Is Big Better, or Will Speed Be the Ticket?

Times Staff Writer

What's more valuable, a great offense or a great defense?

We'll find out Sunday when the Raiders' No. 1 offense squares off against Tampa Bay's No. 1 defense.

This matchup pits Oakland's superior size and power against the speed of the Buccaneers, perhaps the fastest defense in NFL history. Whereas every Raider offensive lineman weighs more than 300 pounds, the only guy that size on Tampa Bay's defensive front is 303-pound Warren Sapp. He can expect to be sandwiched by center Barret Robbins and guard Frank Middleton all day, and they weigh a combined 650. The other three starters on the defensive line -- Greg Spires, Chartric Darby and Simeon Rice -- average 268 and thrive on their ability to cover lots of ground quickly.

Only three running backs gained 100 yards or more against the Buccaneers this season: New Orleans' Deuce McAllister, Philadelphia's Duce Staley, and Minnesota's Michael Bennett, who gained 85 of his 114 yards on one run, the longest play ever surrendered by a Tampa Bay defense.

The Raiders have different running backs for different situations. When they want quickness, they turn to Charlie Garner. When they want power, they bring in Zack Crockett or Tyrone Wheatley, or both. And fullback Jon Ritchie, who didn't have a carry this season but often catches one or two passes in a game, is a 250-pound blocker who outweighs each of Tampa Bay's starting linebackers by at least 15 pounds.

Tampa Bay's ultra-quick linebackers will do a lot of dropping back to disrupt the Tim Brown-Jerry Rice crossing patterns the Raiders rely on so much. The secondary relies on zone coverage most of the time and has two standouts in cornerback Ronde Barber and safety John Lynch, an exceptional run stopper

Linebacker Derrick Brooks, the NFL's defensive player of the year, led the team in tackles this season and tied for fourth in the NFC with five interceptions -- three of which he returned for touchdowns. He also returned a fumble for a touchdown, meaning he reached the end zone four times, second-most in a season for a defensive player in NFL history.

The Raiders have the league MVP in quarterback Rich Gannon, who has great scrambling ability, even at age 37, and can throw from just about any position. One of his favorite targets is third receiver Jerry Porter, who has scored a team-high 11 touchdowns this season.



The regular-season averages allowed in rushing, passing, total yards from scrimmage and points for Super Bowl teams:

(tabular data not available)

Roy Jurgens

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