Rams leaning on air attack so far

While the Rams' Steven Jackson struggles to find yards behind a decimated offensive line, the Rams have taken to the air to keep themselves afloat during their 0-2 start.

Until Steven Jackson gets back on track, St. Louis' offensive success will be confined to the passing game.

Jackson, perhaps the league's most versatile back, is averaging just 3.0 yards per carry entering Sunday's game against Tampa Bay. Opposing defense have made a concerted effort, thus far, to contain Jackson. Tampa Bay (1-1) likely won't be any different.

"He's a power runner, he's an elusive back, he's a complete package," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said.

So the past two weeks the Rams (0-2) have put the game in the hands of quarterback Marc Bulger and an experience stable of receivers that includes the Rams' long-time duo of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

St. Louis also added free-agents Drew Bennett and tight end Randy McMichael in the offseason.

The results don't show up in the record. But Bulger has thrown for 535 yards and two touchdowns, while Holt and Bruce have at least 11 catches.

And until the Rams' offensive line woes are resolved — All-Pro tackle Orlando Pace is out for the season and guard Richie Incognito will miss the game with an ankle injury — it's likely to stay that way.

"You have to have weapons yourself, and then you have to protect your quarterback so you can get those guys the ball," Rams head coach Scott Linehan said. "Those guys have to get open, and that's our biggest challenge right there."

Bulger got those receivers the ball last week to the tune of 368 yards passing, despite being sacked six times and hit several other times. The offensive line combination in front of Bulger was the 20th and 21st — thanks to an in-game injury to guard Claude Terrell — combinations since 2003.

It seemed every time Bulger got up, something was hurting.

St. Louis' struggles up front may offer the Bucs' below-average pass rush a window to pressure Bulger all game. The Bucs have just four sacks in two games.

"That's not good enough," Bucs defensive end Greg White, in his first year with the Bucs, said. "We would like to be like the defense was before I was here – that's how I want to see it."

So the Rams have remained reliant on their receivers. Bruce, in his 14th season, will clear the 900-catch barrier with two receptions on Sunday and is in the NFC's Top 10 in receptions and yardage so far. Holt needs 34 yards to move into the NFL's Top 20 in receiving yards.

And Bennett (6-foot-5, 206 pounds) provides a large target in the slot.

The Rams' talented receivers should provide one of the game' top matchups. The Bucs secondary has played well so far, even with Brian Kelly missing last week's game. If Kelly plays on Sunday, the Bucs will have Kelly, Ronde Barber, Phillip Buchanon and Sammy Davis — the latter pair first round picks — at their disposal to slow down the Rams.

And until Jackson gets back on track, that's what the Bucs must do.

"They used to have the fastest show on turf and that's when the Bucs defense was at its best, and I think we're getting back to that," Buchanon said. "It's going to be a good challenge this weekend."

Rams primer

Three things to watch on Sunday

The offensive line

This unit is leaky and hadn't played together until last week. OT Orlando Pace is out for the year, and RG Richie Incognito is out for the game with a bum ankle.

The Timex quarterback

Rams QB Marc Bulger took a licking last week and, well, you know. He was sacked six times, but you better get to him because he stands and throw under pressure as well as anyone in the NFL.

The run defense

The Rams are ranked No. 10 overall in defense, but No. 25 against the run. They're giving up big chunks of yards, including 13 runs of 10 or more yards.

Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.


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