Titans hope to take air out of Rams

But fast track may help Warner and passing game


January 29, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Nowhere are the Super Bowl XXXIV matchups as problematic for the Tennessee Titans as in defending the St. Louis Rams' vaunted passing attack.

If the Titans assign cornerback Samari Rolle to wide receiver Isaac Bruce, can Denard Walker handle the Rams' Torry Holt or Az-Zahir Hakim or Ricky Proehl? And which defensive back will spy on running back Marshall Faulk, who can do as much damage in the passing game as the running game? Dainon Sidney? Donald Mitchell? Steve Jackson?

Tennessee found the answers in a 24-21 victory over the Rams in Week 8 at Adelphia Coliseum. Lining up eight defensive backs, they neutralized the speed advantage that St. Louis holds over every defense it faces.

But this game won't be played on the Titans' grass field. It will be on the fast track of Atlanta's Georgia Dome, and that's where Rams quarterback Kurt Warner could get revenge.

The Titans sacked Warner six times in their October victory. But that exposure to Tennessee's blitzing 46 defense will prove invaluable this time around.

Tennessee's aggressive style bailed its defense out all season. The Titans' pass defense ranked 25th in the league, giving up 230.9 yards a game. The Rams' No. 1 pass offense chewed up 272.1 yards per game. Therein lies the biggest mismatch in the Super Bowl.

Prolific? Warner posted nine 300-yard passing games and nine games with three or more touchdown passes. Bruce caught 12 TD passes and averaged 15.1 yards per catch. Holt caught six touchdowns and averaged 15.2.

Expect the Titans to turn the pass rush loose, with the hope that defensive end Jevon Kearse will dominate his matchup with right tackle Fred Miller.

Warner looked vulnerable with three interceptions when the Rams turned conservative in their NFC championship game victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Expect the Rams to go deep early and often against the Titans. The outcome figures to depend on how many of those passes Warner hits.

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