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Howie Long analysis

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000

St. Louis is the most complete team in football -- special teams, offense and defense.

Last week, Minnesota really had the Rams exactly where it wanted them at the end of the first half. It had controlled the clock, it had to be happy going into the locker room, and bang: The Rams return the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

How many times do you see a Rams wide receiver touch the ball standing still? They're always going 110 miles per hour.

And Marshall Faulk? I said last week that Robert Smith had a great year and Faulk had 1,200 more yards than Smith. Faulk is essentially a wide receiver in the backfield, and he's a great running back and a safety valve on blitz pickups.

The Bucs have to run the ball effectively, controlling the clock. The coaches are not asking Shaun King to win the game. Ten of his 15 completions against Washington were to running backs and tight ends, so obviously they're trying to keep him within the framework of what they're asking him to do.

But after struggling early, to make that play down there on the goal line against the Redskins showed he's a winner. You talk about the Bears in '85, Jim McMahon wasn't the prettiest quarterback in the world, but he was a winner. He knew how to win and not screw it up, and I think that's what this kid brings to the table.

The Bucs defense has to force turnovers. The Rams run a lot of routes across the middle, so John Lynch needs to blow someone up and force a turnover. The Bucs need to get pressure from their front four, which will allow them to have seven in coverage.

Again, St. Louis is not just offense and defense, it's special teams. The Bucs need an outstanding special-teams effort.

The first five minutes are key. St. Louis has jumped out on people so quickly, it takes you out of your game plan. So the Bucs need not only to keep St. Louis' offense off the field but to hold it in check early.

I think if the Bucs are going to be successful, they're going to be successful within the confines of what they do well.

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