Rams-Bucs: 5 Things To Watch
By Jim Thomas

Of the Post-Dispatch
10/16/2004



Pittman to the rescue

Michael Pittman isn't an elite running back, but he has played well enough the past two games to revive a Tampa Bay running game reeling from Charlie Garner's season-ending knee injury in Game 3.

Pittman was suspended the first three games of the season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. On the football field, he is a no-nonsense runner, a power back with enough speed to keep defenses honest on outside plays.

"We've played a lot of good backs this year, and he's probably the hardest runner," Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "He hits the holes the hardest. You feel it more when he runs."

Pittman also is a good receiver out of the backfield. He produced two key first downs - one on a 14-yard reception, and one on a 10-yard run off left tackle, to help run out the clock in last week's 20-17 victory over New Orleans.

A former Arizona Cardinal, Pittman has faced the Rams only once, rushing for 53 yards in 11 carries in the 2002 Rams-Bucs contest. The Rams can't afford to take any runner lightly these days: they rank 29th in the NFL in run defense and have allowed 100-yard rushers in three of their past four games.


Griese's the word

It's usually not a good sign when it's still October, and you're on your third quarterback of the season. In the case of the Bucs, at least they have an experienced arm in Brian Griese. Griese, 29, has 56 NFL starts, most of them as John Elway's successor in Denver from 1999 through 2002. Griese replaces the injured Chris Simms, who replaced the benched Brad Johnson.

"The thing that you see in Brian is not just the experience and the game management," Rams coach Mike Martz said. "He's a very, very accurate passer. He's got a strong enough arm to throw the deep outs, and yet he's got great touch as well."

Griese, in fact, set a Denver franchise record in 2002 with a 66.7 percent completion rate. Griese is no stranger to the spotlight. Besides replacing Elway, he is the son of Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese, is a Pro Bowler himself, and led Michigan to a co-national championship in college.

Griese had one of the better performances of his career in a 2000 Monday nighter in St. Louis to open that season. He threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns, but Denver lost a 41-36 shootout to the Rams.


Pace vs. Rice

Last week, Orlando Pace faced one of the hardest-working defensive ends in the game in former Ram Grant Wistrom. On Monday, Pace's challenge will be one of the game's best speed rushers in Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice.

"His get-off is pretty incredible," Martz said. "It's like Leonard (Little). So you have to be focused because he can get you at any time. I don't care how good you are."

Since the start of the 2001 season, only Michael Strahan of the New York Giants has more sacks than Rice. But the three-time Pro Bowler has only one sack in his last eight games, dating to the end of the 2003 season. Without Warren Sapp on the Bucs' defensive line this season, Rice has been drawing extra attention from opposing blockers in the form of chip-blocking and double teams. Don't be surprised if the Bucs occasionally switch Rice to left end on Monday, in an effort to exploit Rams right tackleGrant Williams, who gave up two sacks last week in Seattle.


What's up front

Little probably will find himself facing both Todd Steussie and Kenyatta Walker at right tackle. Last week, Steussie gave up a sack to Will Smith of New Orleans that resulted in Simms' left shoulder injury. Steussie was replaced for the rest of the game by Walker, a first-round pick by the Bucs in '01 who also gave up a sack against the Saints. The Bucs have given up 16 sacks so far this season, tied for the fourth-highest total in the NFL. In the running game, their per-carry average is only 3.6 yards - tied for the sixth-lowest total in the league. So the offensive line has hardly been a strong point this season.


On the receiving end

Injuries to WRs Joey Galloway and Joe Jurevicius, plus Keenan McCardell's ongoing holdout, have taken much of the sizzle out of the Tampa Bay passing game. What's left is future Hall of Famer Tim Brown, a 17-year veteran who doesn't appear to have much left, Charles Lee, and rookie Michael Clayton.

Clayton and Lee have good run-after-the-catch ability, but neither has elite speed. Clayton leads NFL rookie wide receivers in catches (23) and reception yards (301) this season.