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OPPONENT: St. Louis Rams
WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
WHERE THE RAMS STAND: The Rams are 0-2 and in last place in the NFC West division.
RAMS HEAD COACH: Scott Linehan
RAMS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Greg Olson
RAMS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Haslett
RAMS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Al Roberts
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 23rd (307 ypg)
RUSHING: 25th (89 ypg)
PASSING: 15th (219 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 21st (343 ypg)
RUSHING: 20th (119 ypg)
PASSING: 20th (224 ypg)
ST. LOUIS RAMS OFFENSE
OVERALL: 18th (315 ypg)
RUSHING: 28th (69 ypg)
PASSING: 9th (247 ypg)
ST. LOUIS RAMS DEFENSE
OVERALL: 10th (287 ypg)
RUSHING: 25th (138 ypg)
PASSING: 4th (149 ypg)
DID YOU KNOW …
… the St. Louis Rams produced a 4-4 record on the road during the 2006 regular season?
SCOUTING THE RAMS
Tampa Bay’s defense managed to limit the production of New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees last Sunday, but things won’t get any easier for Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s group this week with St. Louis QB Marc Bulger. Last season, Bulger completed 62.9 percent of his passes and threw for 4,301 yards and tossed 24 touchdowns. What made his 2006 outing even more impressive was the fact that Bulger threw just eight interceptions in 588 pass attempts. Needless to say, Bulger doesn’t make a lot of mistakes with the football. While he’s only completed 54 percent of his passes for 535 yards this season, Bulger has yet to throw an interception and has tossed two touchdowns. He took a beating last week vs. San Francisco and is nursing a rib injury. However, Bulger has a strong arm and is very accurate and capable of beating teams with his arm. He’s one of the main reasons why the Rams are converting 40 percent of their third downs so far this season.
Rams running back Steven Jackson is one of the league’s best playmakers with the ball in his hands, but he’s off to a rough start. After rushing for 1,528 yards (4.4 avg.) and 13 touchdowns in 2006, Jackson has rushed for just 118 yards on 39 attempts this season. He’s also struggled to hold onto the football, evidenced by his two fumbles. Bucs middle linebacker Barrett Ruud will be one of the defensive players responsible for containing Jackson, and he’ll attempt to strip him of the ball every time he touches it. Last Sunday, Ruud forced two fumbles against the Saints. Tampa Bay outside linebackers Derrick Brooks and Cato June will have to keep an eye on Jackson on passing downs. He’s a dangerous receiver, evidenced by Jackson’s 90 receptions from a year ago. Tampa Bay’s defense wore out in the second half of its Week 1 content vs. Seattle and RB Shaun Alexander, but it was sharp in terms of gap responsibilities and tackling last Sunday vs. New Orleans. The Bucs will aim to limit Jackson’s production on the ground and force Bulger to attempt to win this game through the air.
St. Louis has two dangerous receivers in Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. They combined for 167 receptions for 2,286 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2006. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber will go up against Holt, who has used his speed and sharp route running ability to haul in a team-leading 13 passes for 147 yards (11.3 avg.) and two touchdowns. Although they’re not in the same division, Barber is quite familiar with Holt, whom he’s faced five times since 1999. The Rams have been using Holt more in the short-to-intermediate part of the field, whereas Bruce has been Bulger’s deep threat. Bruce has caught 11 passes for 165 yards (15.0 avg.). If Bucs CB Brian Kelly (groin) can’t play again this week, CB Phillip Buchanon will take his spot in the starting lineup and will be responsible for covering Bruce throughout most of the game. While Buchanon played well in Kelly’s place vs. the Saints, the Bucs would ideally like to have Kelly back in the lineup because of the Rams’ ability to spread the field with No. 3 WR Drew Bennett. Should Buchanon have to start for Kelly, CB Sammy Davis will play in nickel situations. The Bucs would ideally like to leave safeties Jermaine Phillips and rookie Tanard Jackson back in coverage, which means Tampa Bay’s defense must contain Jackson with its front seven.
One of the reasons why Bulger and St. Louis’ offense haven’t been as productive this season is because they are without All-Pro left tackle Orlando Pace, who suffered a serious shoulder injury. Alex Barron is starting in Pace’s place, but he’s had trouble with false start penalties and in pass protection. Barron is responsible for protecting the blindside of Bulger, who has been sacked seven times through two games and went down 49 times in 2006. Bucs rookie defensive end Gaines Adams could pick up his first career sack in this contest. Left guard Mark Setterstrom, center Brett Romberg and right guard Richie Incognito have also struggled in pass protection and in opening up running lanes for Jackson. That’s good news for nose tackle Chris Hovan and under tackles Jovan Haye and Kevin Carter, all of whom will be attempting to stuff the run and rattle Bulger early and often. Carter and Greg Spires likely will rotate at left end and go up against Rams right tackle Milford Brown, which appears to be a favorable matchup for the Bucs. Tampa Bay has four sacks this season and its pass rush showed improvement vs. New Orleans last Sunday. However, the Bucs will need to limit St. Louis’ running game and put pressure on Bulger on a consistent basis. Tampa Bay simply can’t afford to be left on the field in the Bay Area’s hot and humid conditions, and Bulger is good enough to pick apart even the best secondary when he has the time to throw the ball.
