Don't Be Afraid Of The Big Bad Rams

September 19 - Should the 1-1 Tampa Bay Buccaneers fear the 0-2 St. Louis Rams? Sandy Penner doesn't think they should and he explains why in this installment of his weekly column.

Life is full of classic bullies who intimidate, decimate and otherwise humiliate. In The Brady Bunch, it was Buddy Hinton who tortured Cindy until Peter stood up for his sister. On The Simpsons, Nelson always picked on Bart until one day Bart had enough. And, of course, in the movie Full Metal Jacket, Private Gomer Pyle was the whipping boy of the mean nasty drill sergeant. Actually, since Pyle eventually killed himself, the analogy doesn't quite work, but you know what I mean. The last three seasons, the St Louis Rams have been the bully of the NFL. One Super Bowl win, one Super Bowl loss and a whole lot of stealing of your lunch money blowouts. Well, that's over because teams have finally started standing up to the Rams and like a classic bully, St Louis has started to back down.

Led by their arrogant coach Mike Martz, the Rams are more bark than bite at this point. Two years ago, the Saints knocked them out of the playoffs by smashing them in the mouth. Last year, the Patriots completely wiped away any mystique the Rams might still have had by beating them on carpet for footballs biggest prize. In a nutshell, the jig is up, the fun is over, the gravy train has run out on the team formerly known as the greatest show on turf. On Monday night, the Bucs have a chance to bury the Rams. This has always been a good matchup for the Bucs because they didn't allow themselves to be bullied. With St Louis, it wasn't a physical bullying all the time, but rather a underlying idea that they we're going to whip you and they were going to do it their way.

The Rams aren't 0-2 by a fluke. Even if you excuse their opening loss to a solid Bronco team in Denver, the debacle against the Giants was disturbing. The reasons are aplenty, but it has to start with Martz. When Dick Vermeil led St Louis to the title, there was always the sense that he had his teams back. His confidence was quiet and even though they were bullies, the Rams carved you up with a surgeons precision. With Martz, it's the exact opposite. He wants to win his way even though the situation calls for him to do something different.

The NFL has adjusted to the Rams high octane attack but the Rams haven't adjusted back. That's because Martz is convinced he can win his way and he'll lose trying to prove it. His loud and meanspirited verbal attack on Giants CB Jason Sehorn was embarrassing and stupid. Since the Rams are no longer bullies, Sehorn responded by intercepting a pass and running it back for a TD. In addition, Marshall Faulk got only 14 carries in the Giant loss, which is about half of what he should be getting. The great thing about having a guy like Faulk is you don't have to abandon the running game when you get behind, but of course Martz has to show you that he can win by passing every down.

Sure, there are other reasons for the Rams inauspicious start. Kurt Warner has got some type of problem. I don't know whether it's his thumb, hand, arm or shoulder, but something's not right. Lovie Smith's defense, although improved, is still suspect in the pass rush area and is vulnerable to the deep ball. The Rams offensive line is a sight to behold when it comes to pass blocking. However, if you need a first down on third-and-2, well then, they're not the group you want to call. Despite my eulogy, the Rams are still capable of 40 points on select days and can't be completely buried just yet.

It's a wonderful opportunity for Coach Chuckie's team to bring the guillotine down. With one fell swoop, the Bucs can reestablish themselves as a major Super Bowl factor and toss aside a team that could be a deterrent to their plans. Ball control, physical play and an early lead are the three major factors to win this game. What scares me is Gruden might get into a "who's the better offensive mind" battle with Martz and make it a shootout. Bad idea.

Remember, bullies don't stop becoming bullies. You just stop being scared of them.


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