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Rams on Bucs D: Respect yes, fear no

St. Louis' powerhouse offense knows what it's up against but doesn't think it can be stopped.

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 17, 2000


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ST. LOUIS -- Sometimes a taste is all it takes.

Hungry becomes ravenous.

Sunday, St. Louis had its first-ever taste of the NFL playoffs, its Rams chewimg up the Minnesota Vikings 49-37. It was not enough. The Vikings were the hors d'oeuvre. It wants the main course, coffee and dessert served in Atlanta. But first, a taste of Tampa Bay -- the Bucs. The Washington Redskins choked on them Saturday, a 13-0 third-quarter lead dissolving into a 14-13 loss.

The Rams haven't faced a defense quite like Tampa Bay's, No. 3 overall in the league, No. 2 against the pass. And the Bucs haven't faced an offense like St. Louis', No. 1 overall and No. 1 in passing.

"I think you're going to have a case of a classic (matchup)," Vikings coach Dennis Green said, "a team that's won by defense and a team that's won by offense."

Coach Dick Vermeil smiled when the subject arose. "Herman Edwards played for me for six years," he said of the Bucs assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. "I think he'll show a little sympathy for the old coach."

The Rams, quite naturally, would say nothing derogatory of Warren Sapp, Brad Culpepper and the rest of the Bucs. Only that they would be prepared for them.

"I voted for Sapp for the Pro Bowl," Rams center Mike Gruttadauria said. "And Culpepper's a great one, too. I don't think Sapp has the success he's had if he doesn't have another lineman like Culpepper there. And (linebacker Hardy) Nickerson, I voted for him, too.

"But, ya' know, (Minnesota's) John Randle, he's a pretty good player, too, him and Jerry Ball, and I think we played them pretty good."

Randle had one of Minnesota's two sacks of Rams quarterback Kurt Warner. Between them, Randle and Ball had three tackles.

"I think if we prepare ourselves and play our game, we'll be okay," Gruttadauria said. "Besides, on Sunday, you don't think about who you're going against. You worry about that during the week. After that, on game day, you're just trying to execute the plays."

"I've seen them some," said Vermeil, who admitted to taking a nap Saturday during the third quarter of the Bucs' victory. "I've seen them look awfully good and I've seen them look not too good. They're a very sound, solid football team with a big strong running attack that'll pound you."

The Rams have Marshall Faulk at running back -- and receiver. He exceeded 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving this season. He rushed for only 21 yards (and a touchdown) against Minnesota, but he caught six passes for 80 yards (and a touchdown) as Warner spread his passes among 10 receivers.

"We've done that all year long, trying to make (the opposition) cover everybody," Warner said before adding, "You can't do it all game."

Said Az-Zahir Hakim, "We have too many things on offense for (the Bucs) to be worried about."

So can the Rams offense be stopped?

"I don't think so," Warner said. "I haven't seen a defense that has done it yet. People are going to have to prove it to me for me to believe it."

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