When: Sunday Nov. 21, 4:05PM EST
Where: Candlestick Park, San Fransisco, CA
Weather: 50° F, 60% Chance of Rain (WeatherUnderground.Com)
This Sunday, the Bucs return to the home of Alcatraz and hope to escape with a win. Historically, the Bucs have been bad at Candlestick Park. 1-12 lifetime when traveling to San Fransisco. The Stick remains as one of the few historic houses of football left. Playing a game there is always exciting. This week the Bucs will have to battle wet weather with temperatures in the low 50's, high 40's as well as an opponent who seems to have found an offensive rhythm and identity the past two weeks. Troy Smith threw for over 300 yards and solidified himself as the starter again this week as he continues to be efficient and exciting. Smith has Niner fans believing that he is the second coming of
Alex Smith...err, Shaun Hill...err , Jeff Garcia? The truth is that all of these quarterbacks have shown flashes of brilliance and 3 weeks later leave you scratching your head. I will withhold all judgment until I see consistency. Regardless, he is a player to be careful of this week.
Frank Gore is the toughest running back in the NFL to predict and why I stay away from him in Fantasy Football every year. He'll have games like he did against Oakland, Denver and New Orleans this season, where he absolutely blows up. Then he'll rush for less than 3 yards a carry like he did against the Kansas City, Philadelphia and Seattle. Sprinkle in injuries every year and you have one of the least dependable "star" running backs in the league. Not to mention, he played for the filthy Miami Hurricanes, and I have never forgiven him. He does seem to struggle against teams with good DL's and shines against teams with consistently bad rush defenses. None of that bodes well for us. Unless the Niners get down by 2 scores, if they aren't rushing the ball 30 times this weekend, it's time for them to once again find a new OC.
The 49ers are a disappointing 3-6, but have played in a ton of competitive games. 8 of their 10 games have been a 1 score game. To believe that the Bucs offense is going to have a field day and blow the 'Niners out is a pipe dream. Their defense is middle of the pack in virtually every statistical category both traditional and advanced. They do, however, boast one of the better 3rd down defenses in the league. For Freeman to be successful, he will have to use a lot of his receivers and make it through the his progressions quickly. Without playing 3-4 defenses consistently, he will have to read the zone-blitzes and the LB drops. It's much different than reading a 4-3, as it will appear far more clogged than he is used to. The Niners get progressively worse the further down the depth chart they have to cover. 20th against the #1 WR, 29th against the #2 and 31st against "other WR." The Bucs will force them out of their comfort zone more than teams like the rams with how often they like to go 3WR, 1TE sets. It will force them to go to a Nickel defense, thus removing their 4th LB. If they choose not to remove their 4th LB and play a tight zone, the Bucs will chew them apart. Regardless, unless they have more adjustments than they did against Seattle, Denver, KC, NO, the Niners lose. Spread 'em out first and hand it off to LGB second. While it could be interesting, I don't think it's imperative the Bucs go to a shotgun formation. The folks at Niner Nation are hyping up Justin Smith quite a bit. I get that 5 sack is impressive for a 3-4 DE, but they also haven't played a quarterback as mobile as Josh Freeman. Freeman is one of the best in the league at feeling pressure, finding green and hitting it. He's a straight ahead runner, so he doesn't give DE's the opportunity to catch him dancing. As Sander pointed out this week, Smith will be lined up in a straight up 4 or inside 4 technique; meaning on the inside shoulder of Donald Penn or heads up against Penn. If he's heads up you will see Penn kick down a lot on pass-pro eliminating Smith, or working from Smith's outside shoulder - out, fighting off blitzes on the edge. Against the run, it's the same concept. If the are running off tackle Penn will likely have to either down block on Smith or have Larsen pull slightly to get to Smith's outside shoulder. I enjoy watching 3-4 defense because there is so much more movement than a traditional 4-3. So many more options, but defensive players also have more responsibility.
Predictions: I think the game is close the entire way. Gore should have in the ball park of 115 yards and 2 scores while T.Smith has about 200 yards, 1TD, 1 INT. I would expect Freeman to have an OK day with a couple of mistakes (225 2TD, 1INT) while LGB is in the 80-90Yard range. I think the Bucs win, but it's more of a push in my opinion. The Niners are playing better than their record, so I'm OK with a close win across county in Candlestick. Final Score: 26-24.