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Already with as many wins as they've had in any of the last three seasons, the St. Louis Rams are finally playing well on both sides of the ball. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wish they were.

Seeking their fourth win in five games, the Rams can move above .500 for the first time since 2006 on Sunday when they go for their first victory in Tampa Bay in nearly 18 years.

A league-worst 1-15 in 2009, St. Louis (3-3) is within one-half of Arizona and Seattle for the NFC West lead. A victory Sunday would leave the Rams - 6-42 over the previous three seasons - with a winning record for the first time since being 4-3 four years ago.

They missed a chance to achieve that feat Oct. 10 with a loss at Detroit but bounced back last Sunday with a 20-17 victory over San Diego. St. Louis limited the Chargers' top-ranked offense to a season-low 287 yards, held a third straight opponent under 90 yards rushing and recorded a season-high seven sacks.

James Hall, Chris Long and Larry Grant each had two sacks, marking the first time since Sept. 20, 1998, that three Rams had more than one in a single game. St. Louis is tied for sixth in the NFL with 17 sacks, eight shy of its NFC-worst total from 2009.

"When we're successful, we're getting to the quarterback," said Hall, tied for fourth in the league with six sacks. "We wanted the pressure and we wanted this on our shoulders."

Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy feels the same way, but his team's defensive unit has not fared as well, ranking last in the NFL with four sacks. McCoy has none after being selected third overall in this year's draft.

"I know I'm young and I'm a rookie, but I'm one of those guys who puts it all on my back," he said following last Sunday's 31-6 home loss to New Orleans. "... We play as a whole defense, but the better I play, the better the defense is."

While the Buccaneers will try to pressure Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, they're also looking to shore up the league's second-worst run defense. Tampa Bay (3-2) yields 157.0 rushing yards per game, allowing at least 140 to an opposing rusher in three straight games.

"We've got to figure out some kind of way to stop the run," defensive end Tim Crowder said. "Everything starts with stopping the run."

Slowing down Steven Jackson, though, could be a problem as the two-time Pro Bowl running back has two straight 100-yard games and is fifth in the NFL with 507 yards.

Jackson, 32 rushing yards shy of Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson's franchise record of 7,246, ran for 115 yards on 30 carries in the teams' last meeting - a 24-3 loss at Tampa Bay on Sept. 23, 2007.

While Jackson's heavy workload (NFC-high 127 carries) has eased the pressure on Bradford, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman has not received much relief from his backfield.

Tampa Bay is 27th in the NFL with 91.2 rushing yards per game, with leading rusher Cadillac Williams averaging just 2.5 per carry. Undrafted rookies LeGarrette Blount and Kregg Lumpkin could see more touches if Williams doesn't improve.

"I'm confident in those two young men," coach Raheem Morris said. "I'm excited that we got them. You never know what's going to happen in this league."

Undrafted Rams rookie Denario Alexander can vouch for that. A star at Missouri last year as he led the nation in receiving yards, Alexander was promoted from the practice roster last week after Mark Clayton suffered a torn patellar tendon in the Lions loss.

Making his NFL debut last Sunday following four operations on his left knee, Alexander caught four passes for 72 yards, including a 38-yard score in the first quarter.

"The Rams took a chance on me and gave me this opportunity, so I'm trying to make the best of it right now," he said.

St. Louis has lost its last five road games and has dropped four in a row at Tampa Bay since a 31-27 victory Dec. 6, 1992.


Tagged: Rams, Buccaneers, James Hall, Steven Jackson, Tim Crowder, Sam Bradford

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