St. Louis In Lovie With Their New Defense

November 21 – Last season, St. Louis' defense proved to be their weakest link and was the only thing that kept them from returning to the Super Bowl. St. Louis lured away linebackers coach Lovie Smith from Tampa Bay by hiring him as their defensive coordinator in the offseason, and he brought Tampa Bay's 4-3 Cover 2 defensive scheme with him. Nowadays, the Rams fourth overall ranked defense has been quite the compliment to their explosive offense, and the Buccaneers are preparing to face both.

Tampa Bay has been referred to as one of the best defensive teams in the NFL in recent years and ex-Bucs linebackers coach Lovie Smith had a lot to do with their success. But in the offseason, St. Louis hired Smith as their defensive coordinator with hopes he could help them return to the Super Bowl.

When Smith left for St. Louis, he took Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's 4-3 Cover 2 defensive scheme with him. Not only has St. Louis' defense improved, they are ranked fourth in the NFL and first in the NFC in total defense after just nine games this season.

"It's a gap controlled defense," said Bucs SS John Lynch. "You've got to know your gaps and I think that's one thing that's been a little surprising. Typically, in the first couple of years you run this style of defense, you get gashed a little because not everyone is on top of their game in terms of where to go. You put your players in position to make plays and you've got to tackle extremely well, and that's what they're doing."

What exactly has Smith done to turn one of the worst defenses in the NFL into a more than capable unit that is allowing just 16 points per game this season?

"They're a lot better than they have been in the past," said Bucs RB Warrick Dunn. "The scheme that they have is geared more toward the athletes they have on defense. Lovie is doing a good job of putting those guys in position to make plays, and that's what they're basically doing"

Not only did St. Louis hire Smith, but they also added some players through the draft and free agency. The Rams signed ex-Bucs players like LDE Chidi Ahanotu, LB Don Davis and DE/DT Tyoka Jackson since they are all familiar with the defensive scheme Smith implemented in the offseason. The Rams also traded for ex-Cardinals CB Aeneas Williams right before the draft, which has improved their secondary.

Bucs head coach Tony Dungy says the addition of Smith and some new players have made the biggest difference in St. Louis' defense.

"They've added some really good players and a great coach that we're very familiar with," said Dungy. "They're playing a different style than they did last year. They're really hustling and they're sound. It's tough to find cracks in what they're doing. I think the combination of new players and new system has really helped them."

So, will Smith be able to give any of Tampa Bay's defensive secrets and strategies to Rams head coach/offensive coordinator Mike Martz?

"It's going to be one of those types of weeks where both sides will say, well they know this, so they may do this, but they know that we know this, so they might do this," said Dungy. "Sometimes you can outthink yourself and I'm sure he's telling his guys what we're telling our guys. You have to go out and play, read your keys, do what you should do, and not worry about what they know or what you think may happen."

At first glance, one might assume the St. Louis offense will have an advantage over Tampa Bay's defense since they face the same defensive scheme in practice everyday, but Bucs SS John Lynch says think again.

"They'll be a little more familiar," said Lynch. "But when you turn on the film, you can see exactly what we're doing. The same goes for us facing their defense. It's going to be a game that comes down to making plays and who executes better."


Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com

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