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DEFENSIVE LINE St. Louis’ offense came out determined to feed the ball to running back Steven Jackson, and they succeeded. Jackson carried the ball 30 times for 115 yards (3.8 avg.). He also caught four passes for 18 yards. Tampa Bay’s defensive line got pushed around a bit up front, but it got the job done vs. Jackson for the most part. The key to Tampa Bay’s success vs. Jackson was rotating its defensive linemen to keep them fresh and the team’s ability to jump out to a 10-point lead in the third quarter.
Kevin Carter, who started the game at right end, saw most of his playing time at right end and under tackle. He was extremely active Sunday, notching seven tackles and a half of a sack on quarterback Marc Bulger. While Carter played well throughout most of the game, he had a potentially costly mistake at the beginning of the second quarter when safety Jermaine Phillips hit wide receiver Isaac Bruce and forced him to fumble, allowing cornerback Phillip Buchanon to recover the loose ball and return it for a touchdown. However, the play was negated due to the fact that Carter was flagged for being offsides. That penalty kept the Rams’ drive, which started at their own 11-yard line, alive. It ended with a 42-yard field goal attempt by kicker Jeff Wilkins, which luckily for Carter missed the mark at the two-minute warning.
Carter teamed up with rookie backup under tackle Greg Peterson for the sack on Bulger on a third down play in the fourth quarter. Peterson also made a great tackle on Jackson on a third-and-3 running play that forced a punt on St. Louis’ first drive of the game. However, Peterson appeared to get blown out of his gap near the end of the first quarter on Jackson’s 13-yard run. Still, Peterson had a fairly good game vs. the Rams. He notched four tackles.
Greg Spires started at left end and saw most of his playing time there and at right end on Sunday. Spires was fairly active against the run and put some pressure on Bulger. Spires notched four tackles.
Nose tackle Chris Hovan saw his fair share of double teams, but fought through several of them to disrupt some of Jackson’s run attempts up the gut of Tampa Bay’s defense. Hovan recorded four tackles Sunday.
Defensive end Gaines Adams beats tight end Joe Klopfenstein off the ball and stuffed Jackson for a 1-yard loss near the end of the first quarter. It was easily Adams’ best play as a Buc three games into the regular season. Starting under tackle Jovan Haye and Adams notched two tackles apiece. Haye was pushed off the ball a few times on some of Jackson’s better running plays. Adams went his third straight game without a sack while Tampa Bay’s defense recorded just one sack vs. St. Louis.
*St. Louis drove inside Tampa Bay’s 35-yard line four times and came away with just three points thanks to two missed field goals and two interceptions from the Bucs defense.
LINEBACKERS St. Louis quarterback Marc Bulger completed 17-of-26 passes, but he threw for just 116 yards. Most of Bulger’s pass attempts were dumpoffs to receivers in the flats. In addition to playing fairly well against the run, Tampa Bay’s starting linebackers – Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Cato June – were solid in terms of tackling running backs and receivers.
Just as he did last week vs. New Orleans, Ruud did a nice job of manning the middle of Tampa Bay’s defense vs. St. Louis. He was a physical force against the run and notched a team-high 11 tackles. Ruud also displayed solid pass coverage and instincts by picking off Bulger on a pass thrown across the middle of the field late in the fourth quarter. Ruud’s interception put the Bucs on the Rams’ 37-yard line. Backup MLB Ryan Nece saw some brief action and notched one tackle in place of Ruud.
Brooks had a solid outing vs. the Rams in terms of pass coverage and tackling. He notched eight tackles on Sunday. However, Brooks wasn’t perfect. Midway through the third quarter with the Rams facing a third down play, Brooks was flagged for a personal foul – late hit penalty on tight end Randy McMichael. That penalty put the Rams on the Bucs’ 22-yard line and gave them an automatic first down. However, Brooks was later bailed out by cornerback Phillip Buchanon’s interception in the corner of the end zone.
June was quite active against the run Sunday. He recorded six tackles, including a hard hit on Jackson that caused a 3-yard loss near the end of the third quarter. The Bucs blitzed Ruud and June several times Sunday.