St. Louis’ defense was considered a weakness last year, but it has shown some improvement two weeks into the 2007 regular season. This unit is surrendering 287 yards per game and allowing opposing offenses to convert just 28 percent of their third downs. The player to watch here will be left end Leonard Little, who recorded 13 sacks last year, but it is still looking for his first quarterback takedown of 2007. Little is a solid pass rusher and will go up against Bucs second-year right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. Second-year right guard Davin Joseph has struggled in the first two weeks of the season in both run blocking and pass protection, and it won’t get any easier for him in this contest when he lines up against Rams under tackle La’Roi Glover. Bucs center John Wade and rookie left guard Arron Sears likely will spend a significant amount of time double teaming rookie nose tackle Adam Carriker, who is physical and quick at the point of attack. St. Louis also uses reserve DT Clifton Ryan on obvious passing downs. He leads the team with two sacks. Right end James Hall will attempt to rush the blindside of Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia by getting by veteran left tackle Luke Petitgout, who has been consistent in pass protection. Tampa Bay allowed five sacks in Week 1 vs. Seattle, but it kept Garcia on his feet vs. New Orleans last Sunday. Look for the Bucs to have Carnell “Cadillac” Williams run the ball often against St. Louis’ defense, which is surrendering 137 rushing yards per contest this season. The Bucs’ best bet of rushing the ball successfully vs. the Rams might be attacking the perimeter, where Little and Hall have had some trouble holding up against good ground attacks and pulling guards.
The Rams have a talented group of linebackers. This unit is led by middle linebacker Will Witherspoon, who is in his first year as a full-time starter at the Mike ‘backer spot. Weakside linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and strongside linebacker Brandon Chilar, who leads the team in tackles, are quick, but they haven’t been of much help against the run. Tinoisamoa is also attempting to work through an ankle injury, which could slow him down a bit. That could bode well for Tampa Bay’s ground attack. Garcia could also attempt to get tight end Alex Smith more involved in the passing game, where St. Louis’ linebackers have been inconsistent. Look for the Rams to blitz their linebackers several times throughout this contest, especially if they're not getting pressure on Garcia with their front four.
Although St. Louis’ run defense is suspect, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden might be tempted to test the Rams’ secondary in this contest. St. Louis starting cornerback Tye Hill, a 2006 first-round draft pick, is out indefinitely with a back injury. To make matters worse, CB Fakhir Brown will miss the first four games of the season due to a league-imposed suspension. That leaves CB Lenny Walls to start in Hill’s place and CB Ron Bartell, who has just 10 career starts, to man the right side of the field. Walls likely will be responsible for covering Bucs wide receiver Joey Galloway, who has hauled in nine passes for 207 yards (23.0 avg.) and two touchdowns this season. Galloway has the speed to stretch the field, and Garcia has the pocket presence and arm to get him the ball. The Bucs likely will use a committee made up of Michael Clayton, Ike Hilliard and Maurice Stovall at the flanker position, which will be covered by Bartell. If Tampa Bay’s offensive tackles can hold up in pass protection, the Bucs could use more three-receiver sets, which would give the team’s No. 3 wide out a favorable matchup vs. the Rams’ nickel cornerback, rookie Jonathan Wade. The Rams have had to bring free safety Oshiomogho Atogwe and strong safety Corey Chavous up in the box to help defend the run often through the first two games of the season. If Tampa Bay can establish the running game early it would give Garcia more passing lanes and opportunities to hit Galloway.
The Rams have a solid special teams unit, which features punter Donnie Jones (44 avg.) and kicker Jeff Wilkins, who has made 5-of-6 field goal attempts this season. Wilkins’ only miss came from 50-plus yards. Bucs P Josh Bidwell is also averaging 44 yards per punt, and K Matt Bryant is 3-of-3 on field goals this season. Tampa Bay’s punt and kickoff coverage units will have to be on top of their game vs. St. Louis. The Rams traded for Chiefs return specialist Dante Hall during the offseason. Hall has proven to be one of the league’s most explosive return men averaging 24 yards per kickoff return and scoring six career touchdowns. Hall is also a dangerous punt returner. He’s averaged 9.8 yards per attempt and scored five touchdowns on punt returns during his career. Tampa Bay can’t afford to give St. Louis’ potentially potent offense a short field to work with Sunday, which means the Bucs will have to take good angles, tackle well and contain Hall. Bucs return specialist Mark Jones is averaging 36 yards per kickoff return, but he’s fielded just one this season. Jones is averaging 8.3 yards per punt return.
FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Rams 13
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