The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in San Francisco this week as they play the 49ers on Sunday. The Bucs improved to 6-6 following their Week 13 win over the Saints at home.
We fired off some questions regarding the state of San Francisco’s team for Tyler Austin from Niners Nation to see if he can shed some light on what’s up on with the 49ers heading into Week 14.
1. The loss of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a huge blow to the 49ers. However, for some reason the Buccaneers are notorious for making young, replacement quarterbacks look like future Hall of Famers. What may San Francisco try to do with Brock Purdy this Sunday to give Tampa Bay headaches? Will the team be pursuing a quarterback as they look to head into the playoffs?
Based on how Shanahan deployed his backup and the comments of his teammates over this past week, my guess would be Brock Purdy will get a chance to air it out early and often. With the very small sample size at our disposal (3.5 quarters), we’ve already seen that the head coach trusts him with the ball in his hands.
You can tell just by perusing the cold hard numbers. Purdy had 37 pass attempts against the Miami Dolphins, which would be a lot for any rookie with little to no playing time getting thrust in action, but it looks astronomical when you consider this is an offensive system that loves to grind out games on the ground. Jimmy Garoppolo has started 57 games since 2017 and he’s only matched or eclipsed 37 throws on 11 occasions. The play calling alone speaks to the team’s confidence in his ability.
When literally speaking to everyone’s confidence in Purdy, it seems nearly every major voice in the locker room commented on a certain part of his, ahem... Anatomy.
George Kittle said #49ers QB Brock Purdy has "cajones."— Eric Branch (@Eric_Branch) December 5, 2022
Deebo Samuel said Purdy didn't wait for Kyle Shanahan to call timeouts, which "takes nuts."
Shanahan: "He's got some balls out there."
While that running theme carries weight, there’s another quote that might even reveal more as to why the team’s ready to rock with Brock. Fred Warner said, “He’s done a great job of getting us ready every week… He’s played against the best defense in the league for the last 13 weeks. He’s gonna be just fine.”
With all that said, I can’t see the Niners making a move for any other quarterback to come in to start. Obviously, Baker Mayfield did make sense because he’d played in an offense similar to Shanahan’s in Cleveland, and that’s almost certainly the biggest factor. There’s no way that this head coach would turn the keys over to someone like Cam Newton when Purdy’s had all season to acclimate to the complicated playbook and verbiage, as well as, develop chemistry with these players.
2. The acquisition of running back Christian McCaffrey was a great move by John Lynch and the 49ers front office. What is Kyle Shanahan doing to be sure McCaffrey gets his hands on the ball as much as possible?
To be honest, when it comes to the run game, I don’t think Kyle has done anything particularly special to feed his latest workhorse. The reality is Christian McCaffrey’s skill set meshes so perfectly with this offense that the do-it-all weapon has simply thrived given the same opportunities as any other back over the years. In fact, I do believe that the Niners have really tried to limit his touches to help keep the oft-injured player healthy for the home stretch. This was an easy task when Elijah Mitchell returned from the IR shot out of a cannon (before returning to the IR). It should hopefully remain a viable strategy with the emergence of undrafted rookie Jordan Mason who runs like an off the rails bullet train made of butcher knives.
As for the passing attack, McCaffrey represents a perfect fit and it’s in this area that Shanahan has most tailored the game plan to his star’s abilities. The Bucs should prepare themselves for multiple plays in which both Deebo Samuel and McCaffrey start lined up in the backfield. Will one of them go in motion to run a route? Will one of them take a handoff? Which one will do which? Your guess is as good as mine.
Beyond that tricky play design, CMC’s biggest impact might just be as a check down safety valve. The option to dump it off to him when no other route is open and expect an automatic positive gain has been an absolute godsend. McCaffrey consistently makes men miss and fights for extra yardage, which keeps the offense out of long down and distance situations. That alone has helped transformed the offense into one of the league’s most effective and efficient.
3. The Tampa Bay offense has been less than appealing this season. What has made the San Francisco 49ers defense the best in the league in 2022 that will continue to make Tom Brady and the Buccaneers offense struggle?
To begin with, everything… Starting at the very top, DeMeco Ryans has set himself apart as the league’s best coordinator and top head coaching candidate. He’s proven again and again he knows when to dial up pressure, what adjustments to make, and how to maximize his premium talent. Consider that in the second half of the last five games the 49ers have only allowed seven points combined.
As for the players on the field, there seems to be an ongoing discussion both inside and outside of the team which position group actually sets the tone for the unit: Linebackers or Linemen? Shanahan mentioned in a meeting last week that he felt the trio of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Azeez Al-Shaair had been pacing the D-Line as of late. Nick Bosa seemed to take exception to this and created havoc to the tune of three sacks and a fumble. Of course, Warner had two pass defenses and an interception. Not to be an afterthought, Greenlaw managed to chase down Tyreek Hill in the open field one-on-one, dislodge a ball from Mike Gesecki on a key 4th down, and return a fumble for a touchdown.
Besides this little game of Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better between the front seven, the secondary has also been tremendous this year. The addition of Charvarius Ward as a true number one corner who can shut down an opponent’s top wideout has raised the ceiling of the whole defense. Furthermore, the promotion of Talanoa Hufanga to starting safety has resulted in five turnovers and a number of big plays behind his instincts and hard-hitting.
Put that together and you have an immovable object ready to go to battle on a weekly basis.
4. Is there a player on San Francisco’s offense and defense that we should focus on this Sunday against Tampa Bay that could have their way against them?
There’s a whole cavalcade of stars on the Niners offense to pay attention to such as Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle, but I’m going to point out a fan favorite who always seems to come up big in big moments. Jauan Jennings, the Niners third wide receiver, has become one of the most reliable options on the team, especially on third down. He’s second in the league in third down success rate, which he attributes to his ability to separate against man coverage. These consistent results have earned him the nickname, “3rd and Jauan.” So, that’s who to look for and when.
As for the defensive side of the ball, I’d point to Fred Warner’s running partner in the middle of the field, Dre Greenlaw. If Warner’s a Swiss Army Knife who can do it all, then Greenlaw’s a jackhammer. That’s not to say Warner doesn’t lower the boom, that’s just the level of physicality that Big Play Dre brings to the game. He’s the surest tackler on the team and always finds his way to be around the ball carrier.
5. The 49ers are currently 3.5-point favorites via DraftKings Sportsbook. How do you see this game playing out?
It’s kind of amazing that the Niners are 3.5-point favorites against Tom Brady with their third string quarterback, who was a toddler when the GOAT was drafted, starting for the first time in his career. I imagine that this game will follow the same pattern as nearly every Niners game over the last two seasons. The defense will create pressure, make plays, and minimize scoring. Meanwhile, the offense will pound the rock, complete passes over the middle, and settle for more field goals than touchdowns. It’s hard to complain about points on the board, but the Niners tend to lack aggression when given the chance to pull away, and the Bucs could easily hang around until late in the game. This thing might end up coming down to one last defensive stop by the Niners to seal the win. If I had to make a score prediction, I’d say… 49ers 23 Buccaneers 17
According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the over/under is currently set to 37 for this matchup.