarded as one of the major keys for the Rams if they are to advance to the NFC championship game against the winner of Saturday’s game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers.

The Rams had 50 sacks during the season, which ranked third in the NFL. Last Monday, they recorded two in their 34-11 wild-card victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Brady was sacked four times in a 31-15 wild-card victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday.

Now Brady, 44, will face the Rams behind an offensive line that includes center Ryan Jensen and All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs, both of whom are questionable because of ankle injuries.

Asked if he is worried about pass protection because of offensive line questions marks, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians did not hesitate.

“I’d be worried if they were all healthy,” he told Rams beat reporters during a conference call. “So, yeah, if they’re not healthy, I’m hellaciously worried.”

Arians has reason for concern.

On Sept. 26, the Rams sacked Brady three times in a 34-24 victory over the Buccaneers at SoFi Stadium. Donald and Floyd each had one, former Rams linebacker Kenny Young the other.

Aaron Donald (99) encourages Rams fans to cheer.
Aaron Donald (99) and Leonard Floyd (54) and two keys to the Rams' pass rush. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

And that was before the Rams traded for Miller, the most valuable player in Super Bowl 50. In eight games with the Rams, Miller had five sacks. He produced another against the Cardinals.

“He’s a Super Bowl MVP,” Arians said. “He knows how to ratchet it up.”

So does Donald, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year who had 12½ sacks during the regular season and half a sack against the Cardinals.

The way the Rams move Donald around makes it even more difficult to contain him, Arians said.

“I hope Tom’s not looking at him because he won’t know where the hell to throw it if he’s looking at Aaron Donald,” he said. “Got to trust the guys in front are going to block him.”

Regardless, the Rams expect to see the best from Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion who has 35-11 record in the playoffs.

“The thing about Tom that makes him so special is he processes things, his mind works so quickly,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “And then, he's one of the best guys that has a feel for moving, manipulating the pocket.”

In their victory over the Buccaneers in September, the Rams took a 21-7 lead early in the third quarter, forcing the Buccaneers to pass. Brady completed 41 of 55 passes for 432 yards and a touchdown.

Asked if the Rams would try to replicate having Brady pass 55 times, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said, “I don't think you hope to do anything versus Tom Brady other than get a win.”

Rams pass rushers must continue to play well off each other’s talents, collapse the pocket and prevent Brady from stepping up to deliver passes, Donald said.

“You do that with any quarterback,” he said. “You can affect them and get them a little rattled.”

That’s what Miller and the Denver Broncos tried to do in the 2016 AFC championship game against Brady and the New England Patriots. Miller had four of the defense’s 17 hits on Brady and was credited with two-and-a-half sacks.

So, what challenge does Brady present the Rams defense?

“Everything,” said Miller, who including the playoffs has 7½1 sacks against Brady.

Miller said he hopes the Rams get to Brady quickly.

“Tom Brady, he's just seen it,” Miller said. “He's done it all.

“He's seen the interior blitz, he's seen the max protection where you drop everybody back. He's seen all these things. He's played against Aaron Donald and big-time tackles throughout his entire career.

“We just got to find a way to rattle him.”


Left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) and safety Taylor Rapp (concussion) will not play against the Buccaneers, McVay said. Joe Noteboom will start in place of Whitworth. Terrell Burgess will start in place of Rapp for the second game in a row. Linebacker Ernest Jones, who came off injured reserve this week, and running back Darrell Henderson, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and cornerback Robert Rochell, who were activated from injured reserve Friday, will not play, McVay said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.