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Bucs vs 49ers: Five keys to victory

How will Tampa Bay’s offense respond with Jameis Winston back as the starting quarterback?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers
Jameis Winston is back.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have a new quarterback when it takes on San Francisco at home on Sunday afternoon. Jameis Winston is back in the fold after Ryan Fitzpatrick fell apart last week in a loss to the New York Giants.

Winston almost led the Buccaneers all way out of out 24-7 deficit but came up just short, falling 38-35 in the Meadowlands. Regardless, the former Florida State star will get his chance to lead Tampa Bay to its fourth win of the season.

San Francisco enters this game as losers of seven of its last eight games. It’s been tough for the 49ers ever since Jimmy Garoppolo went down though Nick Mullens has shown some progress over the last few weeks.

1. Jameis Winston

Winston will have an opportunity to lead Tampa Bay to its second win under his leadership this season against San Francisco. Though it won’t necessarily be easy despite the 49ers record.

San Francisco has the No. 10 ranked defense in the league and the No. 13 rushing defense, holding opponents to 102.2 yards per game. The Bucs will likely have to rely on the pass like they have all season to have success.

Winston went 12/16 for 199 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the Giants in relief of Fitzpatrick, almost bringing his team all the way back. He’ll have to protect the ball and avoid mistakes in his return to the starting lineup for the Buccaneers to put together drives.

2. Rushing defense

With the star of its offense out, San Francisco has had to rely on C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens at quarterback. They have showed some prowess but certainly not to the level that Garoppolo would be performing.

Coincidentally, the 49ers have had to rely more on their ground game to have success on offense and they’ll likely do that again against Tampa Bay, especially with WR Marquise Goodwin doubtful to play.

After giving up 163 yards on the ground a week ago, the Bucs short-handed defense will have to regroup against another good running back in Matt Breida.

3. Turnovers

Do I have to spell this one out? Tampa Bay is quickly becoming one of the worst teams in NFL history in turnover margin. The Buccaneers have turned the ball over a whopping 29 teams while forcing just six turnovers.

That equals out to a -23 turnover differential. San Francisco is second on the list with a -15 turnover differential. The all-time record is -30, set by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965.

Whichever team takes care of the ball will likely win in this one.

4. Third down defense

With a depleted defensive unit, it’s vital for Tampa Bay to keep San Francisco off the field as much as possible. It’s really the only way this group can stop anyone.

The 49ers went 8/13 on third down a week ago but have converted just 39.7% of attempts on the season. It would benefit the Bucs if Kyle Shanahan’s team reverted back to the mean this week.

5. Offensive line

Tampa Bay has allowed 27 sacks on the season with up and down play from its offensive line, mainly on the right side. However, for things to go the Bucs way they simply have to protect will.

In their three wins, the Buccaneers have allowed just six sacks. That number falls to 21 in the seven losses. The San Francisco defense has 31 sacks this season. In the 49ers two wins this season, they’ve accumulated 10 of those sacks.

The clash between Tampa Bay’s front five and the San Francisco defense will be one of the main battles to watch it what should be a hard fought game.