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17

NFL Preview - St. Louis (0-1) at Tampa Bay (0-1)



By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - It's not the glamour position in the NFL, but it does win games.

And unless the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can get their issues ironed out on the offensive line, it may be a while before Lovie Smith's coaching tenure gets to the places that many assume it will ultimately go.

The Bucs enter a Week 2 matchup with the St. Louis Rams with some question as to the status of multiple-Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins, who left in the second quarter of his Tampa Bay debut in Week 1 - a 20-14 loss to Carolina - and did not return.

He didn't take part in Wednesday's practice, leaving his status for Sunday in doubt, though Smith doesn't seem particularly concerned just yet.

"We have 10 guys on our 53-man roster on our offensive line. We'll probably choose from that group if Logan can't (go)," he said. "But Logan has been injured before. He feels like he'll be able to go."

Tampa Bay was held off the scoreboard for the initial three quarters of the opener with the Panthers - including just 15 offensive plays in the opening half - before awakening to log 128 of 264 total yards in the final 15 minutes. NFL veteran Josh McCown, a free-agent signee brought in to assume the starting role at quarterback, was intercepted twice in an inglorious debut.

"In order to establish an identity, you have to have the ball," Smith said. "I don't think any team has an identity until you get to the season, and then you see what you're going to be, what you can do, and it changes each game."

McCown's No. 1 passing weapon, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, caught just four passes for 36 yards, while running back Doug Martin, who gained 1,454 yards as a rookie before injuries kept him to just six starts last season, had nine carries for nine yards.

Without a run game, McCown said, nothing else worked as well as it could have.

"We would love to be able to establish an effective running game that we can use," he said. "We have to remind ourselves that we're still early in building this thing and we've got to weather the storm through these learning curves. We'll get better."

Rams running back Zac Stacy gained 104 yards and scored once on 33 carries when he last faced the Bucs in December, a game in which St. Louis registered a 23-13 victory.

But the more urgent issue for the Rams these days is at quarterback.

St. Louis lost its No. 1 man when Sam Bradford went down for the season with a torn ACL in the preseason, and substitute starter Shaun Hill exited the Week 1 opener - a 34-6 loss to Minnesota - in the second half thanks to a left quadriceps concern.

That left the role to undrafted rookie Austin Davis, who was picked off once and sacked four times.

But lest anyone think there's an issue with the job going forward, Fisher insists otherwise.

"Shaun's our quarterback, so if he's healthy he starts," he said. "And that will be the case throughout the season."

Bradford suffered a similar season-ending injury last year, leaving the starting role to Kellen Clemens for the final nine games. Clemens was 4-5 in that role and is now in San Diego, behind Philip Rivers.

Fisher, in fact, said he'll leave the position alone so long as injuries don't force his hand.

"I'm telling you the truth, I've never messed around with the quarterback situation in my entire career," he said. "I'm speaking truthfully. (Hill) had a quad strain, and I took him out of the game. Period."

Stacy ran for 43 yards in 11 carries against the Vikings, which prompted the Rams into a perpetual passing situation. St. Louis also turned the ball over twice.

It didn't get a whole lot better in the other direction, where the defense surrendered a 67-yard touchdown jaunt by Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson.

"That's not the end all, be all of the season, but it's Week 1. We wanted to show ourselves better than that," said defensive end Chris Long, who's also out for the time being after he left the initial game with an ankle problem and was placed on the recallable injured reserve list.

"It's our job to prove that that's not indicative of who we are."

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Massaging the Numbers

The statistics show that Patterson was a 100-yard rusher against the Rams in Week 1, but that yardage came on two gimmick plays in which the wide receiver was re-cast as a ball-carrier.

In more "traditional" scenarios, though, St. Louis allowed only 75 yards on 21 carries to Adrian Peterson - a far more respectable yards-per-carry clip of 3.57 against the NFL's premier running back.

Coming from Both Sides

Regardless of whether Mankins plays or doesn't, the defensive line of the Rams offers a potent challenge to the Bucs up front.

St. Louis end Robert Quinn is a returning All-Pro, and, even without the injured Long, he's going to be a handful for anyone trying to keep him off McCown. Keeping the rush in check will be vital for McCown to have any success.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Two accomplished coaches. Two not-so-accomplished quarterbacks. There's a lot not to like in both situations given the personnel at hand, but it seems there's more available to the Bucs if they can at least raise McCown's level to one of mere mediocrity.

Look for a strike or two to Jackson and enough contribution from Martin to make a Week 2 difference.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Bucs 20, Rams 17

09/11 13:13:50 ET