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How To Beat The Bucs Put points on the board early, then dig in

--Jump on them early. The offense isn't built to play catch-up,
and the defense will suffocate you, but only if it has a lead.

--Make them try to pound it on the ground consistently. Before
Sunday's game the line had been mediocre, and the only time they
feel confident running the ball is when they're ahead. That's
when you'll see a lot of Mike Alstott. You don't have to worry
about Michael Pittman running the ball, because he's mostly going
to catch passes out of the backfield.

--Make Brad Johnson beat you. He's got a good arm on short and
intermediate routes, but he doesn't have great touch downfield.
He also doesn't have scary receivers--none of them will run by
you. Plus, you can take Keyshawn [Johnson] out of the game if you
frustrate him early.

--Know where [defensive tackle] Warren Sapp is at all times.
Slide-protect against him, or get a back on him, because he'll
disrupt everything. You also need an athletic tackle to match up
with [end] Simeon Rice. He's playing at a faster tempo than he
ever did with the Cardinals.

--Run right at [outside linebacker] Derrick Brooks. If you try
running on the perimeter, he'll make every play--he's too fast
and reads plays so quickly.

--Go after safeties Dexter Jackson and John Lynch. Both are big
hitters, but they're weak on coverage. It's hard to take
advantage of that, though, because [defensive coordinator] Monte
Kiffin has them playing in the box instead of deep coverage in
zones. Their corners are better than people realize, but in
man-to-man coverage they usually play off the line. They'll give
you the underneath stuff all day.

--Don't give up on the run. The Bucs are light up front on
defense--averaging only 277 pounds on the line--and they rely on
their athleticism. Teams with efficient running games, and
especially big backs, can cause problems because this defense
will wear down if it's on the field too long.

--Make plays downfield. When Pittsburgh played Tampa Bay last
month, the Steelers hit four downfield throws in their first 10
plays and went up 17--0, and the game was over. That's the thing:
When you get a chance to make a big play against these guys, you
had better execute, because they won't give up many. And against
the Bucs' speed you're not going to get too many 10-play drives.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES LONG ODDS Brad Johnson can pick apart a defense, but he has trouble with the deep ball.