Here are my three key matchups for the Bucs-49ers game when the Bucs have the ball.
Legarrette Blount vs Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis may be the best inside linebacker in football, and he's leading the best run defense in the NFL right now. The Bucs don't necessarily need to run the ball to beat the 49ers, but I'd be shocked if they don't at least try. Legarrette Blount has been able to take on linebackers and drag them for extra yards, or even shake off their tackles entirely.
And that's what he'll have to do to succeed tomorrow. Patrick Willis does a terrific job of taking on blocks, shedding them and getting to the ball carrier. Can Legarrette Blount shake him off, or will the Bucs see their running game stifled, as others have against San Francisco?
Mike Williams vs Double Coverage
The big story this week has been about Mike Williams earning double coverage throughout the year. And while there is some truth to that, Williams is going to have to learn to beat that coverage and still produce if he wants to be a top-tier NFL wide receiver.
The 49ers have not performed well against #1 receivers, which means this may be the week when Mike Williams finally gets going. If the Bucs can't run the ball, they will need to pass. And if they want to succceed through the air, Mike Williams has to perform.
Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn vs Justin Smith
Justin Smith is the 49ers' best defensive lineman, and he should predominantly be going against Jeremy Zuttah and Donald Penn on the left side of the line. Both Penn and Zuttah have had very good seasons so far, but if the Bucs are to win they need to control Justin Smith and stop him from blowing up plays in the backfield. Smith is good against both the run and the pass, so the offensive line will have to show up to play today.