By using McNair short, Titans remain on long end of score

QB remarkably consistent in conservative postseason

Matchup

January 28, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Steve McNair was a passing prodigy at Alcorn State. With the Tennessee Titans, he's the king of dink and dunk.

One thing seems certain about Super Bowl XXXIV: the Titans will not ask McNair to beat the St. Louis Rams with the deep ball. They will ask him to throw short and improvise in the pocket when his receivers aren't open.

McNair has played the role well this season. Missing five games after back surgery, he won nine of 11 regular-season starts and averaged 198 passing yards per game.

He threw only 12 touchdown passes, however, and eight of them came in two games.

In four years at Alcorn State, he threw for 119 touchdowns and averaged an NCAA-record 8.18 yards per pass attempt.

In three postseason games this year, McNair has been remarkably consistent. He completed 13 of 24 passes against both the Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts, and 14 of 23 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

More consistency: 63 percent of those completions have gone to tight ends or running backs. Wide receivers appear almost to be blockers in this passing game.

Tight end Frank Wycheck, a former Maryland star, led the team in receiving for the fourth consecutive year.

At the least, McNair spreads the wealth around. Nine different receivers scored this season for the Titans. Yancey Thigpen, the team's best deep threat with an average catch of 17.1 yards, isn't expected to play against the Rams because of a hairline fracture in his right foot. His replacement, Isaac Byrd, averaged 18.6, but had only 14 receptions.

The Rams ranked a modest 20th against the pass this season, but they made up for it by returning seven interceptions for touchdowns. Linebacker Mike Jones and defensive end Grant Wistrom each returned two for scores.

Still, the Rams' secondary looked vulnerable in a divisional playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings. St. Louis surrendered 389 yards passing and four touchdowns to quarterback Jeff George.

The Rams have enough confidence in cornerbacks Todd Lyght, a Pro Bowler with six interceptions, and Dexter McCleon to blitz often. They have nine sacks in two postseason games, and defensive end Kevin Carter collected 17 in the regular season.

Catching McNair in the pocket is another matter, though. He took just 16 sacks in his 11 starts. McNair eluding the pass rush is where the fun starts on offense for the Titans.

Pub Date: 1/28/00

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