NFC scouting report

January 23, 2000|By Vito Stellino

Rams run offense vs. Bucs run defense - BUCS EDGE

The Rams were No. 1 in passing, but also No. 5 running. Marshall Faulk is a game-breaking threat every time he touches the ball. The Bucs' defense starts with stopping the run. They can make it a game if they hold Faulk under 75 yards.

Rams pass offense vs. Bucs pass defense - RAMS EDGE

This is the best matchup of the game. The Rams go for big plays. The Bucs' cover-two defense is designed to take away the deep pass, then fly to the receiver to make big hits when the throw goes underneath. The Bucs don't want to risk one-on-one matchups. Easier said than done.

Bucs run offense vs. Rams run defense - BUCS EDGE

The Bucs' image is Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott as a 1-2 running punch. But Alstott is not a blocking fullback. He usually operates as the lone back or with No. 2 tight end Patrick Hape in front of him as a fullback or an H-back. Dunn has been a change-of-pace runner, often a third-down back, and carried 195 times, compared to 242 for Alstott. The Bucs didn't have a run longer than 33 yards and averaged only 3.5 yards a rush. But only three teams ran more, and the Bucs were the only team to run more than they passed. They hope to wear down the Rams.

Bucs pass offense vs. Rams pass defense - RAMS EDGE

Shaun King is trying to become the first rookie quarterback to take his team to the Super Bowl. But the Bucs' pass offense (28th in the league) is not sophisticated. They throw just often enough to complement their running game. The Rams are only 20th in yardage allowed, but teams are usually throwing against the Rams because they're behind. The Rams should have no trouble keeping this anemic passing game in check.

Special teams - RAMS EDGE

The Rams' Tony Horne returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown last week. The Bucs allowed the Redskins' Brian Mitchell to run back the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. The Rams have a dangerous punt returner in Az-Zahir Hakim, who took one 84 yards for a touchdown this season. Bucs kicker Martin Gramatica can hit the long ones, but Rams kicker Jeff Wilkins is ailing. Mike Royal is a solid punter for the Bucs. Mike Horan of the Rams doesn't have to punt often. The return game gives the Rams the edge.

Key matchup - BUCS EDGE

Bucs DT Warren Sapp vs. Rams G Adam Timmerman. These two used to face each other twice a year when Timmerman was in Green Bay. Timmerman has solidified the Rams' line and must keep Sapp off Rams QB Kurt Warner. If Warner gets time to throw, the Bucs will be in big trouble.

Coaching - RAMS EDGE

The Rams' Dick Vermeil has had to prove the game hasn't passed him by. But it's the Bucs' Tony Dungy who appears to live in the past, stressing defense and running. The difference in the coaching staff is at offensive coordinator. Mike Martz of the Rams is one of the most innovative play-callers. Mike Shula of the Bucs runs a basic offense, though he may be doing it on Dungy's orders.

Intangibles - BUCS EDGE

The Bucs have nothing to lose. Simply getting here after starting 3-4 has made their season a success. The Rams face all the pressure. If they don't win, they'll have an image of a team that feasted on poor defenses all year and couldn't win the big one at home.

Prediction - RAMS EDGE

The Rams faced only one of the top dozen defenses all year. That was the Ravens, who trailed 17-10 after three quarters. If the Bucs are within seven going into the fourth quarter, they have a shot. But their problem is scoring enough points to hold off the Rams. It could be a blowout -- Tampa Bay lost to Oakland, 45-0 -- if the Bucs fall behind early. Rams 24, Bucs 14.

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