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Thread: NFL Marquee Matchup
NFL Marquee Matchup
NFL Marquee MatchupSI.com's Andrew Perloff breaks down this week's Monday night gameTampa Bay Buccaneers (1-4) at St. Louis Rams (3-2)
Monday, 9:00 p.m. EST (ABC)
Edward Jones Dome (66,000) </SPAN> Setting The StageWhen the NFL started bandying about the idea of making the Monday Night matchup flexible to avoid dud games, they had this one in mind. What was supposed to be an epic battle of offense vs. defense with key ramifications in the NFC playoff race has turned into a matchup between a decent team and a bad one.
The Rams are coming off a miracle win in Seattle that helped them keep pace with a Seahawks team everyone assumes is poised to take over the NFC West. Meanwhile, the Bucs turned to an unlikely hero, quarterback Brian Griese, to lead them to their first win of the season in New Orleans.
But despite early bumps in the road for both teams -- especially the Bucs -- these teams still excel in their specialties. St. Louis' offense is quickly climbing back to the top of the rankings, while Tampa Bay's defense remains stingy.
BreakdownSizing up St. Louis
The Rams were down 17 points with about six minutes left in their big showdown with the Seahawks. A 2-3 record and deep hole in the divisional standings seemed certain. But Marc Bulger is not one to feel pressure. He calmly rallied his team to force an overtime period and won the game 33-27 with a perfect 52-yard strike to Shaun McDonald.
Bulger jumped to the league lead in yards (1,426), attempts (180) and completions (120), and has brought back some of the pizzazz to a Rams offense that has cooled off the past couple of years. Credit coach Mike Martz for inserting some new blood into the offense, including WRs McDonald and Kevin Curtis and rookie RB Steven Jackson.
McDonald and Curtis have filled that vital role of third receiver that used to be taken by Az-Zahir Hakim. Jackson is a complete change of pace from Marshall Faulk and offers the big-play capability Faulk no longer has. With his 6.9 yards-per-carry average, Martz will look to get Jackson involved against a Bucs D that hasn't been great against the run.
Faulk can still be a dangerous weapon as well, although he's disappeared in about half of St. Louis' games. The last time Faulk faced Tampa Bay, he was held to just nine yards on six carries, so maybe this is a good time to give Jackson more looks. Don't forget to give some credit to the defense for the comeback against Seattle. After letting up 306 yards and 24 points in the first half, they allowed just 85 yards and three points in the second.
The defense's biggest star is also its most controversial. Defensive end Leonard Little has three sacks on the season -- including a huge one on Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck in the fourth quarter -- while dealing with a very public court case stemming from his April 24 arrest for driving under the influence. Little pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in a traffic accident that killed a woman in 1998.
Little seems to be able to avoid the distractions of his trial and perform. The Rams will need him to lead the rush against Bucs QB Brian Griese, who definitely can be rattled.
Sizing up Tampa Bay
If anybody can stop the Rams' passing game it's Tampa Bay. Last week, they Bucs held New Orleans' Aaron Brooks to just 106 yards, and they're the only team in the league holding opposing passers to a completion rate under 50 percent. For the most part, the loss of veteran stars Warren Sapp and John Lynch hasn't adversely affected the D. They're getting less pressure on the quarterback now that teams don't have to worry about Sapp and can focus more on defensive end Simeon Rice. Those gaudy pass-defense numbers will take a dive fast if they can't get in Bulger's face on Monday night.
Tampa Bay's problems have been on offense, where it ranks 25th overall and 31st rushing the ball. Brian Griese makes his first start as a Buc after rallying them to a 20-17 win over New Orleans last week. They picked the right week to go with Griese, since he's done some of his best work on Monday nights. His first start ever came under the lights against Miami, and he threw for 270 yards and three TDs. He also had one of his only good games as a Dolphin in a win over San Diego last season on a Monday night.
Griese will need help from his running backs, which have a chance to shine against a Rams' D that ranks 29th in stopping the run. Tailback Michael Pittman has looked adequate in the two games he's played since returning from a league suspension that kept him out of the first three games. His presence certainly helped last week when he converted a few key third-down plays in the fourth quarter. The Bucs tried Mike Alstott at tailback for a few plays last week, but didn't really give the big back a chance to punish the Saints D.
WR Joey Galloway is still at least a week away from returning after suffering a groin injury in Week 1. In the meantime, wideout Michael Clayton is emerging as a No. 1 receiver, although the Bucs still don't have much of a vertical passing game. Clayton, a 6-4 rookie out of LSU, has 23 catches for 301 yards and a TD. Veteran Tim Brown has 17 catches, but is only averaging 7.2 yards per catch.
Special Teams Breakdown
The Rams have improved tremendously in all aspects of special teams as the season has gone on. Martz says having all his linebackers and defensive backs healthy has been the difference. A 39-yard punt return in the closing minutes by Shaun McDonald was huge in the win over Seattle.
Bucs punt returner Tim Brown has done little besides making fair catches and probably should be replaced. But at least kick returners Torrie Cox and Frank Murphy have done a nice job. Key MatchupRams QB Marc Bulger
• Sixth-year pro, 6-foot-3, 215
• Stats: 120 completions, 181 attempts, 1,426 yards passing, seven TDs, five INTs
• Bulger's poise was impressive last week. After throwing for just 52 yards and two INTs in the first half, he put up 273 yards and three TDs in the second half. The Rams are starting to look like the Greatest Show on Turf again, and a lot of the credit for that goes to Bulger. But this is the toughest pass defense he'll see this season. He'll have to be accurate this week as the Bucs try to cut off all the slants and over-the-middle pass patterns the Rams love so much. Tampa Bay CB Ronde Barber
• Eigth-year pro, 5-foot-10, 184
• Stats: 26 tackles, 0 INTs
• Barber is having an outstanding season and he'll have to be at the top of his game against the Rams' high-flying attack. When you're going against the Rams, CBs don't catch a break, since starting WRs Ike Bruce and Torry Holt are both difficult to stop. Barber has always had a knack for coming up with big plays. His fumble return for a touchdown against the Saints was the eight of his career, and his two TDs on the season actually leads the team.
The OutcomeTampa Bay has a three-game win streak over the Rams, but these aren't the same Bucs that won the Super Bowl two years ago -- or even the same team that finished last season 7-9. Despite Griese's success in past Monday night games, don't expect much offense out of the Bucs. Their defense will keep the game close early, but eventually Bulger will hit a groove and come up with enough big plays for a comfortable win. St. Louis 24, Tampa Bay 13
Re: NFL Marquee Matchup
So what do you guys think about Brian Griese? Can he make a difference for the Bucs? There were able to beat the Saints with Griese in. The Rams lost to the Saints. It seems to me that these teams may not be as far apart as their records seem to say.[SIGPIC][/SIGPIC]
-10-16-2004 #3Registered User
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Re: NFL Marquee Matchup
theres some reason he is 3rd string.
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