ATLANTA—The St. Louis Rams rate an edge in nearly every statistical category in their Super Bowl matchup with the Tennessee Titans. They have a more potent offense and a defense that gives up fewer yards per game, and they have been to a Super Bowl. Well, one Rams team has, the 1979 Los Angeles version. So maybe that won't count for much, but some other things will.
Question: Games turn on many factors. What is the single most important one for a Rams win?
Answer: Stopping Eddie George. The Titans really aren't a very good offensive team, but they were 7-0 this season, including 2-0 in the playoffs, when George rushed for 100 yards.
Q: Couldn't Steve McNair's running compensate if George is shut down?
A: John Elway in his prime couldn't run the Broncos to a ring, and he had a much better arm than McNair. Steve Young could run like McNair, but McNair doesn't throw well enough to force the defense to compensate.
Q: Tampa Bay showed the Rams could be stopped. And the Titans defeated the Rams with a defense that forced turnovers. What's to prevent the Rams' offense from stumbling again?
A: It could happen. But as opportunistic as the Titans' defense is _ it led the league in fumble recoveries _ the Rams aren't likely to bumble to a 21-0 first-quarter deficit, as happened when the teams played on Oct. 31. Without that kind of bulge, it should only be a matter of time before the Rams break through.
Q: Where can the Titans hurt the Rams?
A: If they can pressure Kurt Warner, the Rams will not be able to use as many spread formations, their preferred method of getting Marshall Faulk into an open field. If pressure comes from anywhere, it will be Titans defensive left end Jevon Kearse versus Rams right tackle Fred Miller. When the two met in October, Kearse scared Miller into six false-start penalties and had two sacks.
Q: Can the Rams give Miller help?
A: They probably will, but not the kind he'll need. Defenses can assign someone to ``spy'' on a key player, such as a linebacker eyeing a mobile quarterback. Now if the Rams could assign Orlando Pace to spy on Kearse, then they might have something.
Q: Is there an intangible advantage that favors the Rams?
A: Probably just the opposite. The Rams have been hearing how good they are for so long, and some of them sound like they believe they're right where they deserve to be. The Titans haven't had anybody's respect _ or at least they don't think they have. They're convinced that fans, the NFL, the media, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the student body at Georgia Tech don't want them here.
Q: What does Georgia Tech have to do with this?
A: That's where the Titans were sent to practice. The Rams were given the Falcons' training facility. The NFL made the assignments.
Q: So even though they're the better team, the Rams should be worried?
A: Very worried. When the Rams lost to the Titans in Tennessee on Oct. 31, they had a chance to avoid defeat in the final seconds, but Jeff Wilkins' field-goal try sailed wide right. Just as Scott Norwood's once did many Super Bowls ago.