WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida
SPREAD: Rams by 1.5
WHERE THE RAMS STAND: The St. Louis Rams are 0-2 and are in last place in the NFC West Division.
RAMS HEAD COACH: Mike Martz
RAMS OFFENSIVE COORINATOR: Mike Martz
RAMS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Lovie Smith
RAMS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Bobby April
HOW THE BUCS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 20th (T) RUSHING: 24th (T) PASSING: 13th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 7th RUSHING: 11th PASSING: 11th
HOW THE RAMS RANK IN THE NFL (2002):
OFFENSE: OVERALL: 13th RUSHING: 29th (T) PASSING: 4th
DEFENSE: OVERALL: 17th (T) RUSHING: 17th PASSING: 23rd
MATCHUP TO WATCH Rams RB Marshall Faulk vs. Tampa Bay weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks: It's no secret that the St. Louis offense is out of sync. So why has St. Louis head coach Mike Martz not given the ball to his best play more often? Even Tampa Bay's defense said throughout the week that the Rams needed to get the ball into running back Marshall Faulk's hands, and that's what Martz will likely do on Monday night.
Faulk has only rushed 24 times for 106 yards (4.4 avg.) this season and he also leads the team in receptions with 21 for 127 yards. Faulk has also rushed for three touchdowns. Teams have proved they can stop the Rams' explosive offense if they can contain the elusive Faulk. It's easier said than done, but the Bucs' defense has done it before. Last season, Tampa Bay held Faulk to 55 yards rushing on 12 carries. But the Bucs' defense knows Faulk will get more than 12 carries this time around and it will be up to their linebacker corps to stop him in both the running and passing game. Martz will likely run Faulk away from Bucs weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks, who has recorded two interceptions and 14 tackles this season, but Brooks will play a big part in stopping Faulk since he is the team's best tackler.
DID YOU KNOW…
…the last three games between the Bucs and Rams have been decided by seven points or less?
BUCS MUST KEEP WARNER OUT OF SYNC:
Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, who led the NFL in touchdown passes (36) and passing yards (4.832) last season, has struggled this season. Warner has thrown just one touchdown this season and three interceptions. The Rams are scoring an average of 18 points per game, which is substantially lower than the 33.1 points per game the team averaged over the past three seasons. One of the keys to stopping the St. Louis offense is pressuring Warner and forcing him to turn the ball over. Tampa Bay's defensive line must get pressure on Warner because he can make defenses pay for blitzing. Warner completed nearly 68 percent of his passes last season and has completed nearly 73 percent of his passes this season, which shows how accurate of a passer Warner is. The Bucs can't allow Warner to complete over 70 percent of his passes on Monday night.
RAMS HURTING WITHOUT NO. 3 WR:
The Rams passing game is hurting without No. 3 wide receiver Az Hakim, who left the Rams via free agency during the offseason. Hakim gave the Rams some serious speed and usually outran the opposing team's nickel cornerback. Ricky Proehl has tried to fill the void left by Hakim, but he doesn't bring the speed Hakim added to the offense, which is one of many reasons why the Rams' offense is out of sync. Neither cornerback Brian Kelly nor Dwight Smith have the speed to keep up with most of the St. Louis receivers in a footrace, but they can keep up with Proehl, who has hauled in four passes for 46 yards and one touchdown this season. But that doesn't mean Proehl isn't a legitimate receiving threat. Remember, Proehl is the receiver that hauled in the game-winning touchdown pass over the outstretched arm of Kelly in the 1999 NFC Championship Game.
BUCS MUST GET RUNNING GAME GOING:
Tampa Bay's running game is ranked 24th in the NFL, which is nothing to brag about. The Bucs need to get the ball in running back Michael Pittman's hands more if they're going to get their rushing attack going. Pittman needs to stay healthy and on the field. He's only carried the ball 25 times for 87 yards (3.5 avg.) in two games. The Rams' run defense is ranked 17th in the league and they're allowing over 100 yards rushing per game this year. With Rams middle linebacker Jamie Duncan struggling to make tackles, look for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to get the ball into Pittman's hands early and often on Monday night.
