- Associated Press - Saturday, September 13, 2014

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - When Jeff Fisher describes Lovie Smith-coached teams, one of the first things he mentions is their ability to impact games by causing turnovers.

“Their defense is always going to be very, very aggressive,” the St. Louis Rams coach said. “They’re going to find ways to get the ball back.”

Indeed, that’s an attitude Smith is trying to instill in his effort to transform the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers into winners.

In nine seasons as coach of the Chicago Bears from 2004 to 2012, Smith’s defenses led the NFL with 310 takeaways. They returned 34 of those turnovers for touchdowns, including 26 interceptions - tied the most in the league during that stretch.

The new coach of the Bucs understandably was disappointed when Tampa Bay turned the ball over three times and didn’t generate any takeaways in a 20-14 season-opening loss to Carolina last week.

Offseason free agent acquisition Josh McCown threw two interceptions, doubling his total for all of last season, when he was a part-time starter in Chicago.

The Bucs (0-1) also fumbled in the closing minutes after trimming a 17-point deficit to three, then getting the ball back only needing a field goal to tie or TD to possibly win.

“That was out of character to say the least. Josh will tell you that. He’s a veteran player. He knows how important it is,” to not turn the ball over, Smith said. “Every meeting I’ve had with our football team since I’ve been the head coach here, I’ve talked about the turnover ratio … and how important is.”

But Smith is far from concerned. He’s confident his players are capable of becoming the type of turnover-generating ones he’s accustomed to being around.

Fisher just hopes it’s not this week, when his Rams (0-1) visit the Bucs.

St. Louis lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford to injury in the preseason and also could be without his replacement, Shaun Hill on Sunday.

Hill left last week’s 34-6 loss to Minnesota with a left quadriceps injury. If he’s not able to play, Austin Davis will make his first NFL start.

Davis replaced Hill against the Vikings, throwing for 192 yards and having an interception returned for a touchdown in his pro debut. He entered training camp as the fourth quarterback and has been with the Rams parts of three seasons.

It’ll be the second straight week the Bucs have faced a backup. Cam Newton sat out Carolina’s opener with a rib injury, however Tampa Bay had few answers for his replacement, Derek Anderson.

Regardless who starts for the Rams, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said it’s essential Tampa Bay play better.

“We’ve got to be able to get those turnovers, those takeaways, no matter how the game is going,” Frazier said. “It really gives you a chance to be successful.”

Things to watch when the Bucs and Rams try to avoid beginning the season with consecutive losses:

GETTING AFTER THE QB: The Rams have beaten the Bucs each of the past two seasons, in part because of the success of their pass rush. They had seven sacks during a 23-13 victory in St. Louis last December. They’ll be without DE Chris Long, who has been placed on injured reserve-designated for return because of an ankle injury that required surgery. William Hayes, who’s been a valuable backup, will make his first start in three seasons with St. Louis. There’s a chance, too, that Ethan Westbrooks, who beat out Michael Sam for a backup DE spot, will become part of the rotation.

STRONG FINISH A START? The Bucs struggled offensively until the last half of the fourth quarter against Carolina, when McCown threw a pair of TD passes to make it close. Smith hopes it carries over against the Rams, stressing the importance of starting faster.

FIXING MISTAKES: The Rams had plenty of things go wrong in their opener. While they contained Adrian Peterson, limiting him to 75 yards rushing on 21 carries, WR Cordarrelle Patterson hurt them for 102 yards on 3 carries, including a 67-yard TD run. The team was also penalized 13 times for 121 yards.

CAN’T FAULT THE EFFORT: St. Louis didn’t play well, but not for lack of effort, Fisher said, noting it was a relatively close game until late in the third quarter. “Things fell apart late,” the coach said. “We’ve looked hard at it, we’ve put it behind us, and we’re looking forward to the next challenge.”

MUST WIN?: The loser will fall to 0-2. Hardly desirable, but certainly not impossible to overcome. “There are no must-win games or anything like that early in the season, but this is one we need to win,” Smith said. “Kind of simple as that.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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