John Madden
John Madden
Faulk needs to get the ball more
By John Madden

This week the Outback Steakhouse Madden Cruiser is headed to Florida for Monday Night Football (ABC, 9 p.m. ET) and a game between the St. Louis Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Matchup to Watch:
The St. Louis running game and, more specifically, Marshall Faulk, versus Tampa Bay's defense: The Rams have to run Faulk more and get their running game going. There are a lot of reasons why you want to do this, but a big one is so that you can keep the opposing team from playing their multiple defenses, and playing five, six and even seven defensive backs all the time. You want teams to play in their regular defense more and not bring guys in who can shut down your passing game.

That was the thing with St. Louis the last few seasons. They would always match up their great speed against a team's base defense and then they would exploit that advantage because they would be faster than the other team. Now, when they match up their speed with you and let you match up your speed with them with five and six and seven defensive backs, that is, getting more defensive backs and fewer linebackers on the field, then the Rams don't have that speed thing to beat you with anymore. St. Louis has to run the ball, and that will force the opposition to go back to their base defense and then the Rams can take advantage of that with their speed.

These teams have played several close games over the last few years, and the Buccaneers' defensive front four, led by Warren Sapp, has always been tough on the Rams' offense. Something I wrote about earlier this week is that Sapp just knows how to disrupt the St. Louis offense. He always seems to get a good push and he gets good pressure on the Rams right up the middle. St. Louis throws on rhythm, and a pressure or someone coming right up the middle will knock the rhythm out of their passing game.

You don't necessarily have to knock the quarterback down or get a sack, but you want to keep him from being able to step up in the pocket, and Tampa Bay seems to do that when they face Kurt Warner and the Rams. Other than maybe the New York Giants, the Buccaneers' defense over the years has had probably as much success as any team in slowing down St. Louis' offense.

The Rams are winless so far this season and even though it doesn't look like their offense is playing that well, their defense doesn't seem to be playing well, either. That's something that Tampa Bay's going to have to try and exploit when they are on offense. Other teams have done that to St. Louis this season.

Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk is on pace for just 192 carries and 848 yards.
The Rams have to get back to where they have one of those games where Marshall Faulk runs for a lot of yards. They need to get a little more run into their mix. In pro football, you just can't do one thing. You can't run the ball on every play nor pass the ball on every play (although teams around the NFL seem to be passing the ball on just about every down this season), because you have to have balance and mixture with your offense if you want to be good.

Faulk's not only one of the best running backs in the league, he's one of the best players in the league and his team has to take advantage of that. St. Louis can try to spread defenses out and stuff, but at some point, it has to run Faulk 20 times in a game.

It's interesting because I still think in any grouping you would put the Rams in as one of the top teams in the NFL. But they haven't played that way this season. They are starting out 0-2 and you can't get to a point where this is a "have-to" game this early in the season, but at some point they have to start winning and start putting things together.
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