Flynn's Focus

September 17 – Can the Buccaneers kick the 0-2 Rams while they're down? That's what Tampa Bay plans to do next Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, but the Bucs failed when presented with the same opportunity against the 0-2 Vikings last season. As glad as some people might be to see the Rams winless, it doesn't bode well for the Bucs. But don't be mistaken. The Bucs need this win just as badly as the desperate Rams, and Jim Flynn explains why in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

Flynn's Focus usually appears weekly on PewterReport.com
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The desperate 0-2 St. Louis Rams will clash with the 1-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers next Monday night in Raymond James Stadium, which will certainly be another classic showdown between these two NFC rivals. But can the Bucs kick the Rams while they're down? Can they hammer one more nail into St. Louis' coffin in terms of their playoff hopes? And more importantly, can the Bucs improve to 2-1 on the season? These are all questions that, of course, will not be answered until after next Monday night's game is played, but let's take a look at why it will be critical for the Bucs to play as desperate as the Rams will on Monday night.

Are the Rams in trouble? Yes. Why are they in trouble? They've lost six consecutive games this season, including a 0-4 stint in preseason. They're 0-7 if you go back to their Super Bowl XXXVI loss to the New England Patriots last February.

St. Louis is out of sync. The Rams' defense, which ranked second overall in the NFL last season, has allowed 49 points in two regular season games this season. In fact, St. Louis was outscored 102-69 in preseason.

But the Rams don't have to panic just because their defense is not playing well, right? They did, after all, win Super Bowl XXXIV with a less than stellar defense and made the playoffs in 2000 with a mediocre defense. But the Rams' defense is not the only problem. The offense has sputtered as of late, which has made a once dominant team very vulnerable.

The Rams have scored 37 points in two games this season, which averages out to be 18.5 points per game, which is what Tony Dungy's teams averaged per game during his six years as the Bucs' head coach. Rams QB Kurt Warner, who threw a league-high 36 touchdown passes last season, has thrown just one in two games. Despite those numbers, Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he couldn't help but be impressed with what the Rams' offense, which averaged 33.1 points per game over the last three seasons, has done in recent years .

"It's truly amazing," Gruden said of what the St. Louis Rams have done on offense over the years. "I'm a big fan of the St. Louis Rams and what they've done from a standpoint that they're very creative. They have a great player at every skilled position. (Torry) Holt, Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, Orlando Pace and they're solid at tight end. They've got continuity. They've had the opportunity to play together and that's when you really take off. That's what makes them exceptional in my opinion. But you can't deny the fact that they've set a standard in the NFL for scoring and production over the last three of four years. It's going to be hard to top."

Speaking of Dungy, the few offensive outbursts his Tampa Bay teams had in terms of scoring points came against the Rams. Tampa Bay was held to six points in the 1999 NFC Championship Game, but they scored 38 and 24 points in the last two meetings with St. Louis. Will Gruden take some plays out of Dungy's playbook for Monday night's game? Stay tuned. We'll ask him that question on Wednesday after he has had a chance to look at some game film.

The Buccaneers lost nickel CB Donnie Abraham during the offseason, which would normally have Tampa Bay defensive backs coach Mike Tomlin waking up in the middle of the night in a sweat this week. But Tampa Bay's loss could be offset by one of the Rams' offseason losses. One of the reasons the Rams' offense is out of sync is because of the loss of No. 3 wide receiver Az Hakim. Cornerbacks and safeties were hard-pressed to cover Hakim because of his blazing speed, but this is something the Rams now lack with possession receiver Ricky Proehl filling the void. Neither cornerbacks Brian Kelly nor Dwight Smith had the speed to keep up in a footrace with Hakim, but they can keep up with Proehl.

One could also argue that teams might have figured out how to stop the Rams' offense. Tampa Bay laid out the blue print on how to stop "The Greatest Show on Turf" in the 1999 NFC Championship Game when they held the Rams' offense to just 9 points (Rams also got two points on a safety). So what's the formula? Pressure quarterback Kurt Warner, contain running back Marshall Faulk, win the turnover battle and make the receivers pay when they catch the ball. The New York Giants, New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have since defeated the Rams with that blue print, but Gruden doesn't think teams have necessarily figured out how to shut the Rams' offense down.

"I wouldn't buy into that," Gruden said when asked if teams have figured out how to stop the Rams' offense. "If you study the last couple of games, you'll see that they've mishandled a couple of passes missed some big plays and opportunities. There's a lot of idol chatter about the Rams being soft. This is a very complex mystery if you ask me. We have to do everything we can to try and deny these guys of any big plays."

Tampa Bay had a chance to kick a team while they were down last season, but failed to do it. Ironically, it was Week 3 of last season when the Bucs traveled to Minnesota to face the 0-2 Vikings. The Bucs came close, but failed to put the Vikings away and lost, 20-16.

But as similar as this situation might sound, there are some differences, too. The Bucs had 20 days pass between their opening game against Dallas and their second game of the season against the Vikings last year thanks to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a bye week. Tampa Bay also had to play the Vikings on the road, whereas they'll be at home for their showdown with the Rams. And by the way, did I mention this one is a Monday Night Football game? Gruden and Co. certainly know what kind of opportunity they have. They can put the Rams, who were a Super Bowl contender two weeks ago, into a very deep hole with a win. Gruden said he won't let his team get caught up in what kind of record the Rams have.

"We're real shallow thinkers here," said Gruden. "I don't care who has what record. If you just look at this league right now, the Carolina Panthers might just be the best team in football. A lot of people might be surprised by that, but add Julius Peppers and Dan Morgan and you get mistake-free play from your quarterback, you can win in the NFL. This is going to be another test for the Buccaneers and we're looking forward to meeting it."

At first glance, the Rams look like they should be the desperate team, but after further review, the Bucs should play with just as much desperation. Tampa Bay is only 1-1 and the Panthers and Saints both are 2-0 and in first place of the NFC South Division. The Bucs lost their home opener to the Saints, which is their NFC South Division rival. The Bucs will play two consecutive road games (at Cincinnati, at Atlanta) after they host the Rams. And after they host Cleveland on Oct. 13, Tampa Bay will play two consecutive road games (at Philadelphia, at Carolina) again. Tampa Bay can't afford to lose another home game, especially to a NFC opponent.

Should you be concerned about this game? Absolutely. The Rams are desperate and the Bucs' offense still is on life support. Tampa Bay's offense has produced just two touchdowns in two games this season, which is nothing to brag about. The defense is coming off of an impressive performance and shutout against the Baltimore Ravens, but it's still hard to forget about their performance in Week 1 against the Saints, where QB Aaron Brooks picked apart the Bucs' secondary and the defense couldn't get itself off of the field to save its life.

This game will be a good way to measure where exactly the Bucs are from both an offensive and defensive standpoint. But the Pewter Pirates will have to play with the same sense of urgency as the Rams, or maybe even more. And by the way, they'll also have to score some touchdowns. Dungy's '99 team proved that you can't beat the Rams with field goals, even when they're struggling.

"We're going to try to be aggressive ourselves," said Gruden. "There might be some people who think differently right now, but we're going to try to score ourselves and try to be aggressive as we can be.

"I think (the Rams) realize they have to have the game, but so do we."


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