By ROGER MILLS
© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 19, 2001
TAMPA -- For good reason, the Bucs threw the ball 50 times Sunday against the Titans. They were behind, and time was running out.
The Bucs passed 27 times in the fourth quarter and three times in overtime.
But the running game wasn't working when the game was close. Tampa Bay had 16 yards on 10 carries in the first half, raising concern. "We still are a running team," offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. "We have to run the ball to be successful. We can't throw the ball 50 times and be successful. That's not us.
"I have to take my part of the blame for that. I've got to give the running game a chance to get started more and go from there."
Christensen said it's essential for the Bucs to get the running game going early against the Steelers considering they must control the tempo, chew up the clock and neutralize the Steelers' NFL-best pass defense.
"We have not, this year, given (the defense) a chance to play from ahead," Christensen said. "That's big. We've got to give them a chance to play from ahead, tee off on the quarterback and not worry as much about runs."
Receiver Keyshawn Johnson added: "We're talking about the fourth game, and I don't think there is any major sense of panic setting in at this point.
"It seems like each game we're putting up more points and opportunities are coming for everybody. That's one of the things that we always wanted around here, and we're getting it now."
GETTING A LEG UP: The Bucs have struggled with field position, and some of that has been because veteran punter Mark Royals has not started the season well. Royals entered his 13th season with a 42.4-yard average.
Royals, who sprained his right knee on the opening day of training camp and missed virtually all of the preseason, is averaging 40.8 yards and netting 33.1. "He hasn't hit them like we're used to, and that's one of the things we have to get better at," coach Tony Dungy said. "Our net punt, we've not been as good as any team we've played this year." Against the Titans, Royals had six punts for a 35.2-yard average and Tennessee's Craig Hentrich had three for a 51.7-yard average.
STEEL CURTAIN?: While the Bucs offense develops its identity, in comes the NFL's best defense to make things difficult.
The Steelers enter Sunday's game ranked No. 1 overall. They are No. 1 against the pass, allowing 143.3 yards per game, and 11th against the run, allowing 95.8. "Pittsburgh is playing extremely well right now," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "They're disguising their fronts very well with their coverages. A lot of the guys on the team you're not going to know their names, but they are making a lot of plays.
"They're playing with high intensity and creating a lot of chaos with their front coverages and not giving up the big play. And that's the key to this league. Don't give up the big play. Make people convert on third down, and they're doing a great job of that."
THE SAPP MACHINE: One by one, teammates came out to the parking lot to look at Warren Sapp's newest toy. He drove to work Thursday in a blue vehicle that resembled a hybrid between a go-cart and a Formula One racing car. The three-wheeled vehicle is called a Campagna T-Rex.
INJURY UPDATE: Linebacker Jeff Gooch (left shoulder sprain) and safety Dexter Jackson (left thigh bruise) sat out practice and likely won't play Sunday.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks (left foot sprain) and running back Warrick Dunn (sprained right big toe) also sat out but probably will play. "They are ahead of where they were last week," Dungy said. "So that kind of leads me to think they would play."