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Times staff writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000

1. SET THE TONE: The Bucs cannot let the Rams get off to a fast start, and also must start well on offense. The best way to negate crowd noise is to not give them anything to cheer about. The Rams defense is accustomed to playing with a lead, so if the Bucs stay close, the offense can succeed.

2. RUN AWAY FROM THE RAMS OFFENSE: The Bucs beat a hot Minnesota team in 1998 by keeping the Vikings off the field with a ball-control attack. Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott rushed for 246 yards in a 27-24 victory. Any thoughts of the Bucs throwing more to keep pace with the Rams are foolish. The Bucs have a losing record under Tony Dungy when attempting 30 or more passes.

3. TACKLE, TACKLE, TACKLE: The Bucs are playing the Rams and the YACs -- yards after the catch. The defensive strategy is to take away the deep pass and force St. Louis to throw underneath. But Marshall Faulk and the team's speedy Warner Brothers receivers will try to turn short passes into big gains. If the cornerbacks and linebackers like All-Pro Derrick Brooks can stop the receivers before they pick up the first down, they can keep the St. Louis offense off the field.

4. COOK UP SOME TURNOVERS: The Bucs are unbeaten when they win the turnover battle. Tampa Bay must help its offense with short fields. And if the Rams don't have the ball, they can't score. QB Shaun King has been efficient and minimized mistakes. This is not the day for him to start forcing passes into coverage or losing his grip on the ball.

5. GET THE SPECIAL: The Bucs were No. 2 in kickoff coverage in the league, but Tony Horne has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns. With Alshermond Singleton out, containing the Rams return game will be a challenge, but the Bucs have to keep them inside the St. Louis 25-yard line. They also have to slow Az-Zahir Hakim on punt returns. A bonus would be getting big plays out of the Bucs return game.

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