When the Buccaneers face the 49ers on Sunday, we'll see an epic clash of two terrific offenses. No, wait, that's wrong. I mean, we'll see an epic clash of two offenses struggling to put points on the board. Well, that's good too. That just means the Bucs defense is going to have to show up against an improving 49ers offense built around a power running game. Not dissimilar from how the Bucs want to play on offense. Of course, Danny Fucillo of Niners Nation does have some good news for the Bucs in that regard
Although Jim Harbaugh is thought of as a passing guru of sorts (see Andrew Luck, Josh Johnson), his offenses have utilized a strong power rushing attack to help develop the passing game. The 49ers rushing attack has been questionable at best in recent weeks but is coming off a strong performance against the Eagles defense.
The Eagles have one of the worst rushing defenses in the league so we'll have to wait and see how it develops this week. Frank Gore came off the bench last week after battling a right ankle injury all week, with Kendall Hunter getting the start. Gore ended up with more carries and will likely start this week, but Hunter should see his share of touches. He's a small guy but brings some serious explosion out of the backfield. The big question for the 49ers is if their offensive line can get some consistent push. They have been inconsistent thus far in that regard.
Frank Gore is an excellent player, but the 49ers running game has struggled throughout the year, except against probably the worst run defense in the league. Add to that the fact that the Bucs run defense has been excellent the past three games, and they should be able to stifle the San Francisco run game. That leaves the game in the hands of Alex Smith, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. And Danny Fucillo had some thoughts on that too:
One of the biggest points of contention the last six-plus years has been QB Alex Smith. He has not produced like one would hope for a QB drafted number one overall. There are a variety of excuses/complaints that have been discussed as much as anything related to the 49ers.
This year, Jim Harbaugh might finally be the coach who is putting Smith in a position to succeed. The offense focuses on shorter passes, which is one reason for Alex Smith's high completion percentage (67.3% - 4th in NFL). At the same time, they are willing to mix in some deeper balls to try and keep defenses honest. Smith has become most dangerous when teams blitz him. This year against the blitz, Smith is 18/24 for 229 yards and two touchdowns.More importantly, Smith has only thrown one interception and lost one fumble, so he's found a way to hold onto the ball.
It's not all about Smith of course. Vernon Davis is the team's biggest playmaker, but Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan are starting to become more dangerous weapons. The team is slowly opening up the playbook and 49ers fans are hoping the second half performance against the Eagles carries over to Sunday.
It's interesting that Alex Smith has been excellent against the blitz so far, because the Bucs sure like to blitz this year. It hasn't really hurt them much so far, but that could change against the 49ers if Smith really is that good at beating the blitz.
Vernon Davis also has the ability to really hurt the Bucs defense. So far, the Bucs have managed to keep tight ends contained as Ronde Barber and Sean Jones have done a good job stopping tight ends. But the combination of tight ends Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis is better than any group the Bucs have faced so far.
How Alex Smith handles the blitz, and how well the Bucs contain Davis and Walker could decide this game.