Lovie Smith. Doesn't that name sound familiar? It should. Smith was Tampa Bay's linebackers coach from 1996-2000. He left the Bucs to become the defensive coordinator of the Rams after the 2000 season concluded. It didn't take him long to make an impact. Smith helped the Rams' defense finish the 2001 season ranked 2nd in the NFL in total defense. But like its offense, the Rams' defense hasn't quite been the same this season. They're currently ranked 17th in the league in total defense and they're allowing an average of 342.5 yards per game this season. Tampa Bay's offense is ranked 20th in the NFL, but they're producing an average of 302 yards per game. If the Bucs offense can find the end zone more than it attempts field goals, they'll stand a good chance of winning on Monday night.
TURNOVERS KEY TO WINNING:
Tampa Bay must win the turnover battle on Monday night. The Rams have a minus-3 turnover ratio this season. The Bucs have a plus-1 ratio. Tampa Bay QB Brad Johnson has managed to remain turnover free, but QB Kurt Warner has thrown three interceptions. Last season, the Bucs defeated the Rams, 24-17, and the main reason they were able to escape St. Louis with a win was because Tampa Bay's defense caused five turnovers.
BUCS SOUND OFF:
BUCS SS JOHN LYNCH ON THE UPCOMING GAME AGAINST ST. LOUIS:
"It's a good matchup for us, we match their speed. We feel we need to rough up their receivers and when they catch the ball you need to hit them. Everybody talks about the Patriots blueprint, but what I think the Patriots did was go back and look at our film over the years against them. They have had their success against us and we have had our success against them so it's going to be a showdown."
BUCS CB RONDE BARBER ON THE RAMS:
"They are not getting the ball to Marshall Faulk as much as they have in the past. I think we need to expect to see him touch the ball a bunch in the running game. They still are the same old Rams, they still have the same personnel, except maybe one or two players from last year, but they're still a dangerous team. They're going to drop back and throw it. Mike Martz is a passing guy, they're a vertical passing team. We know that and we have played them in the past with some success. They have put up some points on us in 2000, but I think we held our own. We need to expect them to drop back and throw the ball regardless of the coverage, zones, mans, whatever.
TAMPA BAY WR KEYSHAWN JOHNSON ON ST. LOUIS' 0-2 RECORD:
"I think they're dangerous because they come in at 0-2. They're looking to pull all the stops out. I know it's going to be tough, especially with the ex-players, ex-coaches, and all that stuff over here, and the fact that I think we're 2-0 against them the last couple of years should be…that's still clicking there, so we'll just wait and see."
BUCS DT WARREN SAPP ON RAMS RB MARSHALL FAULK:
"He's their key. I don't get why they're not giving (the ball) to him. They are doing some crazy things with him. If you have the greatest weapon in the game you need to get it to him and put the ball in his hands. When he's back there we know our work is cut out for us and we look forward to it. First thing first is to stop the run game, stop Faulk. He comes at you so many different ways and in 2000 he had something like 137 yards against us, 79 rushing, and those are the kinds of things we can't let happen. We need to keep him under 100 yards of total offense and limit his touches."
BUCS HEAD COACH JON GRUDEN ON WHICH TEAM WILL BE HUNGRIER ON MONDAY NIGHT:
"I know we're starving to death here. I don't know about them.
"I didn't know they were 0-2. It's the St. Louis Rams. We're very respectful of what we have to do to win this game. We realize they're a very talented team that's hungry for a win."
Time is up for Tampa Bay's offense. They must find their way into the end zone early and often against the St. Louis Rams on Monday night if they plan on winning this game. The Bucs have scored just two offensive touchdowns in two games this season, and they'll probably need more than that total on Monday night. Yes, the Rams' offense is out of sync, but so is the Bucs'.
Tampa Bay's defense must play like they did against Baltimore last Sunday. They were dominant and refocused. If you're still having a hard time forgetting about the defense's ugly performance against New Orleans in Week 1, a solid outing against the explosive Rams' offense will certainly help erase that. It's easier said than done, but in order to win this game, Tampa Bay must win the turnover battle, punish the Rams' ball carriers, contain Marshall Faulk and get to QB Kurt Warner early and often. If they succeed in doing all four of these tasks, I can't see why the Bucs would lose this game. Ironically, Tampa Bay had a chance to kick the 0-2 Minnesota Vikings while they were down in Week 3 last season, but came up short. But this time should be different, right? It's Monday Night Football, it's in Tampa and its against the Rams, who the Bucs have laid out the blueprint on how to beat. If the Bucs follow that blueprint, they'll leave Ray-Jay victorious and the Rams will leave 0-3.
FLYNN'S PICK Buccaneers 27 Rams 21
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