The News-Times

Stars aligned: Rams confident their big names will deliver against Bucs


THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Von Miller remembers every detail of each time he has sacked Tom Brady, starting all the way back in his second NFL season a decade ago.

He savored and catalogued their meetings over their years, highlighte­d by the AFC championsh­ip game in which Miller dropped Brady 21⁄2 times in the Broncos’ win over the Patriots in January 2016.

“Whenever he decides to retire,

those are the sacks that you’re going to remember,” Miller said. “You remember the sacks going against the great quarterbac­ks, against the great teams. These are the type of sacks that I’ll tell my son about.”

Miller has the chance to add to his memory bank Sunday when his Los Angeles Rams visit Brady’s

Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a berth in the NFC championsh­ip game.

Miller is in position to chase Brady again precisely because he’s done it before. The Rams (13-5) added the three-time AllPro linebacker to an already solid pass rush at great cost this season because they believe elite players give them the best opportunit­y to beat Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray and the rest of the NFC’s top quarterbac­ks on the way back to the Super Bowl.

The Rams have spent a half decade making salary cap contortion­s and sacrificin­g draft picks because they believe stars will light their path to the top. While some teams patiently stockpile homegrown talent and hope to hit the jackpot, Los Angeles attempts to make its own luck by paying any price necessary to land the best players.

Miller, Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford and Odell Beckham Jr. all joined the Rams over the past twoplus years, three of them arriving in blockbuste­r trades that cost the Rams multiple draft picks. They’ve already delivered an NFC West title and a playoff victory to a team with five consecutiv­e winning seasons under coach Sean McVay, and the Rams have won six of their past seven games overall.

But paying top prices for

premium players means the Rams have high stakes in January. They realize this team-up will be widely perceived as a failure unless they reach their hometown Super Bowl next month — but nobody in the Rams’ training complex seems worried.

In fact, the Rams’ big names uniformly welcome the pressure. They didn’t get where they are today by flinching under outside scrutiny.

“It’s the nature of it,” said Beckham, who got his first playoff TD catch and postseason victory last week. “These are the moments that you, as a kid, you waited for, you prayed for, and now have the opportunit­y to play for. And that’s really what matters, is being great in these moments. Regular season is cool, but … I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean anything, but everything is about (the playoffs).”

The Rams’ acquisitio­ns aren’t the only big names in horned helmets, since two

of their three All-Pros are their own draft picks: defensive tackle Aaron Donald and NFL receiving leader Cooper Kupp. The top of the Rams’ depth chart is undeniably impressive, but every one of their big names has embraced the team-first mentality required by McVay, Donald and the Rams’ team captains.

“All those guys are our leaders, and they’re also our best players,” offensive coordinato­r Kevin O’Connell said. “And when they’re doing those two things, leading you with their performanc­e, but then also with the standard they set as leaders, that does so much for all of us.”

Ramsey and Miller both became team leaders within a few weeks of arriving in Los Angeles two years apart, but Miller understand­ably needed time to adjust to the upheaval after being traded out of Denver, where he had spent his whole career.

Although he didn’t have a sack in his first four games with the Rams, Miller has a sack in five consecutiv­e games heading to Tampa Bay, along with a steady surge in quarterbac­k pressures.

What’s more, he’s second in the NFL with 22 tackles for loss, and he’s grading as an outstandin­g run defender. Miller is in the form that the Rams anticipate­d when they risked part of their future on him — and now he needs to deliver along with his big-name teammates.

“We all feel like we’ve got to do more to win a Super Bowl,” Miller said. “We’ve got a hell of an opportunit­y, hell of a chance. Why get out there and rely on somebody else to make the play? I want to make the play. Aaron Donald wants to make the play. Jalen Ramsey wants to make the play. … We’ve got all these guys that are stepping up to take the load off everybody else.”

 ?? Ronald Martinez / Getty Images ?? The Rams traded for Von Miller at the deadline for games likes Sunday’s NFC playoff against the Buccaneers.
Ronald Martinez / Getty Images The Rams traded for Von Miller at the deadline for games likes Sunday’s NFC playoff against the Buccaneers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States