- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 3, 2002

NEW ORLEANS St. Louis Rams receiver Isaac Bruce believes the New England Patriots can't cover him and his counterparts with nickel and dime defenses alone. They'll have to bring some linemen, too.
"I'm a big believer that I cannot be covered one-on-one," Bruce said. "Torry [Holt] believes the same and so does Az [Zahir Hakim] and Ricky [Proehl]. If you're going to play one-on-one, then we have to do what we have to do to get down the field and make big plays."
The "Greatest Show on Turf" will throw four- and five-receiver sets against the Patriots in tonight's Super Bowl XXXVI. If New England plays seven defensive backs like some past opponents, St. Louis will run Marshall Faulk repeatedly for long gains. The Rams' balance prevents defenses from cheating because overcompensating leaves another area vulnerable, and the Rams will find it.
With two-time NFL Most Valuable Player Kurt Warner throwing quick, darting passes, there has been no way to consistently stop the league's No. 1 offense. It may be better than two years ago, when the Rams won the Super Bowl while relying more on Faulk.
St. Louis doesn't beat teams with big plays despite making many of them. The Rams simply overwhelm opponents. They come in waves like high tide. The receiving quartet strings out defenses, and that's not even including team leader Faulk (83 catches, 765 yards, nine touchdowns).
Holt (81, 1,363, seven) and Bruce (64, 1,106, six) reached the Pro Bowl. Most teams would gladly settle for the tandem, but the Rams also have Proehl (40, 563, five) and Hakim (39, 374, three). That's 224 catches, 3,406 yards and 21 touchdowns.
"They bring guys off the bench that are as fast or faster than the [starters]," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They give you tons of formation groups, motion and shifts. There are so many things to prepare for. We've seen Bruce, Hakim and Proehl all have big days. You can't say we're going to take one guy away. There are too many other guys that will [beat] you."
The 14-point underdogs have pulled upsets during their current eight-game winning streak against other highly regarded offenses. New England's secondary will use a two-deep cover system trying to keep the Rams receivers from getting behind them for big plays, but it doesn't stop the short passing game.
"Their first four receivers are the best group of guys in the league. Hands down," Patriots cornerback Ty Law said. "I feel like our first four cornerbacks are the best in the league. Hands down."
The first seconds following snaps could be the difference. The Rams rely on flooding zones and finding space in the middle of defenses more than streaking down the sidelines. That means their precision and timing can be disrupted by a cornerback bumping the receiver at the line.
"You can't waste any time at the line of scrimmage," Bruce said. "You just have to get off and go. If you're standing there still long enough, they can get ahold of you and get their hands on your chest."
Said Law: "We don't want to get into a foot race with these guys. We have to win the individual matchups in a team concept."
Warner passed for 401 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-17 victory over New England on Nov. 18, the last time the Patriots lost. New England scored on cornerback Terrell Buckley's 52-yard interception, but St. Louis dominated offensively.
"They didn't back down. They stayed in our face," Bruce said.
Now the Patriots have to do it again, but this time with new wrinkles because the Rams already have seen their best.
"We are going to adjust on the run," Warner said. "We can't prepare for one or two things because we know we are going to see a lot of different things. The key is going to be able to see what is going on and to adjust to it quickly in the running game and [pass] protections."


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