*St. Louis produced just 245 yards of offense on 61 plays (4.0 avg.) vs. Tampa Bay.
SECONDARY Tampa Bay’s secondary limited the production of St. Louis wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, who combined for eight catches for 77 yards and no scores. They were limited by cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, who returned from a groin injury on Sunday. Barber notched three tackles while Kelly added one of his own.
Bucs strong safety Jermaine Phillips played well, notching seven tackles, one interception and one pass defensed vs. the Rams. Phillips’ pick came at the beginning of the second quarter on a third-and-3 play in Bucs territory. Phillips made a great play by breaking on Bulger’s pass to the sideline and intercepting it. Phillips came up big again in the second quarter when he drilled Bruce and forced him to fumble after Bruce caught the pas across the middle of the field. Bucs cornerback Phillip Buchanon recovered the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown, but an offsides call on defensive lineman Kevin Carter negated the play. However, Bruce did not return to the game until late in the second half.
Speaking of Buchanon, he came up huge midway through the third quarter when he picked off Bulger’s fade pass intended for WR Drew Bennett in the corner of the end zone, which stalled a promising Rams drive. That play also got linebacker Derrick Brooks and Barber off the hook for each committing personal fouls penalties on that drive. Buchanon, who saw some reps at left cornerback in place of Kelly, who was not 100 percent healthy, recorded four tackles, one interception and one pass defensed on Sunday.
*The Rams converted just 3-of-12 (25 percent) of their third down attempts vs. the Bucs.
SPECIAL TEAMS Bucs kicker Matt Bryant started the game by missing a 54-yard field goal attempt after the team’s first offensive drive stalled in Rams territory. However, Bryant capped off a 12-play, 59-yard drive with a 27-yard field goal in a heavy downpour with just seconds remaining in the first half.
Punter Josh Bidwell helped the Bucs win the battle of field position. He got off a 47-yard punt from his own end zone near the end of the first quarter. That punt prevented Rams return specialist Dante Hall from fielding the ball and allowed wide receiver Maurice Stovall to down the ball at the Rams’ 46-yard line. At the beginning of the second quarter, Bidwell pinned the Rams on their own 11-yard line. Near the end of the third quarter, Bidwell got off his best punt, a 57-yarder. Bidwell averaged 49.3 yards per punt on three attempts. The key stat was Bidwell’s net average, which was 46.3 yards. That was a credit to Tampa Bay’s punt coverage team.
Wide receiver Mark Jones had one kickoff return and one punt return, and both helped the Bucs set up drives that resulted in touchdowns. Jones returned the opening kickoff of the second half 36 yards to the 47-yard line. He had a huge hole to run through on the play. The Bucs eventually scored a touchdown on that 53-yard drive, which put them up 10-0 on the Rams. Late in the fourth quarter, Jones broke off a 35-yard punt return, which put the Bucs offense on the Rams 40-yard line.
Linebacker Ryan Nece had two special teams tackles.
COACHING Bucs head coach Jon Gruden probably shouldn’t have challenged running back Cadillac Williams’ fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter after replays showed that the ball came loose before his knee hit the ground. However, Gruden’s decision to bench Williams in favor of Earnest Graham proved to be a good one. Graham ripped off 75 yards on the ground on eight carries (9.4 avg.) and scored two touchdowns. All of Graham’s production game in the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay was penalized five times for 40 yards, including two personal foul penalties on defense on the same drive. The Bucs were bailed out on that drive by cornerback Phillip Buchanon’s interception.
Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s unit withstood the Rams’ offensive attack, which was led by running back Steven Jackson. For the second straight week, Tampa Bay’s tackling on defense was sharp. While the pass rush could have been better, the Bucs intercepted quarterback Marc Bulger, who threw just eight interceptions on 588 pass attempts in 2006, three times on Sunday.
Tampa Bay’s special teams were outstanding in terms of opening holes for return specialist Mark Jones and containing Rams return man Dante Hall, who averaged just 15.7 yards per kickoff return.
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