For the most part, the Ram offense against the Bucs consisted of Tyler right, Tyler left and Tyler up the middle. In the previous L.A.- Tampa game, Tyler sat on the bench most of the time. When he finally got in for a few plays, he did what he had done all too often in three seasons in L.A.—he fumbled twice in seven carries.
Still, that Buccaneer game persuaded Malavasi to make Tyler a starter. Until then, he had played second string to Lawrence McCutcheon, and most people figured that was where he belonged. After all, in 1977, Tyler's rookie year, McCutcheon set a single-season Ram rushing record and became L.A.'s all-time leading ground gainer. Last year Tyler missed almost the whole season after injuring a knee in the second game of the season. Understandably, the 205-pound McCutcheon was the starter again this year, teaming with the 234-pound Bryant to form a bull elephant backfield. Both are strong inside runners who block well and rarely fumble.
Against the Bucs in September, the Rams were unable to move the ball inside. Knowing that the Rams lacked the speed to get outside, Selmon and Chambers pinched toward the middle on running downs and clogged up the Rams' running lanes. On passing downs the Buc linebackers dropped deep, forcing the Rams to drop the ball off to backs underneath the coverage. Here again, L.A.'s lack of a breakaway threat was glaringly evident. Time and again the Ram receiver on these short passes was easily brought down in a one-on-one situation by a Buc linebacker. The Ram backs couldn't have juked their way past a telephone pole. The following week Malavasi made Tyler a starter.
The switch to Tyler paid big dividends. Although he didn't start until the fifth week of the season, Tyler finished the year as the leading L. A. rusher with 1,109 yards and was the Rams' second leading receiver with 32 catches. He also confirmed his breakaway ability by topping the NFL in yards-per-carry at 5.1.
The Bucs conceded that Tyler made the Rams a different team. " Tyler puts a whole new dimension in their offense because he can run outside," said Nose Guard Randy Crowder before Sunday's game. "We have to play the Rams straight up now instead of cheating to the inside. To beat Los Angeles, first and foremost you have to stop Tyler."
It was obvious the Bucs were concentrating on Tyler. They swarmed toward him whenever he had the ball, and he had to break a lot of tackles to gain 86 yards on 28 carries. The Bucs also swarmed toward him when he didn't have the ball, which is why Bryant picked up 106 yards on just 18 carries. All game long Tyler and Bryant played keep-away from the Buc offense.
Of course, the way that offense was playing, nine points might have held up until Labor Day. Look at the game this way: if the Bucs had been awarded a point for every first down they made, Tampa Bay would have lost 9-7. The Rams have a superb defense, perhaps even a Super Bowl defense, but no defense is as good as Tampa Bay made L.A.'s look. The Bucs didn't even cross midfield until the third quarter, and they needed a gimmick play to do it—a halfback option pass from Jerry Eckwood to Larry Mucker.
For a while it even looked as if Buc Quarterback Doug Williams might go 0 for 1980. He didn't complete his first pass until late in the second quarter and was two for 13—for a grand total of 12 yards—when he was sidelined in the third quarter with a torn right bicep muscle. His replacement, Rae, wasn't any better, also completing just two of 13. Watching them, you would have thought the completed pass was an endangered species.
Come on now, you Steelers. Stop snickering.